We live in a world where we often forget that multiple truths can co-exist at the same time. In an era of media conglomerates that regurgitate the same pro-war slogans and headlines, and a time where the failures of the left are stark and vast, the truth is often reduced to a simplistic, Manichean duality of black/white, either/or, US/Iran perspective.
Anti-imperialists who have long supported the brutality of the Assad regime in the name of leftist ideological praxis are rabidly defending another brutal, violent regime — Iran — without any regard for historical facts and realities; without any regard for the reality of the lives of millions of Iranians terrorized, violated and oppressed into silence; without any regard for the daily reality of the oppressed living under a brutal dictatorship which is outdone only by China in executing dissidents, artists, feminists and human rights activists.
Yet, anti-imperialists have turned the assassinated Iranian general Qassem Soleimani into a heroic, stoic figure, dripping with charisma and a quiet self assurance; a hero who fought valiantly against ISIS and saved the Iranian people who stands in stark contrast to Trump’s vivid incoherence and recklessness. Since when did anti-imperialism mean being avid supporters of evil dictators rather than the oppressed and the colonized?
Some basic truths about the current US-Iran situation:
1 — Soleimani was a butcher and an instrument of Iranian proxy violence that terrorizes millions in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, etc. One of his main roles was to supply Hezbollah with a constant flow of missiles and rockets, while also quietly deploying 50,000 Iranian military to Syria in support of the brutal Assad regime. He was instrumental in the ongoing tragedy in Yemen though Iran’s direct support for the Houthis.
His role in preventing ISIS from entering Iran can be largely attributed to the Sunni-Shia divide (ISIS is Sunni, Iran an avid Shia regime). His role in fighting ISIS in Syria had more to do with supporting the Assad regime and ending a rival Sunni group that was directly threatening its own regional hegemony, rather than Soleimani being concerned with the peace and the safety of ordinary people. As he engaged in these foreign interventions, he was the leader of the notorious Quds forces that were terrorizing, executing, spying and kidnapping pro-democracy, women’s rights and human rights activists and organizations inside Iran.
Hundreds of thousands have died as a result of Soleimani’s role in pursuing Iran’s regional objectives. His involvement in these countries had a direct impact on the democratic aspirations of the Kurds, Syrians, Iranians and other oppressed minorities in the region.
2 — Iran is a criminal and repressive regime. The only ones truly mourning Soleimani’s execution are conservative Iranians allied with the Mullah’s running the regime. Yes, Soleimani represented Iranian nationalism, but in a very specific, narrow vision that conformed to the Ayatolah’s vision of “Iran.” Most Iranians, Iraqis and Syrians are quietly if not openly — albeit wearily — celebrating Soleimani’s death. They also know that killing a symbolic figure head — who has already been replaced by Brigadier General Esmail Ghanni, an even more conservative and notorious figure of the Iranian regime — does not end a policy implemented and thoroughly propagated by the Ayatollahs.
3 — The US is a criminal and repressive imperialist power with an unfortunate short memory and an inability to learn lessons from the past by starting wars though direct interventions, invasions or reckless policies such as the assassination of the second-most brutal butcher within the notorious Iranian security forces.
Iran is admittedly far more measured and restrained in its response. Not because its necessarily more cautious vis-à-vis the terrors of war and respects the lives of its own citizens, but rather because it carefully pursues its long term goals by means of soft power: economic and political pressure or support, and limited military interventions. It is measured. It carefully uses its proxies to clandestinely, covertly implement its vast regional aspirations and agendas. Its one and only loyalty is towards self preservation, meanwhile entrenching Shia-Sunni divisions.
There is a unity, a coherence to Iranian foreign policy and its implementation of soft power — especially in contrast to the recent incoherence in US foreign policy under Trump. This is why a recent report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ indicated that Iran is the greatest influencer in the region. This is why Iran’s response has been more calculated and constrained than the rash, reckless manner in which Trump ordered the execution of Soleimani.
Finally, ordinary citizens of the Middle East, especially Iran and Iraq, do not want a war with the US. They want a removal of the Ayatollah regime which continues to terrorize them and influence their daily realities with its own security and national self-interests, but not in the same manner that Saddam was removed in 2003. This was an invasion that resulted in the failure of Iraq as a state, the rise of ISIS and the incomprehensible level of violence that occurred as a result, the Yazidi genocide, the rise of the Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shahbi militias and more.
No sane person wants war. No democracy loving person wants war with Iran. Likewise, sanctions will only impose more pressure on the already suffering people of Iran who are struggling through an economic crises. Regime change must occur internally, organically and as a result of the voices and actions of the people of Iran. Anything else will smack of interventionism and imperialism — and will never be viewed as legitimate.
Here are some final basic truths: you can cheer the end of Soleimani and still be anti-war. You can condemn the way Soleimani was executed but still be relieved that he is no longer around to terrorize people. You can be anti-US imperialism and anti-Iranian dictatorship and brutality. Being anti-US imperialism, being anti-Trump’s reckless disregard for humanity does not mean that you should make Soleimani a symbol of freedom, or leftist ideology.
Soleimani was a butcher. Trump is a dangerous megalomanic. The Ayatollah’s are just as guilty, dripping with the blood of millions across the region funding terrorist groups and proxy wars. Let Soleimani die the butcher he was, with a fitting illegal end — the same he dished out to thousands — without turning him into an anti-imperialist hero of the people, and by extension justifying the Iranian regime.
The only loyalty you should have should be for the ordinary people of Iran, Iraq and the region. It is 2020, and it is about time we started viewing such issues in all their complexities, realizing that multiple truths can co-exist and that a simplistic analysis serves no one but those hungering for war.
Hawzhin Azeez is a Kurdish academic, activist and poet. She holds a PhD in Political Science and International Relations. She is currently a Lecturer at the Centre for Gender and Development Studies in the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani.