In this week's New Statesman: The A-Z of Iran

Everything you need to know about the world's most controversial country.

The magazine is now available on newsstands around the country, and domestic/overseas purchasers can order a single issue copy here.

The A-Z of Iran

In this week’s cover story, the New Statesman offers an A-Z guide to the Islamic Republic of Iran. The topics span the nation’s complex history, culture, economics and politics, and range from Cinema and Khomeini/Khamenei to Nose Jobs and Diaspora.

In the article “E for Embassy”, the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, Trita Parsi, traces US-Iran relations from before the 1979 siege of the US embassy in Tehran to the present day. Following George W Bush‘s eight years of failed foreign policy, writes Parsi, Barack Obama in 2008 did what no one before him had done and made diplomacy with Iran “a central theme of his foreign-policy platform”. Since then, however, the US president has abandoned this pursuit:

[B]y the time the Iranians were ready to broker a deal in May 2010, when Turkey and Brazil’s mediation secured Tehran’s agreement to a fuel swap built on the benchmarks of a US proposal from only six months earlier, US politics had taken its toll on Obama. With congressional midterm elections only months away, he had to choose between the breakthrough produced by Turkey and Brazil and sanctions at the UN Security Council. He chose the latter.

More than three decades on from the embassy siege, US-Iranian relations are still hostage to the fear and mistrust perpetuated by America, and to Iran’s missteps of yesteryear and today.

Writing about “G for Green Movement”, the Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari recalls being imprisoned in June 2009 for peacefully demonstrating against the rigged re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

My interrogators seemed literally to believe that such mass demonstrations against a “holy regime” could not happen without the help of evil western governments, especially the United States, and the financial help of the rich Zionists who run the western media. As a reporter for Newsweek magazine in Iran, I was, in effect, representing evil Zionists.

Bahari writes that nowadays he is often asked if the Green Movement is dead. He answers with a resounding “no”:

The protests in the streets of Tehran and many other Iranian cities in 2009 were manifestations of a civil rights movement through which people peacefully demanded their rights as citizens. Those who expected the Green Movement to topple [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei’s despotic regime and bring a western-style democracy to power were wrong. The Green Movement is a collective cry for a normal life.

Possibly the most topical piece, “U for Uranium”, is written by Peter Jenkins, Britain’s former permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and now leader of the international diplomatic partnership ADRg Ambassadors. Jenkins slams the west for its “legacy of countless misunderstandings and historic clashes” with Iran, a distrust that affected the IAEA’s assessment in 2003 of the nation’s enrichment facility at Natanz. Jenkins describes how western governments, in their attempts to eliminate all enrichment of uranium in Iran, have used persuasion, coercion and, eventually, “the threat of (illegal) military action”.

Jenkins argues that resolution will come when the west recognises that Iranian leaders – as various US assessments have found – “are rational actors whose decisions are based on classic cost/benefit calculations”, and that there is an “absence of hard evidence that Iran has breached the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Threaty (NPT)”. He then explains how the west can change tack:

Instead of trying to stamp out enrichment, it can revert to treating Iran like other NPT parties. It can negotiate, agreeing to tolerate low-risk enrichment activities in return for Tehran offering the best possible guarantees that all its nuclear materials will remain in non-military use.

Ian Blair: police independence is under threat

In the NS Essay, “Regression to the mean”, the former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Ian Blair warns that the coalition government’s keenness to pursue a tough line on law and order – exemplified by four wide-ranging policy changes on policing – undermines the authority of the police and risks destroying the great institution created by Robert Peel.

[Police commissioners] will be elected on tribal lines and, seeking re-election, they will put continual pressure on the police to deal with matters of concern to their supporters, irrespective of where crime is occurring. How many times will a chief constable, with now almost no security of tenure, stand up to that pressure or insist on dealing with matters such as organised crime or forced marriage, about which the commissioners’ electorates do not care? . . .

In policing, we are about to regress to the mean. It is particularly ironic that Peel’s own party is involved in driving the partial destruction of his greatest legacy.

Elsewhere in the New Statseman

  • The actress Romola Garai reports on the women fleeing eastern Congo for the relative safety of refugee camps in Burundi.
  • In the Critics, Leo Robson takes the measure of Martin Amis's new novel, Lionel Asbo: State of England.
  • Ryan Gilbey assesses the career of Rainer Werner Fassbinder 30 years after the German director's death.
  • David Owen on Britain and its place in the eurozone.
  • John Burnside reflects in the Nature column on roadkill, feeling for our fellow creatures and country road mayhem.

The magazine is now available on newsstands around the country, and domestic/overseas purchasers can order a single issue copy here.

