TEHRAN: Before moving to London to start a new job, my Iranian friend visited his dentist, who he has known since he was a child.
When he broke the news that he would be working for a British company, the dentist looked crestfallen. “How could you?” he asked. “They’ve been working against us for years.”
The sun may have set on the empire but, in Iran, Britain is still seen as the devious puppet-master pulling the strings behind world events.
Britain’s official policy calls for encouraging democratic reform, but there is widespread suspicion that London colludes with Iran’s theocratic leadership. After gunmen shot up the British embassy this summer, some newspapers speculated that the British government had shot at itself. It was a baffling theory, but the shootings were allegedly staged to pre-empt possible diplomatic retaliation by Tehran for the arrest of a former Iranian diplomat in Durham. A prominent journalist told me it was suspicious that a British news organization had reported the shooting so quickly and got reaction from the Foreign Office within 20 minutes.
Belief in the great British conspiracy transcends political divisions, class or educational background. The US might be a superpower on paper, but the British are believed to be the real masterminds. “Whether it is the left, the reformists or the conservatives, everyone in Iran is very much affected by this conspiracy attitude,” says Professor Sadeq Ziba-Kalan of Tehran University. He calls the conspiracy mentality “a kind of illness”, produced by a lack of press freedom, secretive decision-making and, above all, historical experience.
No wonder suspicion runs deep. Behind the embassy walls, diplomats and spies plotted against the democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, who briefly nationalized the oil industry. In 1953, with the help of the CIA, he was overthrown — and religious leaders in the pay of British intelligence played an instrumental role.
Outsiders sometimes laugh at the conspiracy theories, but they do not face the risks and uncertainties ordinary Iranians do. The vast state bureaucracy is an endless riddle. —Dawn/The Guardian News Service.