The Price of Oil, The Price of Life

The British are unreliable elements as always… The British who are the fathers of Americans should be termed Satan's fathers… and in confronting Satan, one should never do away with caution. 1

O, matter and impertinency mix'd! Reason in madness! 2

Is The Affair Really Over?

When, on Thursday 24th September 1998, Britain and Iran struck a deal at the United Nations in New York to end the death threat over Salman Rushdie, the author appeared to be sure that a definitive breakthrough had been achieved for him: "All I can say is that it seems that this has been done in Iran with consensus. There doesn't seem to be any opposition to it in Iran."3 The Iranian Foreign Minister, Kamal Kharrazi had said in his statement, "The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has no intention, nor is it going to take any action whatsoever to threaten the life of the author of The Satanic Verses or anybody associated with his work; nor will it encourage or assist anybody to do so."4 Many news reports celebrated the end of the 'Rushdie Affair' and welcomed the tentative restoration of full diplomatic relations with Iran (from charge d'affaires to ambassadorial level).

However, two serious problems soon became apparent. Firstly, the deal was in fact more a climb-down on the part of the British than the Iranians. The British government had dropped several of its previous demands, by settling for a verbal rather than written statement from Iran and by waiving the requirement that the bounty be annulled.5

Secondly, it was quite obvious to anyone with a little knowledge of Iranian politics that the Iranian foreign minister's announcement concerning the threat to Rushdie was no more than a fleeting diplomatic leaf floating on a deeper, unpredictable turbulence; a heckle of contrary voices was heard from Iran both before and after the deal. It was just one snapshot from an on-going battle between the isolationist hardliners, led by Ayatollah Khamenei, and the more internationally positive moderates, led by President Mohammad Khatami. The deal was a thrust from the moderates, the hardliners subsequently hitting back with avengeance. Presumably under pressure from the hardliners, Iranian radio reported that Foreign Minister Kharrazi had backtracked on his apparent position at the UN with Foreign Secretary Robin Cook: "We did not adopt a new position with regard to the apostate Salman Rushdie… In fact, it was the British Government which decided to elevate its political relations with Iran."6 Then, only a fortnight after the agreement, Iran's 15th Khordad Foundation, a religious organisation controlled by figures at the highest levels, raised the $2.5 million bounty on the author's life, Ayatollah Hassan Saneii announcing, "I, as the head of the Khordad Foundation, add $300,000 to the reward for implementing the edict."7 A human rights group, Article 19, which has supported Rushdie's case, was not surprised, its spokeswoman, Frances D'Souza, admitting, "we had deliberately been keeping quiet about [the bounty issue], thinking things needed to settle down. But we are getting increasingly worried."8 An officer from the Special Branch was reported to say, "the reality is that nothing has changed, Rushdie is still being protected at the same level as before, and given his level of danger that is right. The politicians are working towards a different agenda."9

But to be able to make much sense of either or these two - related - problems, we need to understand what the Iranian death threat to Rushdie meant in more concrete social and political terms, and this requires a sense of history. In pointing out some of the experiences held in Iranian living memory, I hope to indicate how, weary of attacks on their dignity, many of the country's people have, with good reason, become deeply suspicious of outside influences. The flaming rhetoric we are used to hearing from Iran is, in some ways, utterly justified.

The Birth of the Immortal fatwa

A fatwa is a religious decree issued by a Muslim religious leader, which their followers have to obey. The BBC's religious affairs correspondent has said that, technically, a fatwa ends with the death of the person who declared it, although there seems to be a general opinion that it cannot be revoked, a view often reiterated by Iranians and by Muslims more widely. In any case, after the death of the spiritual leader of Iran's Shi'a Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had issued the fatwa against Rushdie, it was then endorsed by his successor, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei.10

On 14th February 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini announced on Iranian radio,

I inform the proud Muslim people of the world that the author of the Satanic Verses book, which is against Islam and the Prophet of the Koran, and all involved in its publication are sentenced to death.11
It is often forgotten that the fatwa covers "all involved in its publication", and that while Rushdie, under Special Branch's level 2 protection, has remained physically unharmed, many others involved in the publication of his novel have been attacked, wounded, or killed. The Italian translator of The Satanic Verses, Ettore Capriolo, was assaulted; its Norwegian publisher, William Nygaard, was shot; its Japanese translator, Hitoshi Igarashi, was stabbed to death; and its Turkish translator, Aziz Nesin, narrowly escaped an arson attack which killed 37 people and injured many more.12

But why was this fatwa issued, when Rushdie and countless others had criticised Islam many times before? As is usual in such cases, the reason was that the conditions were ripe. Ayatollah Khomeini saw that he could make political capital of the situation and Rushdie's book gave Khomeini,

the opportunity to provoke a major international crisis with the non-Islamic world and at the same time to present Iran as the leader of the Islamic cause. Khomeini's call for the death of Salman Rushdie…was a means of meeting his two main policy goals - mobilization at home, confrontation internationally.13
There had been much protest by many Muslims against The Satanic Verses prior to the fatwa, and the Ayatollah cleverly harnessed this radical energy. Having been born into a Bombay Muslim family, Rushdie was guilty, in the eyes of Islam, not only of blasphemy but of apostasy and therefore, under Islamic law, eligible for the death sentence. 14 Rushdie, notionally a Muslim by birth, was a renegade, a symbol of the possible collapse of faith under Western, secular influences - he had been educated in England at Rugby School and gone on, at Cambridge, to study the origins of Islam. 15

But where did this radical energy come from? What were the origins of the potency of this situation, which Khomeini's political antennae here sensed for the Islamic Republic of Iran, Islam generally, and for the international community?

