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.

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How can the left make the case for immigration?

All too often, we drift into telling people we want to convince that they just don't get it.

We don’t give the public enough credit. You’ll often hear their views dismissed with sighs in intellectual circles. In fact on most issues the public are broadly sensible, most are these days supportive of cutting the deficit and dubious about political giveaways, but in favor of protecting spending on the NHS and education. Yet there is one issue where most, “knowledgeable” folks will tell you the public are well out of step: immigration. 

With [today’s] net migration figures showing yet another record high, it is an ever more salient issue. On a lot of measures ‘too much immigration’ ranks highest as the number one concern (see Ipossmori). The ongoing rise of right wing political parties across Europe demonstrates that simply enough. But concerns about immigration don’t just sit with those with more extreme views, they’re also shared across the mainstream of public opinion. Yet unlike thinking on cutting the deficit or funding the NHS the public consensus that immigration is bad for Britain, flies flat in the face of the intellectual consensus, and by that I mean the economics. 

Given the intense public debate many a study has tried to spell out the economic impact of immigration, most find that it is positive. Immigration boosts the nation’s GDP. As the theory goes this is because immigrants bring with them entrepreneurialism and new ideas to the economy. This means firstly that they help start new ventures that in turn create more wealth and jobs for natives. They also help the supply chains to keep ticking. A example being British agriculture, where seasonal workers are are needed, for example, to pick the strawberries which help keeps the farms, the truckers and the sellers in business. 

Most studies also find little evidence of British jobs being lost (or displaced) due to immigrants, certainly when the economy is growing. Indeed economists refer to such “ “they’re” taking our jobs” arguments as the “lump of labour fallacy’. On top of all that the average migrant is younger than the native population and less likely to rely on welfare, so their net contribution to the state coffers are more likely to be positive than natives as they don’t draw as much state spending from pensions or the NHS. 

So why haven't the public cottoned on? Many progressive types dismiss such views as racist or xenophobic. But it turns out this is to misunderstand the public just as much as the public ‘misunderstand’ immigration. When you study people’s views on immigration more closely it becomes clear why. Far from being racist most people asked by focus groups cite practical concerns with immigration. Indeed if you go by the British Social Attitudes Survey a much smaller number of people express racist view than say they are concerned about migration.  

The think tank British Future broadly set out that while a quarter of people are opposed to immigration in principle and another quarter are positive about it the majority are concerned for practical reasons - concerns about whether the NHS can cope, whether there are enough social houses, whether our border controls are up to scratch and whether we know how many people are coming here in the first place (we don’t since exit checks were scrapped, they only came back a few months ago). But more than anything else they also have very little confidence that government can or wants to do anything about it. 

This truth, which is to often ignored, begets two things. Firstly, we go about making the argument in the wrong way. Telling someone “you don’t understand immigration is good for our economy etc etc” is going to get a reaction which says “this person just doesn't get my concerns”. Despite the moans of progressives, this is precisely why you won't hear left leaning politicians with any nous ‘preaching’ the the unconditional benefits of immigration.

More importantly, the economic arguments miss the central issue that those concerned with immigration have, that the benefits and effects of it are not shared fairly. Firstly migrants don’t settle homogeneously across the country, some areas have heavy influxes other have very little. So while the net effect of immigration may be positive on the national tax take that doesn't mean that public services in certain areas don’t loose out. Now there isn't clear evidence of this being the case, but that could just as well be because we don’t record the usage of public services by citizenship status. 

The effects are also not equal on the income scale, because while those of us with higher incomes scale tend to benefit from cheep labour in construction, care or agriculture (where many lower skilled migrants go) the lower paid British minority who work in those sectors do see small downward pressure on their wages. 

It’s these senses of unfairness of how migration has been managed (or not) that leads to the sense of concern and resentment. And any arguments about the benefit to the UK economy fail to answer the question of what about my local economy or my bit of the labour market. 

Its worth saying that most of these concerns are over-egged and misused by opponents of immigration. Its only a small factor in stagnating wages, and few local areas are really overrun. But the narrative is all important, if you want to win this argument you have to understand the concerns of the people you are trying to convince. That means the right way to make the argument about immigration is to start by acknowledging your opponents concerns - we do need better border controls and to manage demands on public services. Then persuade them that if we did pull up the drawbridge there is much we’d loose in smart entrepreneurs and in cultural diversity. 

Just whatever you do, don’t call them racist, they’re probably not.

Steve O'Neill was deputy head of policy for the Liberal Democrats until the election.