Is Britain evil?

most popular storiesAs Iran exploded, Spain experienced another terrorist attack and a Somali MP was executed by militants in his own capital last week, do you know what the three most popular stories on the BBC website were? ‘Duck charms restaurant customers’; ‘Squirrel nuts over builder friend’ and a medieval recipe for cooking porpoise that is now available online.

At the same time, Gordon Brown was objecting, in the strongest possible terms, to the Iranian supreme leader calling Britain ‘evil’. Evil we may not be, but shallow and indifferent we apparently are.

But does that justify the Iranian jibe? The easy response is to write it off as one of the ravings of a madman or to become offended at the unprovoked insult. Or, as some lefties and fundamentalist Christians might: agree with him. Personally, I do not. But,why is the Ayatollah being so rude? Is there any truth in his accusation?

t-shirt available at

t-shirt available at

Britain’s actions towards Iran in the past could easily be filed under ‘evil’. Questionable acts do not an evil country make, but it understandably colours the Iranian view of Britain. Britain for years ‘owned’ and siphoned off Iran’s oil reserves (through the corporation that was to become BP), the proceeds never reaching the people of Iran. Britain propped up the oppressive regime of the Shah, and when a popularly elected Prime Minister nationalised oil revenues and started improving the position of ordinary people, Britain convinced the CIA to topple him and reinstate the dictator. When the United States designated Iran as part of the ‘axis of evil’ despite Iranian help in ‘defeating’ the Taleban, Britain was America’s greatest ally, with a foreign policy and attitude effectively indistinguishable on the matter. You see, we’ve called them evil too.

Image from

Image from

Ah, you say, but that is all just history. But what is the source of most Britons’ distrust of and antipathy towards Iran (an antipathy evident in media coverage and public feedback)? Is it really the (very real) political repression and human rights abuses in the Islamic republic? If it is, it is odd that we don’t have such strong opinions about Saudi Arabia or any number of other British allies with similar records. Or does it have more to do with images of hostage-taking and angry shouting from clerics that are also ‘history’? Is it really about Iran’s support for armed groups in Lebanon and Palestine? If so, that seems an uncharacteristic interest in the local affairs of foreign countries from a nation that seems in reality to be more concerned with squirrels and ducks than suicide bombers abroad.

As, last week, Britain tried to remedy the crisis born of rampant capitalism by trying to ensconce itself more deeply in that fatally flawed philosophy (evidenced in increasing cases of economic hardship being met with further emphasis on private profit as a ‘solution’, at the expense of ordinary people in the museum, broadcasting or industrial sectors), the Ayatollah may have been wrong to call us evil. The beam in his own eye is, after all, great. But, then, he is not a Christian. And before we react indignantly we should examine how foolish, shallow, selfish and hypocritical we ourselves have become. We can focus on the falsehood in his one word, or choose to find the truth in the sentiment, repent, and be changed. Or we can surf the net for funny animals, eating slices of porpoise and pretending everything’s fine.


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