Crime and Punishment

Having failed to resolve the [oil dispute with Iran] by negotiation, [Britain and the US] resorted to a coup, which, by overthrowing Musaddiq, did some later damage to relations between the western powers and Iran. (The History of the British Petroleum Company )16
This has to be one of the understatements of the century, if not downright disingenuous, especially in the light of the fact that in a lengthy, two-volume history of BP, only a few sentences are given to this MI6- and CIA-orchestrated coup of 1953, the most crucial - and darkest - moment in the life of the company. More than that: when told correctly, the story of BP stands out as the central thread in the development, in the hearts of Iranians, of feelings of radical alienation from the world's great powers, both east and west. Not something the company would be too keen to advertise. But if we make some attempt to come clean, perhaps today we can learn from the mistakes of the past - which, however, we look all too likely merely to repeat. If, as the West fears, there is indeed a genuine danger of Iran developing nuclear weaponry, then it would be tragic in the truest sense of the word if the patterns of this century were to be continued into the next.17 Personally, I would not regard being nuked in my fifties as a fair price for being able to buy cheap petrol in my thirties.

Formative struggles for independence

From the 18th century, the British exerted a good deal of effort towards having a commercial, diplomatic and military presence in the region of Persia and the Persian Gulf, viewing it as a major bulwark against feared Russian expansion or French invasion of India. Furthermore, the Shahs of the period developed an ingrained habit of allowing outside control of Persia's resources and infrastructure. This was largely to finance their extravagances, but also as part of a growing tendency of Persia's rulers to impose westernising reforms. The result was a religious and popular suspicion of a corrupt monarchy and of unwelcome foreign influence - from Russia as well as from Europe. For example, in response to Naser ad Din Shah's 1890 granting of a monopolistic concession for the country's tobacco trade to a British company, a prominent religious leader, Mirza Hasan Shirazi pronounced a fatwa outlawing the use of tobacco, which was apparently widely obeyed.18

Under the reign of Mohammed Ali Shah, a constitutionalist revolt in 1909 forced him into exile in Russia. The Russians then helped him, by military means, to return to the throne, and the hopes of the constitutionalists were finally dashed when, under the 1907 Anglo-Russian Agreement, Britain and Russia imposed dominion over their decided carve-up of Persia.

In May 1901, an Englishman of some wealth, William Knox D'Arcy, had been granted a concession by the Shah to seek oil, which he eventually struck in May 1908. This was the first time commercially significant volumes of oil had been found in the Middle East - an historically momentous event indeed. Hence, 1909 saw the founding of British Petroleum, then called the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. In 1914, with the necessary injections of capital from the British Government - for which it received a controlling stake - the company became the Royal Navy's source of fuel oil for its ships during World War I.19 As BP tactfully put it, the government's "shareholding introduced an unusual political dimension to the company's affairs"; it was not until 1987 that the government finally sold its remaining shares, "apart from a tiny residual holding." 20

Despite declaring its neutrality, Persia nevertheless suffered the ravages of war; the land from which the British were extracting their oil became a battleground for the British, Turkish and Russian armies.

The popular wish for greater national autonomy looked as if it would be fulfilled, following attempts by Persia's British-bribed prime minister, Vosuq od-Dowleh, to institute Lord Curzon's Anglo-Persian Agreement of 1919. Opposition to the proposed agreement's effective establishment of Persia as a British protectorate led, in 1919 to Reza Khan, an officer of the Persian Cossacks Brigade, seizing power by force, the Shah eventually fleeing to Europe. Reza Khan, in 1926 was crowned Reza Shah Pahlavi, having given up his initial desire to establish an Ataturk-style secular republic, due to clerical opposition. Furthermore, the new Shah ejected Russian influence by threatening a treaty with the West. He equally resisted Western influence, and so a degree of national independence had been achieved. To the continuing misfortune of his subjects, however, Reza Shah proceeded to govern as a repressive autocrat. He crudely imposed western-inspired reforms on every aspect of society and violently fought the power of the clerics. By this program of 'modernisation', the Shah effectively continued - from within - the long established outside influence on the nation. Thus, ironically, the Shah wrenched a good deal of control out of European hands, only then to force European values on the very fabric of Persian society. Understandably, this stirred up a conservative, religious backlash. To have western-style dress imposed, from 1928, must have felt incredibly degrading for many. Instead of familiar, traditional clothing, men would now be expected to don strange, unfamiliar garments such as,

European pants, often tied with a string, and mismatched suit jackets worn day in and day out into a state of unrecognisable shabbiness.21
The eventual banning of the hijab, or veil, in 1936 was a catalyst that mobilised these feelings against the Shah's secularism as a desire for the traditional values of a familiar and long-established religion.
Women…have always been seen as the public face of morality… The banning of the veil and admittance of women to the newly opened Tehran University, at the same time as men, outraged the clergy who saw it as a final blow to the honour of the nation… Ayatollah Hosein Qomi Tabatabai and Ayatollah Taqi Bafqi, a renowned teacher at Qom who included Khomeini among his disciples, began a campaign against the compulsory removal of the veil. Reza Shah exiled the former to Iraq and the latter to Ray. 22
The clergy served as a ready and waiting channel for much of the popular resistance to the Shah. Could it be then, that the roots of radical Islam in Iran lie at least as much in the need for self respect and the assertion of one's own character as in an inherently religious striving? Perhaps the population of Persia felt that their once esteemed land had been ruffled into "a state of unrecognisable shabbiness".

The tug-of-war over oil truly begins

The Shah, possibly to salvage support for his rule, in 1932 terminated the sizeable Anglo-Persian Oil Company's concession. The concession was resettled the next year, covering a reduced area with an increase in Persia's share of the profits. This showed that Persia could bargain tough over the exploitation of its resources, even while depending very much on foreign technical assistance.

Having cut off ties with Britain and Russia to such an extent, but needing trading links, Germany had become Persia's biggest trading partner by the time of the outbreak of World War II. Iran - as Persia was renamed in 1936 - declared its neutrality, but was again unable to shelter itself from the war. Hostility brewed against Iran when it resisted requests to throw out its German nationals. Hitler's 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union meant that Iran became crucial to the Allies as a supply route between Europe and Soviet territory, and on 26th August 1941, Iran was invaded simultaneously by Britain from the west and the Soviet Union from the north. Reza Shah abdicated, handing the crown to his son, Mohammad Shah.

After the war, the Americans and the Russians began tugging at Iran, from one side and the other, for oil concessions, before its population had time even to begin recovering from the social and economic chaos left behind. Anti-foreign feeling was now strong enough that the Majlis , or parliament, passed a law prohibiting any further oil concession negotiations. Later, by 102 votes to 2, it ruled out any further concessions, deciding to tap their oil themselves. However, possibly due to the better behaviour of the West towards Iran immediately following the war and to the greater geographical distance of the Americans and British compared with the Russians, Iran agreed in 1947 to US support for its military.

However, as an indication of the growing polarisation of Iranian opinion regarding tradition and modernity, in 1946 the group Fadayan-e Islami murdered a notable historian, Ahmad Kasravi, for defending secularism and attacking Shi'a beliefs. Another agreement was, in fact, struck with the now Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) in 1949, and this radicalised the range of nationalist opposition further. In March 1951, Fadayan-e Islami assassinated Prime Minister Ali Razmara, who was against oil nationalisation. In April, a nationalisation bill was passed and the AIOC, from which the British government had been earning more than the Iranian, left the country. The Prime Ministership was taken up by Muhammad Mossadeq, who had spearheaded the nationalisation campaign. Iran's economy was badly affected immediately by the plummet in oil production, but popular opinion was firmly behind Mossadeq's policy.

However, economic pressures, made worse by a British embargo, were contributing to a degree of unrest which Mossadeq responded to by assuming autocratic powers. By dissolving the Majlis, the alienation felt by the clerics was a spur to yet further radicalisation of religious aspirations.

The AIOC took its complaints over Iran's oil nationalisation to the International Court of Justice at The Hague, but despite sending a powerful contingent of its best lawyers, Britain lost the case, the ICJ ruling that Iran had not broken international law. Britain's Minister of Fuel and Power at the time, was of the view that,

in the case of a mineral like oil [the Iranians] are of course morally entitled to a royalty [but that] morally they are entitled to 50%, or…even more of the profits of enterprises to which they have made no contribution whatever, is bunk, and ought to be shown to be bunk.23
The AIOC was unsuccessful in its subsequent attempts at achieving its demands from the Iranians, and strategy took a darker turn, now aiming for the very overthrow of Mossadeq and the return to power of the western-compliant Shah. This, despite the acknowledgement by Britain's ambassador in Iran that Mossadeq's National Front party had the most political integrity at the time, being
comparatively free from the taint of having amassed wealth and influence through the improper use of official positions; they can therefore attack the majority deputies, few of whom are in the same happy condition, without the fear of dangerous counter attacks.24
The Americans were not especially interested in Britain's losses; however, the British played on America's Cold War fears of Soviet influence in the region, and they set out together covertly to subvert Mossadeq's government. Cruelly, both for Mossadeq and all Iranians who wanted 'out' of this international greed and bickering, his neutrality came to be seen as "a sign of his weakness toward the communists."25 Britain's new approach to the situation has been put succinctly by Christopher Woodhouse, an MI6 agent prominent in the covert activities in Tehran:
The Americans would be more likely to work with us if they saw the problem as one of containing Communism rather than restoring the position of the AIOC. Although some of the representatives of American oil companies seemed to be circling like vultures over Iran, American officials were inclined to be more co-operative. 26
Of course, the British government had to keep this reality under wraps, the Foreign Office warning,
…it is essential at all costs that His Majesty's Government should avoid getting into a position where they could be represented as a capitalist power attacking a Nationalist Persia.27
The British also employed the expertise of Robin Zaehner, later Professor of Eastern Religions at Oxford, who provided Woodhouse with contacts to the Shah and to two wealthy merchants, the Rashidian brothers. Known as 'the Brothers', they were instrumental in the operation.
Apart from their wealth, they had skills in two directions: they could influence opinion in the Majlis and the bazaars; and more important, they could mobilize street mobs, which were a powerful force in Iranian politics. Popular demonstrations often swayed political events in Tehran.28
While a broad front of intensive covert operations was in progress - which included the assassination of Mossadeq's head of security 29 - plans for the eventual coup, Operation Ajax, were being drawn up. Mostafa Elm claims that the AIOC instigated this final action, although BP's historian, in a footnote, denies the accusation. 30 The coup began with large demonstrations organised, ultimately, by MI6 and the CIA, as recounted by a CIA agent at the time, Richard Cottam:
…[T]hat mob that came into north Tehran and was decisive in the overthrow was a mercenary mob. It had no ideology. That mob was paid for by American dollars and the amount of money that was used has to have been very large. 31
Elm states that he was present at the time:
The author, who witnessed these events, was puzzled by them.32
These destabilising events, combined with US propaganda presenting the disturbances as a revolt on the part of the communist Tudeh Party at the instigation of Moscow, indeed undermined Mossadeq's popularity, "while hostility to the Shah turned into indifference."33