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

In praise of the late developer

The success of late developers proves that our obsession with early achievement is wrong.

A fortnight ago, I fell into conversation with the head teacher of a local school. “You’ve got to create room for late developers,” he said. “The obsession with early attainment doesn’t suit most children.”

We were soon finishing each other’s sentences – talking about long-term confidence rather than short-term hothousing, how children don’t develop in a linear way, and the value of having transferable skills rather than a single focus from a young age.

What a shame, I reflected, that his message doesn’t reach a wider audience. We hear so much about prodigies and precociousness – Serena Williams and her pushy father, Tiger Woods and “tiger mothers” – and so little of the counter-argument: the high achievers who emerge at a slower pace in more balanced circumstances.

Our conversation ended when we both departed to watch England play Scotland in the Six Nations tournament. Only then did I learn that the head teacher’s son Huw Jones was playing in the centre for Scotland. He scored two tries, just as he did last autumn in his home debut against Australia.

Jones’s career is a tacit endorsement of his father’s philosophy. In his penultimate year at school, Huw was still playing mostly in the second XV. Five years on, he is a burgeoning talent on the world stage. The two facts are connected. Jones didn’t just overtake others; he also retained the naturalness that is often lost “in the system”.

As boys, he and his brother made up their own version of rugby practice: could the ­attacker sidestep and run past the defender without setting foot outside the five-metre line? They were just having fun, uncoached and unsupervised. But their one-on-one game was teaching the most valuable skill in rugby: the ability to beat defenders in confined spaces.

Jones had access to superb opportunities throughout – at home, at Canterbury rugby club and then at Millfield, the independent school in Somerset well known for producing sportsmen. But at Millfield, he was far from being a superstar. He seldom played “A-team” rugby. The message from home: just keep enjoying it and getting better and eventually your time will come.

There was a useful precedent. Matt Perry, who won 36 caps for England between 1997 and 2001, had been a “B-team” player at school. What matters is where you end up, not who leads the race at the age of 16. Jones also developed transferable skills by continuing to play other sports. “Don’t specialise too early,” was the mantra of Richard Ellison, the former England cricketer who taught at Millfield for many years.

When Jones was 18 and finally blossoming in the school’s first XV, rugby agents started to take an interest, promising to place him in the “academy” of a professional team. “But I’d seen so many kids take that route and seen how bored they got,” his father, Bill, reflects. So Bill advised his son to go abroad, to gain experience of new cultures and to keep playing rugby for fun instead of getting on the tracksuited professional treadmill.

So Jones took a teaching job in Cape Town, where he played men’s club rugby. Instead of entering the professional system, as one of a bland cohort of similar-aged “prospects”, he served his apprenticeship among players drawn from different backgrounds and ages. Sport was shown to be a matter of friendship and community, not just a career path.

The University of Cape Town spotted and recruited Jones, who helped it win the South African university competition. Only then, in 2014, did British professional rugby teams start to take a serious interest. Jones, however, was enjoying South Africa and stayed put, signing a contract with the Stormers in the Super Rugby tournament – the world’s leading club competition.

So, in the space of 18 months, Jones had gone from being a gap-year Brit with no formal ties to professional rugby to playing against the world’s best players each week. He had arrived on the big stage, following a trajectory that suited him.

The level of competition had escalated rapidly but the tries kept coming. Scotland, by now closely monitoring a player qualified by birth, gave him his spectacular home debut against Australia last autumn – remarkable but not surprising. Finding his feet ­instantly on each new stage is the pattern of his career.

Those two qualities – first, instinctive ­try-scoring; second, a lack of vertigo – are connected. Amid all the jargon of professional sport, perhaps the most important qualities – freshness, ingenuity and the gift of surprise – are undervalued. Yet all of these rely on skills honed over many years – honed, but not dulled.

Shoehorning all young players into rigid, quasi-professional systems long before they are ready comes with risks. First, we seldom hear from the child prodigies who faded away (often damaged psychologically). Many players who are pushed too hard miss their natural learning arc; the narrative of their ambition, or the ambition imposed on them by parents, is often out of step with their physical and psychological growth. Second, systems have a habit of overestimating their contribution: they become blind to outsiders.

In a quiet way, Jones is a case study in evolved education and not just sport: a talented performer who was given time and space to find his voice. The more we learn about talent, as David Epstein demonstrated in The Sports Gene, the clearer it becomes that focusing on champion 11-year-olds decreases the odds of producing champion adults. Modern science has reinforced less frantic and neurotic educational values; variety and fun have their virtues.

Over the long term, put your faith not in battery farming but instead, in Bill Jones’s phrase, in “free-range children”.

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution