On Iran’s aggravation, alcohol in sport and a music playlist

So we found a ledge for our Iranian policy, and we are now doing our best to call it a mezzanine. Yesterday, the government announced the suspension of the Human Rights Initiative with Iran that the two countries launched in 2018. This suspension is a protest against human rights violations by Iran since the murder of Mahsa Amini.

According to reports, New Zealand is also considering whether Iran can be excluded from the UN Women’s Commission. What this would mean in practice is unclear. Iran is not one of the 41 countries that currently make up the Commission’s executive board. Consistency may be the goblin of small minds but… Afghanistan is a member of the executive board of the United Nations Women’s Commission until 2024. Are we going to pretend that the situation of women and girls in Iran is worse than in Afghanistan? As bad as the situation in Iran is, the lives of women and girls under the Taliban seem to be much worse. Yet the Taliban will sit on the executive board of the UN Women’s Commission for another two years.

Meanwhile… The Labor government is also considering whether its recent Russian sanctions legislation can be amended to include sanctions against Iran, given Tehran’s support for Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine. In the midst of these kinds of symbolic gestures, we did not completely end the dialogue with Iran by expelling its ambassador. Good. Elsewhere we treat the dialogue option as valid. Despite the serious human rights violations evident in Israel, Russia, Saudi Arabia and China, all of these countries continue to have a diplomatic presence there. Why make Iran an arbitrary exception?

For similar reasons, we have not followed the United States, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and – more closely, Canada – in designating the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, and imposing personal sanctions on its leaders. This step can come. But it’s not a club we would want to join, given the current number of members.

No surrender

It’s hard to imagine a country less likely to cave to outside pressure than Iran. (Maybe only North Korea). Eighteen months after the birth of the Islamic Republic, Iran was invaded by Iraqi forces led by Saddam Hussein. Iran counter-invaded Iraq and the two countries fought a traumatic war that cost over a million lives before ending in a stalemate. Surrender, in other words, is not in Iran’s DNA. This helps explain the bravery of the protesters, but also the paranoid stubbornness of the regime. The regime has always seen itself as beset by enemies, external and internal.

Ultimately, the Revolution discredited itself through its corruption and brutality, carried out in the name of religion. Thanks to their control of the economy and smuggling routes, the mullahs and the leaders of the Revolutionary Guards have been well protected from the desperate hardships that Western sanctions have inflicted on ordinary Iranians. Donald Trump understood it that way. He aimed to make life so miserable for Iranians that they would revolt. It was Trump’s version of what Ronald Reagan did to the Soviet Union, but with a higher death toll. (The Soviet army did not aim its weapons at the partisans of
glasnost.)

Yesterday, all of Iran’s 31 provinces were reporting anti-regime protests:

…Security forces cracked down on crowds that had gathered to mourn death of teenager Nika Shakarami – appearing to fire tear gas as protesters threw rocks. Last month, Shakarami was found dead 10 days after she was filmed burning her headscarf during a protest. Reports suggest that several protesters have died at the hands of security forces in recent days.

The leadership of the Guards has now given protesters a deadline – next Saturday – to end their demonstrations, or face the consequences. Obviously, the situation in Iran is about to get worse.

Footnote 1: Just as clearly, the Labor government felt it had to give the impression that it was doing
Something. His liberal supporters were calling on the government to show solidarity with the courageous Iranian protesters, and in particular with the women on the front lines. The morality involved, however, remains selective. The same liberal sympathizers have not called on New Zealand to end its compliance with US economic sanctions that have sharply reduced the living standards of the Iranian people and helped push them desperately into the jaws of the regime.

Footnote two:
No doubt we would do more for ordinary Iranians by trading with them. Between 2016 and 2018, New Zealand opened a booming beef trade with Iran, before US threats forced us to give it up. Gradual liberalization through trade was the logic of the 2016 nuclear deal. It’s always better to call for more sanctions, which (a) won’t induce leaders to change their ways, while (b) driving ordinary people to a desperation that will get them murdered. It’s not supposed to absolve the regime. But Iranians can’t survive much longer under current versions of Western “solidarity.”

Footnote three:
Speaking of fine diplomatic lines… In the same short paragraph of her press release, Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta managed to deplore both the actions of the Iranian authorities and
the actions of his enemies:

Footage of gunshots being fired into the crowd at Mahsa Amini’s 40th day mourning ceremony has shocked New Zealanders. The Shah Cheragh holy shrine in Shiraz was the target of a terrorist attack that left more than a dozen dead and many injured. We condemn this attack and offer our condolences to the victims.

Right. This recent bloody attack on the Shah Cheragh shrine sacred to Shia Islam was carried out by armed Sunni supporters of the Islamic State. By mentioning the two incidents virtually in the same breath, New Zealand seems to be sending a signal to Tehran that it is not oblivious to the fact that as far as the Islamic State is concerned, we continue to share the same enemy.

Yet, with typical stubbornness, the regime even blames Shah Chezagh’s attack on protesters for emboldening Islamic State forces. As the BBC reported yesterday:

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi linked yesterday’s remarks Attack claimed by IS against a Shiite shrine to nationwide protests – claiming the ‘riots’ were ‘paving the ground for terrorist acts’.

Will the protests succeed? The regime has all the weapons. The demonstrators have martyrs. The protesters may have become secularized, but the regime seems determined to integrate them into the long Shia tradition of martyrdom.

Netball golden goal attack

Well, it didn’t take long. Just a week ago people were writing obituaries for Australian women’s netball. That’s because Hancock Prospecting billionaire Gina Rinehart had just withdrawn her $15 million sponsorship of women’s netball in Australia out of spite. The Australian women’s national netball team – the Diamonds – had refused to wear the Hancock logo, partly on climate change grounds, but mainly because of the mining company’s shameful history of human rights abuses and sacred sites of the indigenous peoples of Australia. Apparently, Rinehart’s father even called for poisoning their watering holes with fertility drugs.

How the Diamonds players “woke up,” some critics have lamented. “It could be one of the greatest own goals in sports sponsor history,” RNZ gloomily suggested. Barely. Almost immediately, state travel agency Victoria Visit offered a counter-offer of $15 million spread over the next five years. Great. So there need not be an existential conflict between morality and commerce after all. Perhaps it’s because more companies are realizing that it makes sense to distance themselves from the Neanderthal social attitudes of their predecessors on the board. Everywhere you look, yesterday’s “revival” is turning into tomorrow’s mission statement.

To bring it all closer to home… For years, we have been talking about the harmful effects of alcohol and its marketing to society:

The social costs of alcohol-related harm have been estimated at more than 3% of GDP…Children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable, as exposure to alcohol advertising is associated with early onset of alcohol abuse. alcohol consumption and consumption of larger amounts and New Zealand research has reported 50% of alcohol abuse and dependence develop before the age of 20. Exposure to sports sponsorship is also associated with higher consumption among children and adults.

So… To be consistent with the successful position taken by the Diamonds, All Black players should think twice about their deal with Steinlager, just as the Black Caps should re-evaluate their deal with Tui Breweries. As the Diamonds have shown, players can make a difference. Obviously, the National Party will drag its feet on this issue, given the chance.

Music Playlist…

This random playlist speaks for itself… Although I have a soft spot for Turkish psych-rock band Altin Gün, and the palindrome effect of Tom Verlaine doing a song called “Always” and Alvvays doing a song called Tom Verlaine. Good song from Taylor Swift’s new album, too.

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