On 19th August 1953, forces under the command of General Fazlollah Zahedi, chosen by the Britain and the US as a replacement prime minister of Iran, eventually overcame the security forces surrounding Mossadeq's home. Zahedi, the same day, took over Mossadeq's position, and the Shah was recalled from his hotel in Rome.

In London, the shares of the AIOC rose sharply on the Stock Exchange.34

Having helped to overthrow Mussadiq, the Americans and the British could now try to negotiate a settlement of the oil dispute with his successor. (The History of the British Petroleum Company)35

The AIOC now became The British Petroleum Company, resuming operations in Iran with a forty percent share in an international consortium, which continued until the fall of the Shah.

A Modernisation Too Far

The insult to the Iranian people had reached a ridiculous extreme, compounded by the fact that the Shah became a totalitarian ruler whose 'White Revolution' earned him an horrific human rights record. He continued with the blunt imposition of modernising, secular reforms, while dismissing the notion of individual freedom of expression. Distribution of land and women's suffrage counted for nothing when the Shah's regime was massively corrupt and elections were far from free and open. However, these reforms meant a great deal to the religious leaders, who saw their authority and Muslim values being steadily and forcibly undermined. In 1963, Ayatollah Khomeini triggered off riots after a speech in which he vociferously attacked the Shah.36 (The 15th Khordad Foundation, offering the bounty on Salman Rushdie, is named after the day of the arrest of Ayatollah Khomeini for sparking off this first Islamic revolt. 37) The monarch cracked down hard, and Khomeini went into exile in Iraq for fourteen years. Islamic resistance hit back, Fadayan-e Islami , in 1965, assassinating the Shah's prime minister at the time, Hassan Ali Mansur.

The situation was, of course, socially and politically unsustainable, despite some liberalising reforms due to US pressure during Jimmy Carter's more human rights-conscious Presidency. The opposition of the more liberal National Front party was weaker than that of the exiled religious leader's newly-formed Islamic Revolutionary Council, and on 1st February 1979, Khomeini returned to Tehran to a raucous reception. The ensuing demonstrations and riots replaced the rule of the Shah by the Shi'a Islamic leadership of the returned revolutionary. Diplomatic ties with secular foreign powers - which the Shah had nurtured, both east and west, throughout his reign - were severed. The Ayatollah's foreign policy was 'neither east nor west'; with a fanatical desperation, the Iranians reclaimed national independence and dignity of a kind.

Throughout this awful period, BP had continued to do well out of the situation, until they were ejected as a result of the Islamic Revolution. However,

thanks to BP's large investment program in areas outside the Middle East, the company showed, as it had done in Iran in 1951, that it could survive.38
Conveniently, no mention is made of the victims of years of political violence under the Shah, most notably that of his ruthless secret police, SAVAK.

Perhaps Ayatollah Khomeini's issuing of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, while not good and holy to my mind, now looks rather more like an understandable reaction to the attacks on his faith by a British citizen than simply the rantings of a paranoid lunatic. We discern a sense within this nonsense.

The Tug-of-War Continues

Iran since the Islamic Revolution has become the West's number one 'rogue' regime (but only in the sense that to taunt an injured creature will provoke its fury). Economic sanctions have been one of the main weapons the West has used against Iran, although these are routinely broken or eased when the motives of economic greed and political power dictate the need.

I hazard a guess that this is what really hides behind Britain's current attempts at rapprochement with the Iranian government, and why an understanding of this by Iran's hardliners, headed by Ayatollah Khamenei, precludes any genuine shift in their position with regards to Salman Rushdie. However, it is the more moderate contingent in Iran, headed by President Khatami, which Britain hopes - perhaps vainly - will eventually hold sway. The moderates are more open to trade contacts with the West, taking a pragmatic approach to the present condition of Iran's economy, somewhat fragile due to the combined effects of the mainly US-driven embargo and the slump in oil prices.

The recent diplomatic developments turn on oil again, particularly on the opening up to the West of the vast oil and gas reserves of the ex-Soviet republics. The issue here is partly one of gaining access to the reserves themselves but mainly of the question of how to transport them out of the region to whoever will pay for them - Western Europe, the US and East Asia. The oil and gas pipelines are the arteries carrying the lifeblood of the wealthy nations. During the Soviet era, the republics' fuel production was siphoned north through the Russian pipeline system. Now, the Russians having lost control of this region around the Caspian Sea, the major western oil companies want to siphon this fuel in the other direction. The US, under Israeli pressure, would like new pipelines to be built in such a way as to avoid Iranian as well as Russian territory. Everyone wants to be in on this dangerous bonanza. For example, a compromise agreement was reached which involves the construction of two pipelines for oil from Azerbaijan, one going west through Turkey, the other going north through Russia. 39

The members of the European Union are less hardline anti-Iranian than the US; Britain has been held back, over the Rushdie Affair, from developing lucrative trade with Iran, while other European countries such as Germany have made significant strides. It is to try to catch up with its neighbours in this regard, but also to follow the EU's more diplomatic strategy with Iran to achieve security over the flow of Caspian oil, that Britain has been making its recent overtures to the Iranian government.

The fate of Salman Rushdie and of all those currently suffering human rights abuses in Iran (as documented by Amnesty International40) are being rather forgotten under all these shenanigans. Indeed, Amnesty recently produced a report charging government departments such as the Department of Trade and Industry with undermining Robin Cook's purported ethical stand on foreign policy. 41

It comes as no surprise that it is the interests of BP and Britain's general economic and strategic interests that are now taking priority. In 1992, Margaret Thatcher pulled off a very British coup, by giving Azerbaijan a $30 million down payment for the exploitation of its resources:

To Azerbaijani officials, a deal with BP was tantamount to a deal with the British government; not only did visiting British officials lobby relentlessly for the company, but for months Britain's diplomatic mission to Azerbaijan had operated out of the BP offices.42
On 21st July 1998, BP announced that it had
reached an agreement for a major offshore Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) with the Republic of Azerbaijan… A signing takes place today at 10 Downing Street in the presence of British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair…and BP Chief Executive Sir John Browne.43
Furthermore, it has been reported that BP are to head a British trip, organised by the Department of Trade and Industry, to a Tehran trade fair in October 1998.44 The signs clearly point towards human rights taking second place to politics, in turn taking second place to global business interests. We have seen that there is a precedence for this kind of cynicism and arrogance in BP's formative years. Perhaps, as BP head, Sir John Browne claimed in a recent speech, this kind of corporate cynicism and arrogance is a thing of the past 45 - there is a danger of seeing conspiracies where there are none. But BP has been exposed as being, at the very least, in a highly compromising position regarding human rights in its Colombian operations. Here it appears that the company is currently quite happy to assist the Colombian security forces in violently oppressing the local people, where it suits BP's business agenda. So long as it is done covertly, of course. 46 So, BP's knowing - even active - complicity in the abuse of human rights has been an essential component of its business strategy and continues to be up to this very day.

It does seem very much as if BP has overtaken Rushdie. Is this what we want to see, the value of oil against the value of life? John Browne said, in his recent speech:

We have to be commercially successful, so financial performance is an absolute requirement, but we also want to be seen as innovative, responsible and constructive in our dealings… We have to be conscious of the way in which business activity has become a lever for other people's policy objectives… It certainly doesn't feel as if we have power in any normal sense of the word. Anything we do in terms of the international relations agenda is not about imposing our views on anyone else, but simply another requirement of doing business successfully, a reflection of the fact that international relations are not a suitable subject for a laissez-faire approach. But I do want to stress the limits of the corporate role. Companies have no democratic legitimacy… Being in the oil industry and being British (and also perhaps because we employ so many graduates of Cambridge and Oxford) means we tend not to wear our hearts on our sleeves. We don't express too much emotion. So when people come up to me and say that the position we've taken on climate change makes them proud to say they work for BP, you know something special is happening. 47
It appears that BP still believes in "financial performance" as "an absolute requirement", an article of faith as fundamentalist as those of any religious extremists if it means giving way on human rights.

Let us indeed "be conscious of the way in which business activity has become a lever for other people's policy objectives." BP has yet to learn to come clean and it looks as if the Rushdie Affair, sadly, is set to run for quite some time. On 16th October 1998, Robin Cook met in "private" with Rushdie, urging him to keep quiet so as not to upset the delicate diplomacy going on between Britain and Iran.48 This was presented as part of a strategy that would avoid antagonising Iran's hardliners, easing pressure on its moderates. But what has happened to the principle of freedom of expression? It seems rather ironic that it has reached the stage where even our own Foreign Minister has taken to censoring Rushdie. One further suspects BP's leverage on "other people's policy objectives." Will Rushdie ever get round to writing his book?

I've always wanted to write about this matter and I always felt the time to write about it was when I knew what the last chapter was.49
If Britain's foreign policy towards Iran does not mature into something more sophisticated than it has been for the whole of living memory, we could end up paying rather more than we expect for our lust for oil. If governments and business do not play fairly and openly, their neglect and arrogance will return to haunt them. When their crude pursuit of economic growth and ever increasing profits (effectively religiously sacrosanct to the devout believer in capitalism) lead them to play dirty, our moralising condemnations of the resulting resistance and revenge can only look despicably hollow. But who can seriously expect either the British Government or BP to come clean, be honest and explain that, at times, they are perfectly prepared to compromise on human rights for the sake of business interests? If this is the policy, then include it in your manifestos and let us at least have the chance to vote on it.


