In April of this year, President Trump further demonstrated his ineptitude as world leader, and cemented his status as an intellectually defective moron, by designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. Yes. Trump has designated a sovereign country’s state forces “terrorists” despite his single-handed destruction of the Iranian Nuclear Deal, wholehearted support for Israeli aggression and murder of unarmed Palestinians, and the fact that U.S state forces have unjustifiably slaughtered millions. The pot is definitely calling the kettle black.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard enjoys the respect and support of the Iranian public due to its key role in defending the country against Iraq during the war initiated under Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. During this period, male members of many Iranian households joined the Revolutionary Guard in order to defend their homeland. As a result, this particular branch of the Iranian armed forces have come to symbolize national pride and territorial integrity within the national discourse. By demonizing the Revolutionary Guard, Trump is effectively demonizing all Iranians.
By demonizing the Revolutionary Guard, Trump is effectively demonizing all Iranians.
I’d like to make it clear here that as an advocate for the rights of women, minorities and the LGBTQIA+ community, and as someone who fucking loathes Bashar al-Assad (whom Iran is actively supporting), in no way do I intend to position myself an apologist for the Iranian government. Rather, my aim is to point out the hypocrisy and dangerous level of subjectivity inherent within the application of the label ‘terrorist’, particularly when it is adopted so uncritically. Whilst it is unlikely that any other law-abiding state which prioritizes diplomacy (Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are likely to prove my point here) will adopt this stance towards Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Trump’s behaviour raises the question of the legitimacy of state power; specifically the legitimacy of the power to define.
The hypocrisy behind Trump’s approach to Iran is particularly difficult to stomach when compared to the human consequences of the “war on terror”. According to a report called ‘Body Count’ written by Physicians for Social Responsibility in 2015, the U.S Forces, in pursuit of that abstract noun “terror”, have killed 1 million Iraqis, 220,000 Afghans, and 80,000 Pakistanis. They point out that the real number could actually exceed 2 million. Add to this number the thousands who were tortured and hundreds who were subjected to extraordinary rendition and indefinite detention without trial, and it begs the question: how the hell are Iranian forces terrorists, but not their U.S counterparts?!
Irresponsible bandying around of the “terrorism” label risks dire political consequences, not only for the Iranian people, but for international political and legal norms, which are already dominated by the global North. The label “terrorist” has for decades now been utilized by powerful hegemonic states to justify attacking others, or by authoritarian states to justify their oppressive practices towards minorities and dissidents. It seems that if the word “terrorism” is deployed as justification for grave abuses of human rights, states get an international green card to proceed however they wish, particularly at a domestic level. Turkey is a case in point.
The Turkish state machinery has an absolutely appalling human rights record and none have received worse treatment than the Kurds who reside within Turkey. This treatment proved the catalyst for the creation of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), which was born of Kurdish leftist groups whose members were frequently imprisoned and tortured in Turkish state-run prison cells in Diyarbakir in South East Turkey (a section of Kurdistan) during the late 1970s. According to the International State Crime Initiative, the ‘Turkish state has repressed and persecuted political and ethnic minority dissidents since the 1970s…murdering 30,000 Kurds and displacing 3 million between 1985 – 2005.’ Persecution, arbitrary detention and torture of Kurdish activists is ongoing, yet neither the EU, the U.S, nor the UK have questioned Turkey’s continued application of the “terrorist” label to the PKK. Instead they have jumped on the bandwagon and they too officially recognise the PKK as a terrorist group.
don’t bother dreaming of equal rights, we don’t care enough about you to stand with you
The blinkered response of the above-mentioned states implicitly sends a message to resistance groups that there is no such thing as legitimate resistance to state terror, because the latter is never labelled as such; on the other hand, a challenge to the state monopoly of violence, no matter how unjust the deployment of that violence, will be defined as terrorism and addressed through increased levels of state violence. It’s essentially the most repressive of messages, and echoes that which has been transmitted loud and clear to the Palestinians for over half a century: don’t bother dreaming of equal rights, we don’t care enough about you to stand with you.
This self-serving, biased use of the “terrorist” label by the powerful illustrates the absolute political control wielded by those who claim monopoly over the use of violence and the power to define what is justified violence and what is not – what is a tolerable form of dissent (usually that which poses no significant threat to the existing status quo) and what is not. Integral pillars of the PKK political project are anti-capitalism, anti-colonialism, ecological protection and jineology: hardly expressions of terrorism. In essence, the group seeks the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish region in which to implement democratic confederalism, and foster a community based on equality and participatory citizenship.
Regardless of the progressive objectives of the PKK and the abhorrent behaviour of the Turkish state, the U.S State Department website states that ‘Turkey is an important U.S. security partner’, before going on to say ‘Turkey is engaged in intensive efforts to defeat terrorist organizations both inside and outside its borders, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)’. The power to define and label is monstrous when applied solely for political gain and further accumulation of power or geo-strategic advantage. The EU fairs no better in this scenario. Despite Turkey’s blatant disregard for human rights, it is currently the darling of the EU due to the EU-Turkey deal: a sordid agreement which sees the EU giving Turkey 6 billion euros on the condition that it takes any refugees who arrive in Greece by ‘irregular’ means. This is reminiscent of the EU’s $200 million pay out to Omar al-Bashir on the basis that his Rapid Support Forces (the same RSF who committed genocide and other atrocities in Darfur, and who have shot, beaten and raped unarmed Sudanese protesters) prevent migrants and refugees leaving Sudan in order to make their way to Europe.
And so, we have come full circle. The EU has handed unfathomable amounts of money to Omar al-Bashir, despite his being charged with multiple counts of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in order for his RSF forces (who continue to perpetrate these crimes without being labelled “terrorists”, state-sponsored or otherwise, due to the their current role as border police for the EU), to prevent refugees from reaching Europe – a place of safety. The US (and UK) forces have perpetrated indiscriminate violence across an entire region on the premise of “the war on terror” for years, resulting in the slaughter and torture of millions of innocent people whilst avoiding the label of “state terrorism”. Meanwhile, Turkey has been rewarded for doing Europe’s dirty work both financially and by being permitted to commit systematic human rights abuses against the Kurds with impunity. But different rules apply to those groups such as the PKK who dare to challenge the monopoly of power and fight for their rights and a genuine democratic political project, one which shuns neoliberalism and capitalism and therefore cannot be used for financial or political gain by more powerful actors, for they are uncritically and dismissively labelled as “terrorists”. As for Iran, let’s hope Europe acts upon a shared continental sense of what is morally right for a change, faces up to what it has become, and remedies the damage Trump is hell-bent on wreaking in the area before it’s too late.
All images from Sarah Edgcumbe, except where noted
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