Left voices join right to attack Iran, ignore Canadian imperialism

A Rabble interview with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s Kaveh Shahrooz offers a troubling window into Canadian politics.

Last month the left-wing website, for whom I’ve written for two decades, published “Understanding the dynamics of the protests in Iran”. Everything about the article should have raised red flags.

Described as “a lawyer and human rights activist”, Shahrooz is a Senior Fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s Centre for Advancing Canada’s Interests Abroad. A hub of pro-corporate and imperialist thought, MLI is a “right-wing charity” reported the Broadbent Institute. Alongside funding from the wealthy and corporations, MLI’s pro-NATO and anti-China politics are financed by the US, Latvian and Taiwanese governments.

Rabble would never publish an article about labour or indigenous rights based on softball questions to an MLI fellow. It contradicts its raison d’être. As Eric Wickham recently detailed in “Meet Postmedia’s favourite right-wing think tank” MLI already has unique access to the National Post and the rest of Postmedia.

To be clear Shahrooz isn’t the odd progressive at MLI. He’s publicly attacked prominent eco-socialist Dimitri Lascaris and less hawkish voices in the Iranian Canadian Congress and US-based National Iranian American Council.

Without push back Shahrooz explicitly criticized the left and Iranian support for Palestinians. “A chant that you often hear on the streets is ‘not for Gaza, not for Lebanon, I give my life for Iran’,” Shahrooz told Rabble’s Maya Bhullar. He also suggests protesters in Iran have no problem with US policy. “The international left has been very, very wrong” about criticizing Washington and Ottawa’s belligerence towards Iran, claimed Shahrooz. “Viewing Iran purely through an anti-imperialist lens, they have ended up perhaps unwittingly parroting the talking points of the Islamic regime where they have put all the blame on the United States, on Israel, on Canada and other countries in the West.”

Few place “all the blame” for Iranian government policies on foreign interference, but almost all media reports on recent protests have ignored the impact of US and Canadian sanctions/isolation/interference.

Rabble’s interview highlights the dearth of critical consciousness on Canadian foreign policy. Canada passively supported the 1953 US/UK coup against Mohammad Mossadegh, backed the Shah for many years, severed diplomatic relations after the 1979 revolution and has worked to isolate Iran more recently. Before their 2015 election the Liberals promised to restart diplomatic relations with Iran, which many prominent politicians advocated until early 2020.

Rabble publishing a right wing think tank’s position on Iran is a stark example of the media climate on the subject. Unfortunately, other left-wing publications have echoed this outlook. Three weeks ago Midnight Sun Magazine posted “Iran: A History of Violence and a Revolution in the Making”, which ignored Canada’s diplomatic isolation and listing of Iran as a state-sponsor of terror, enabling the seizure of that country’s assets in Canada. The Midnight Sun story criticized “Western leftists including Noam Chomsky and Bernie Sanders” for criticizing US sanctions designed to stoke public unrest by squeezing the country’s economy. Socialist Project and The Tyee both recently published articles on Iran that erase Canadian belligerence.

Spring Magazine’s “Iran’s uprising: A revolution from below” mentions Canadian belligerence but concludes that it must be intensified. According to the authors, the Canadian left must pressure Ottawa “to impose diplomatic and media sanctions on the Iranian state and remove the ability of Iranian state actors and their affiliates to engage in business and financial transactions” in Canada.

Leaving aside the international law implications of unilateral sanctions, Iran’s more repressive neighbour Saudi Arabia is the second biggest recipient of Canadian arm sales. As long as billions of dollars in Canadian weapons flow to Iran’s regional rival, the left definitely shouldn’t be seeking to “impose diplomatic and media sanctions on the Iranian state”.

US-based left outlets Jacobin and Counterpunch have also published long stories that ignore or deny the objective of US “maximum pressure” sanctions on Iran. Similar to Shahrooz in Rabble, the exiled Iranian “anarchist” interviewed for Counterpunch says, “I also appreciate the work of Masih Alinejad, who is a journalist.” In 2019 Alinejad met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and she works for Voice of America Persia. Since 2015 Alinejad has been paid over US$600,000 from the US Agency for Global Media.

Unfortunately, leftists aligning with Western imperialism in Iran or elsewhere is not new, as I detail in Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada. During Stephen Harper’s reign Canadian naval vessels ran provocative manoeuvres off Iran’s coast, Canadian troops occupied a bordering state, Ottawa targeted Iran at the UN, listed that country as a state sponsor of terrorism and cut off diplomatic relations with Iran. But the NDP largely failed to oppose Canada’s low-level war against Iran. In fact, the social democratic party sometimes joined the attacks.

In the early 1950s Iranians pushed to gain greater benefit from their huge oil reserves. But British Labour and Conservative governments had different plans. As one of the earliest sources of Middle Eastern oil, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (BP’s predecessor) had generated immense wealth for British investors since 1915. With Anglo-Iranian refusing to concede any of their immense profits, Iran moved to nationalize the country’s oil industry.

Despite calling for the nationalization of numerous sectors of the Canadian economy, the leader of the CCF criticized Iran’s move. In October 1951 M. J. Coldwell told the House of Commons: “What happened recently in Iran [the nationalization of oil] and is now taking place in Egypt [abrogation of a treaty that allowed British forces to occupy the Suez Canal region] is an attempt on the part of these reactionary interests to use the understandable desire of the great masses of the people for improvements in their condition as an excuse to obtain control of the resources of these countries and to continue to exploit the common people in these regions.” The CCF leader then called on the federal government to “give every possible aid to the United Kingdom in the present crisis.”

Mohammad Mossadegh’s move to nationalize Iran’s oil would lead the US and UK to orchestrate his overthrow in 1953. The CCF failed (or at least it’s not recorded in Hansard) to criticize Ottawa for backing the overthrow of Iran’s first popularly elected prime minister.

On international affairs the left’s primary responsibility is to curb Ottawa’s violations of international law. This is not an endorsement of a theocracy that imposes the veil. Nor is it support for state violence. It’s a recognition that Canada has long had a belligerent policy towards Iran. That’s what left wing media should focus on. Our primary responsibility is to end the wrongs of the governments that we have some chance of influencing.

Beginning November 22 Yves Engler will be touring in southern Ontario, Vancouver Island and the lower mainland.

Yves Engler is the author of 12 books. His latest book is Stand on Guard for Whom?: A People's History of the Canadian Military . Read other articles by Yves.