  1. From a commentary in the Iranian hardline daily Jomhuri Eslami, reported in Rushdie still in danger - Iran press , Barry May, Reuters 26.9.98.
  2. William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act 4, Scene 6, New American Library Signet Classic, 1963.
  3. Rushdie joy at 'freedom' from fatwa, Daily Telegraph 25.9.98.
  4. Ibid.
  5. This means freedom, says Rushdie after Cook strikes Iran deal, Times 25.9.98; Rushdie joy at 'freedom' from fatwa, Daily Telegraph 25.9.98; Ministerial mission to Iran planned , Guardian 20.5.98.
  6. Iran MPs back Rushdie fatwa, BBC 4.10.98.
  7. Iranian group offers Rushdie bounty , Afshin Valinejad, Associated Press 10.10.98.
  8. Fresh fears for Rushdie after Iran bounty upped , Paul Keller, Reuters 12.10.98.
  9. Cook ignored as police maintain Rushdie's guard, Sunday Telegraph 4.10.98.
  10. Fatwa cannot be revoked, BBC 23.9.98.
  11. Author had to keep on move for nine years, Times 25.9.98.
  12. Leader - Seven years on, Times 14.2.96; Washington Post 13.7.91; Los Angeles Times 3.7.93; Boston Globe (Associated Press) 16.1.94, 21.8.93.
  13. Fred Halliday, Islam and the Myth of Confrontation: Religion and Politics in the Middle East, I.B. Tauris, 1996, p.71.
  14. Heiner Bielefeldt, Muslim Voices in the Human Rights Debate, Human Rights Quarterly, 17.4, 1995, p.598.
  15. Ian Hamilton, The First Life of Salman Rushdie , The New Yorker 25.12.95 & 1.1.96.
  16. J.H.Bamberg, The History of the British Petroleum Company, vol.2: The Anglo-Iranian Years, 1928-1954, Cambridge University Press, 1994, p.489.
  17. US sounds alarm over Iran nuclear threat, Sunday Telegraph 23.2.97; Financial Times 25.7.98; Israeli concern over Iranian missile threat, BBC 9.8.98, Israeli MP calls for strike against Iran, BBC 27.9.98; Stephen Zunes, In Focus: Iran , US Foreign Policy in Focus, Institute for Policy Studies and the Interhemispheric Resource Center, vol.2, no.42, August 1997.
  18. The Middle East and North Africa 1998 , 44 th edition, Europa Publications, 1998; Library of Congress, Federal Research Division, Country Studies: Iran (
  19. R.W.Ferrier, The History of the British Petroleum Company, vol.1: The Developing Years, 1901-1932, Cambridge University Press, 1982; A Brief History of BP, at the company's website,
  20. A Brief History of BP, A New Company Emerges (1901-1914).
  21. Manucher Farmanfarmaian and Roxana Farmanfarmaian, Blood and Oil: Memoirs of a Persian Princess, Random House, 1997; quoted in review, A Persian Princess: Oil-fuelled greed and corruption, Financial Times 4.7.98.
  22. Omid Homa, Islam and the Post-Revolutionary State in Iran, Macmillan, 1994, pp.21-2.
  23. Quoted by Mark Curtis, The Ambiguities of Power: British Foreign Policy since 1945, Zed Books, 1995, p.88. A slightly abridged version of the chapter referred to appears in Lobster magazine, issue 30, December 1995, as A 'great venture': overthrowing the government of Iran. 50-50 profit-sharing agreements between governments and oil companies were already becoming the norm, having already been struck by Venezuela in 1948 and by Saudi Arabia in 1950, and this fuelled popular Iranian animosity towards the AIOC.
  24. Quoted by Curtis, ibid., pp.88-9.
  25. Mostafa Elm, Oil, Power and Principle: Iran's Oil Nationalization and Its Aftermath, Syracuse University Press, 1994, p.299
  26. C.M.woodhouse, Something Ventured , Granada, 1982; p.110.
  27. Quoted by Curtis, p.94.
  28. Ibid., p.111.
  29. Elm, pp.298-9. "[At the Monday Club] I met George Kennedy Young, who had retired as a deputy chief of MI6 in 1961 and joined Kleinwort Benson. ... George Young didn't tolerate idiots. He was a brave man and forthright, not at all the typical Intelligence man. What I took from Young was a realisation of how things were actually done rather than how people thought they were done, and it stood me in very good stead in the years to come. He was one of the people involved in the strategy to restore the Shah to the Iranian throne. He told me openly how, with the CIA, they had totally undermined the Iranian state under Mossadeq with disinformation and by organising riots, even down to the detail of how they eliminated a key minister by sending him an exploding shaver." Gerald James, In the Public Interest, London: Little, Brown & Co., 1995, pp.44-5.
  30. Ibid., p.293; Bamberg, n.115, p.588.
  31. Quoted by Curtis, p.93.
  32. Elm, p.305.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Woodhouse, p.129.
  35. Bamberg, p.488.
  36. Specifically, he lead a campaign of "opposition to the enfranchisement of women, the Local Council Election Bill of 1962, land reform, the six-point White Revolution, and a major military loan from the United States including immunity from Iranian law for American servicemen." Michael M.J.Fischer, Iran: From Religious Dispute to Revolution , London: Harvard University Press, 1980, pp.123-4.
  37. 5th June 1963; M. Reza Behnam, Cultural Foundations of Iranian Politics, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1986, p.75. "Khomeinists date the beginning of their movement to the June Uprising (Qiyam-e Khordad)", Ervand Abrahamian, Khomeinism: Essays on the Islamic Republic , London and New York: I.B.Tauris, 1993, Introduction, p.10.
  38. A Brief History of BP, Shocks and Successes (1960-1970's).
  39. Russia and Turkey settle pipeline row, Daily Telegraph 10.10.95.
  40. Amnesty International Report 1998, Amnesty International Publications, 1998. AI website at .
  41. Guardian 23.9.98.
  42. Washington Post 4.10.98.
  43. BP News 21.7.98, at the company's website, .
  44. British-Iranian ties ease path for UK oil firms, Richard Mably, Reuters 25.9.98; Rushdie looks for new start after Iran deal, David Ljunggren, Reuters 25.9.98.
  45. International Relations: the new agenda for business ,The 1998 Elliot Lecture, St. Anthony's College, Oxford, 4.6.98.
  46. BP sacks security chief over arms deal, Guardian 17.10.98, p.1; BP hands 'tarred in pipeline dirty war', ibid. p.20.
  47. From International Relations: the new agenda for business.
  48. Rushdie is told to keep quiet to aid Tehran ties, Guardian 17.10.98., p.19.
  49. Salman Rushdie, the day after the announcement of Rushdie deal between Britain and Iran - Rushdie Plans Book On Life Under Iran Death Threat, David Ljunggren, Reuters 25.9.98.

