Iranian dissidents force cancellation of meeting

Yesterday I came across an article at Harry’s Place relating an incident in which a pro-Iranian London lecturer, Elaheh Rostami, addressed a Stop the War meeting along with Haifa Zangana (an Iraqi author whose articles are occasionally printed in the Guardian, and who addressed a rally in Hyde Park a few months ago), “a couple of Trade Unionists” and “a mother from Military Families Against War”. You can read the full story here on a blog run by an Iranian exile called Azarmehr entitled “For a democratic secular Iran. For peace and prosperity in the Middle East.”. That site drew attention to another meeting at which Rostami was supposed to speak: tonight, at a Respect meeting at Imperial College. So I went along.

When I got there, I somehow thought it was in meeting room 6, which is in the locked West Wing of the Beit Quadrangle. In fact, it was in room 3, something I found out only when I got to the security lodge to find the security guard discussing the invasion of the meeting with someone from the Union. It turned out that the meeting was only meant to be for students at the college, and that outsiders were not welcome. A number of known wreckers were present, and the union guy wanted Security to throw them out.

The union guy and the security guard took the lift, so I headed up the stairs to the third floor, where all the meeting rooms at the Imperial College union are. When I got there, it appeared that Iranians were the majority of those present. Despite it being a Respect meeting, it seemed that none of the group’s MAB wing were there. There were hardly any beards and no hijabs, for one thing. The two men I met at the security lodge explained to everyone that the meeting was only for students, and that if non-students did not leave, the speaker would not appear - it was that simple. It was also suggested that other security people could come along and “help” the unwelcome guests out.

I sat about two rows from the back, next to a young white woman who was next to a guy who looked middle-eastern and middle age, who was Imperial College staff. He said he didn’t know who the people were. The Iranians insisted that the only reason the speaker did not want to address them as well as the students was that she had something to hide. They also protested that they had been invited by student friends, and that some of them had come a long way.

The upshot was that the organisers said they would go and see Rostami and try and find some compromise. While all this was going on, the visitors argued very loudly, mostly in their own language (Persian, probably) but with bits of English thrown in. Bits of paper were passed around detailing various atrocities by the Iranian régime, in particular, against the Ahwazi Arabs; there was a picture of two men hanging, named as Ali Afrawi and Mahdi Nawaseri. The flyer alleges that the régime “treats Ahwazi women as less than dogs”. But I can recognise Arabic, though not understand it, and the language they were speaking wasn’t Arabic. They alleged that Rostami wanted to tell lies and to brainwash the students.

I turned round and asked a few of the students behind me if they knew who the visitors were. I asked if they were the Worker-Communist Party of Iran and if the woman two rows in front of me was indeed Maryam Namazie. I explained that I wanted to know for my own purposes and wasn’t working for anyone’s secret service, and got the reply that if I was, I’d know who they were. I also explained that certain Iranian communists had a habit of passing themselves off as secular liberals and are fêted even by American neo-cons. One of them claimed that the US government would only support fundamentalist mullahs, not communists, but then, I wasn’t talking about the government, but about a certain neo-con website. He wasn’t in any mood to hear any defence of “the mullahs”, not that I had one to offer.

I tried to suggest a compromise of my own: that the group might get hold of a PA system of some sort, so that Rostami could speak into a mike in that room and the guests she did not want to meet could hear it in another room. Trouble was, I had to speak across one of the noisy Iranians, who proceeded to show me some of his pictures of people hanging and to tell me that they weren’t barbaric, like the mullahs. (Not until they get to power, at least.) When I tried talking personally to one of the organisers, she explained that it was late and that the room where they might get such equipment was locked.

Anyway, by about 7:30pm, the organisers (I didn’t get any names the whole evening) came back in and told everyone that Rostami had gone home, so there was going to be no meeting and they might as well all go home now. So that was that. I had seen pretty much all I had come to see, anyway. Some people I spoke to as I made my way down the stairs said that the Iranian guests talked much of democracy, but their behaviour was not really consistent with that. I replied that democracy, in any case, is for members of a group, not outsiders; in the same way as non-citizens of a country cannot vote in its elections, people outside a union can’t dictate to it who it invites, or doesn’t invite, to its meetings. Myself, I’ve a world of disagreements with the Iranian régime, from a Muslim perspective, but would this rabble be any better if they were in power? Absolutely not!

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