By Keith Fisher, October 1998

For another account of US intervention in Iran at this time - particularly the exaggeration of the communist threat, the political terror employed by the Shah's SAVAK and the strategic advantages to the US of the Shah's compliance - see William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. military and CIA interventions since World War II, Montreal, New York and London: Black Rose Books, 1998, Ch.9.

( Iran 1953. Making it safe for the King of Kings - excerpted from the book Killing Hope by William Blum).

Further web links:

jehbemelli flag, Iran National Front
BP and Iran
Los Angeles Times BOOK REVIEW - The overthrow of democracy in Iran. All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror.
20.3.01 Financial Times Oil takeover still reverberates in Iran . 'As western companies jockey to re-enter Iran, Guy Dinmore examines the legacy of the 1951 oil industry nationalisation.' [No mention of BP!]
2.11.00 Times Japan lays a claim to Iran's Azadegan oil
2.10.00 Times Trade deal pulls Iran in from the cold
27.9.00 Guardian BP's Gulf breakthrough . 'Abu Dhabi stake signals return of Big Oil to the Middle East.'
16.6.00 Times Obituary - Kermit Roosevelt . 'Mastermind of the CIA coup that put the Shah of Iran back on his Peacock Throne in 1953.'
'When British Intelligence approached the CIA... it found a ready ear, and a plan - Operation Ajax - was formulated with remarkably little discussion of the ethics of removing the legitimate government of a foreign country. It was the precursor of several such infamous actions by the CIA.'
2.5.00 Guardian Iran was our puppet state
17.4.00 New York Times Special Report: The C.I.A. in Iran . 'The C.I.A.'s history of its covert operation to overthrow Iran's government in 1953 offers an inside look at how the agency stumbled into success, despite a series of mishaps. As the C.I.A.-backed royalist coup seemed to be failing in Iran, the shah and Empress Soraya arrived in Rome on Aug. 18, 1953.'
[See also: National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 28 – The Secret CIA History of the Iran Coup, 1953 .]
18.3.00 New York Times Text of Madeleine Albright's Address to the American-Iranian Council
'In 1953, the United States played a significant role in orchestrating the overthrow of Iran's popular prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh. The Eisenhower administration believed its actions were justified for strategic reasons, but the coup was clearly a setback for Iran's political development and it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs.
Moreover, during the next quarter century, the United States and the West gave sustained backing to the shah's regime. Although it did much to develop the country economically, the shah's government also brutally repressed political dissent.
As President Clinton has said, the United States must bear its fair share of responsibility for the problems that have arisen in U.S.-Iranian relations. Even in more recent years, aspects of U.S. policy toward Iraq during its conflict with Iran appear now to have been regrettably shortsighted, especially in light of our subsequent experiences with Saddam Hussein.'
17.3.00 BBC News Online US-Iranian ties: Chronology [Notice the convenient omission of any mention of BP!]
17.3.00 Washington Post U.S. reaches out to Iran
11.8.98 BBC News Online From Anglo-Persian Oil to BP Amoco [Notice the convenient omission of any mention of the 1953 coup!]
BP and Caspian Oil
Jostle to plunder Caspian riches turns nasty . 'Warning of bloodshed as shoreline states argue over carve-up of oil and gas reserves.'
14.3.01 Los Angeles Times Miniature Cold War for Caspian . 'This week Iranian President Mohammad Khatami is in Russia, finding common ground with President Vladimir V. Putin in opposing growing U.S. influence in the energy-rich Caspian Sea region.'
5.3.01 Guardian The new Great Game . 'East and west are jockeying for influence in the Caucasus. The prize is oil and gas.'
3.2.01 Guardian TotalFina guzzles BP's oilfield stake
15.11.00 Guardian Black gold brings petrodollar to the edge of the world . 'In Bautino, rusting hulks litter the jetties and the petrol ran out years ago. Now it's about to become the Klondike of the Caspian as the west arrives in search of oil.'
25.7.00 Times Environmental concerns over Kazakh oil find
10.7.00 Times President 'was paid in £25m oil deal scandal'
8.5.00 Guardian Former MI6 officer gets top post at BP
9.4.00 Sunday Times Letter - BP-backed coup a slur . '...we do not intrigue to unseat elected governments...'
26.3.00 Sunday Times BP accused of backing 'arms for oil' coup
10.2.00 Times Russia grasps its big prize of Chechen oil
7.2.00 Times Oil on the flames . 'Nato must beware of repeating the Vietnam catastrophe in Central Asia.'
5.1.00 Times Chechnya oil riches fuel war
2.1.00 Sunday Telegraph Moscow's fight for oil cash fuels Chechen conflict
26.11.99 Times Discord in the pipeline over Caspian oil plan . 'Proposals for vast oil and gas flows from Central Asia are political dynamite.'
19.11.99 Independent Oil pipeline deal bypasses Russia
16.11.99 Guardian Caspian oil plan stirs political cauldron . 'Central to the Russian-Chechen conflict throughout the 1990s has been the contest to control the Caspian oil deposits.'
8.11.99 Independent War will force oil pipeline to avoid Caucasus region
6.11.99 Independent What is this war about and what can we do?
25.7.97 Telegraph Oil boom slips from Russia's grip
25.1.95 Telegraph Oiling the wheels of war . 'Groping for an explanation of Russia's grotesque handling of the Chechnya issue, analysts have concluded that the fighting - at least partly - is about oil.'
Caspian Oil and the War over Afghanistan
There is a firestorm coming, and it is being provoked by Mr Bush . 'More and more, President Bush's rhetoric sounds like the crazed videotapes of Osama bin Laden.
... Please do not believe that this is about oil. Do not for a moment think that these oil and gas-rich lands have any economic importance for the oil-fuelled Bush administration. Nor the pipelines that could run from northern Afghanistan to the Pakistani coast if only that pesky Afghan loya jirga could elect a government that would give concessions to Unocal, the oddly named concession whose former boss just happens to be a chief Bush "adviser" to Afghanistan.'
John O'Neill: The FBI's sharp-dressed, sharp-tongued expert on Al Qa'ida, who died in Twin Towers .
'[B]efore leaving, O'Neill shared his grievances with the French authors Guillaume Dasqui and Jean-Charles Brisard. In Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth , published last November, they recount O'Neill's claim that his probe of Mr bin Laden and al-Qa'ida in Afghanistan had been blocked by the US oil lobby. John O'Neill was right but he paid for his judgement with his life.'
US in replay of the 'Great Game' . 'Costs and consequences of American engagement in Central Asia begin to become clear.'
New US envoy to Kabul lobbied for Taliban oil rights
Route to riches . 'Afghanistan has huge strategic importance for the west as a corridor to the untapped fuel reserves in central Asia, reports Andy Rowell.'
23.10.01 Guardian America's pipe dream . 'A pro-western regime in Kabul should give the US an Afghan route for Caspian oil.'
Caspian Oil and the War over Kosovo
23.9.01 Sunday Times US to build buffer zone in Balkans .'US policy advisers are evaluating how best to safeguard American and European interests in the region, including planned pipelines to the vast oil and gas reserves of central Asia.'
15.2.01 Guardian A discreet deal in the pipeline . 'Nato mocked those who claimed there was a plan for Caspian oil.'
28.11.00 Agence France Presse Balkans pipeline tipped for funding early in 2001
30.11.99 NewsMax The Oily Tracks Running Through Kosovo . 'The greatest shame must fall upon the tendentious media hacks.'
29.6.99 United Press International U.S. reassures Turkey on pipeline
9.6.99 NewsMax The Caspian Connection: Pipeline Politics and the Balkan War [Well worth a read!]
8.6.99 Lloyd's List US to aid Balkan pipeline route study
9.12.98 BBC News Online Albania says Kosovo should not remain part of Serbia
1.6.98 Financial Times Balkan Overview: The powerful forces . 'Exploiting, processing and transporting oil and gas from the Caspian region is big politics and big money.'
6.98 Le Monde diplomatique Oil routes . Pipeline routes from the Caspian Sea region.
11.6.97 Financial Times Balkan summit meeting urged . 'Officials said the test of Russia's commitment to the region would be its willingness to guarantee oil supplies for the planned trans-Balkan pipeline.'
8.11.96 Financial Times Russians may upgrade Croatian pipeline for oil exports . 'Russia's search for enhanced access to European oil markets reflects Moscow's determination to establish itself as the main conduit for the estimated 60m-70m tonnes a year of oil from the Caspian region which is expected to come on stream in the next century.'
1.11.94 Platt's Oilgram News Bosporus Bypass Planned; Line Has Adriatic Terminus
BP and other Human Rights
7.2.01 Independent Tibet protesters target BP over PetroChina stake
2.10.00 Guardian BP caught in Tibet crossfire
18.3.98 Financial Times Colombia probe fails to clear BP contractor
30.6.97 Guardian Inside Story: BP's Secret Military Advisers
16.4.97 Telegraph Elite SAS corps falls to American coup
25.10.96 Telegraph BP denies claim of rights abuses
The good dictators . 'America cares whether the world's leaders support its interests, not whether they have been freely elected.'
Financial Times
Crackdown on terror takes its toll on civil liberties .  'US accused of sending the wrong message on human rights, says Roula Khalaf.'
20.10.01 Guardian The last word on Hypocrisy . 'The true hypocrite is the one who ceases to perceive his deception, the one who lies with sincerity - Gide.'
28.1.01 Los Angeles Times Academics and Spies: The Silence That Roars
24.11.00 Guardian In the grip of vested interests . 'It isn't America's citizens who want the US to be the dirty man of the planet: it's the oil companies who have captured their democracy.'
4.11.00 Times UK firms pay the US political game . 'British companies are happy to bankroll the election hopefuls.'
30.10.00 Times EU to woo Russia for oil pact
28.8.00 Telegraph BP provided secret oil after Yom Kippur war