International TV interview with Fariborz Pooya and Bahram Soroush
August 2004

Maryam Namazie: We’re going to be speaking about the Iranian world Judo champion’s refusal to compete with an Israeli athlete in the Olympics because he said he wanted to support and defend the Palestinian cause and he was proud to withdraw as a result. It’s basically because the Islamic Republic of Iran has a strict policy against any sort of mixing or relationship with Israeli citizens. What’s your opinion on this?

Bahram Soroush: The Iranian regime is using someone for its own political ends. It is the last regime in the world that can impose sanctions. If we are going to have any sports sanctions, it should first be against Iran. I’m not for that, but what I’m saying is that the politics of the Iranian regime are even more reprehensible. That athlete is being used for the Islamic regime’s politics. Nationalism comes into it as well. Just because the Israeli athlete is a Jew, irrespective of what his politics are, since he may be a complete supporter of the Palestinian people and against the Israeli state, he is being penalised for the actions of an alien force, i.e. his own government. Those two governments are feeding off each other.

Fariborz Pooya: If I may add to what Bahram said, clearly the withdrawal of the Iranian Judo champion from the games reeks of the Iranian government’s attempt to win some publicity. As Bahram said, this is the Islamic government’s propaganda. Historically, they have been against Israel. They have hijacked the Palestinian cause. They are the last people who actually want to improve the lot of the Palestinian people. They are going to use the Palestinian movement for their own ends and politics to strengthen their position in the Middle East. Clearly this has to be condemned.

But I think additional to this, it poses the question of politics and sports and the issue of where do you draw the line? Do you support any form of political intervention? Or, as some people argue, should politics and sports not be mixed and kept separate? There are occasions that people, rightly so, wanted the imposition of sanctions. For example in the case of South Africa, the whole ethos of South African politics during the Apartheid regime was to exclude the majority of the people from sports. It was then wrong to participate in that sport, and it was justified because there was an element of progressive movement in that. But with the Islamic government, this is totally reactionary and we should not allow them to use this occasion for their own ends.

Maryam Namazie: It’s hard to separate politics from sports because in a game like the Olympics, athletes are representing their countries; there’s a lot of flag-waving going on. Aren’t there times when boycotts are justified?

Bahram Soroush: Personally, I’m more for political boycotts, ending diplomatic ties, stopping support for particular governments. For example, the Thatcher government was supporting the Apartheid government. The question is whom do you put the sanctions against? Who do you penalise? For example, we have always been against economic sanctions because that hurts people. The question of sports sanctions is controversial. It penalises the athletes. The same happened with the boycott of the Moscow Olympics.

Maryam Namazie: On the issue of nationalism, often times it is looked at as something very positive. But then you have some who say that nationalism is discriminatory. Some might ask how can something that makes people feel so good, for example, supporting their country’s team at the Olympics, be negative? And doesn’t it actually bring people together, rather than being discriminatory?

Fariborz Pooya: Nationalism itself, historically, is quite a new phenomenon. It’s in the last couple of hundred years that we have nationalist movements. Clearly, historically it shows the needs of the capitalist states to have their own demarcated markets and their own labour force, army, etc. To sustain those separate markets, to sell their commodities, you need a sense of identity. And these identities have been created. They are constructed identities. Of course, they would try to push that into every corner of people’s lives. They even try to keep the flame of nationalism alive among people living abroad – their nationals. They use it for war. They use it for separating people. The whole essence of national identity separates people, whereas the material conditions of life and reproduction of life in the world, especially at this time, with the advance of capitalist society, are more or less the same. The majority of people have become wage-labourers. They suffer from the same conditions, be it in different languages or in different geographical areas. The core and essence of capitalism has harmonised the conditions that people suffer from. And I think it’s become more and more difficult to sustain national identities, especially with the increase in trade and population movements. The miner who works in the Yorkshire mines is not different from the Iranian miners who work in Iranian mines or those who work in Siberian mines. The conditions are the same. Most probably the tools and the overalls that they put on have been made in the same factories. It’s possible that even the investors are the same as well. So having separate identities, creating separate identities for people, I think, divides. The reality and material conditions of life today bring people together.

Maryam Namazie: There are Iranians, for example, living, let’s say, in London. They mix together. They enjoy Iranian food. They go to discos and dance to Iranian music. Some might say this actually brings people together. What is wrong with that? Why does that have to be something that causes divisions and differentiates between people?

Bahram Soroush: It doesn’t bring everyone together; it brings certain sections of people, certain groups of people, together. Rather than giving a universal, all-inclusive identity, it gives a segregationist identity to certain groups of people. That’s what the trouble is. Then the grounds are there for pitting one section against another, in difficult times for example. Then you have already defined something that is more artificial. There are bonds which are much stronger; that pull people together. As Fariborz was saying, the reasons historically and fundamentally are because this nationalist feeling which is being perpetuated is the framework and ideology of not everyone, but of a particular section of society, a privileged section, who have their own the assets, who have property and power, who are the ruling class. And they need to present their narrow interest as the interest of the whole population. In times of war, they appeal to people to rally behind them to defend the country, this artificial construct which benefits them foremost, i.e. that particular section.

You may say, some people really, genuinely, passionately, support their own country in times of war, and are genuinely patriotic. I have no doubt about the genuineness of that patriotism. But those passions are contradictory to the basic interests of the majority of people. The fact that they are so deep-rooted is because the dominant ideas in society are the ideas of the dominant class that are constantly peddled by the media, by the Church and by other institutions of the ruling class in this society, as ‘natural’ ideas, as the ‘natural’ way of looking at the world. It is the same with democracy and many ideas which, if you go deeper, you see represent and suit the interests of a particular privileged section of society. There is always this opposition between these two pressures, between the majority of people who intrinsically are not nationalist, but who are being constantly fed those ideas, on the one hand, and the privileged ruling class. For example, the demonstration that we had last year on 15th February, and in which millions of people marched throughout the world, that was, in my view, the biggest anti-nationalist demonstration and manifestation that we have seen in recent times. That sentiment and solidarity among people was completely opposite to what the governments are trying to do. It shows how nationalism suited the Labour government, for example, who were saying we are going to war, we are at war, in order to try to rally the people for their own cause and agenda, although the majority of the people were against it. There is always this opposition between these two pressures; between the majority of people who want to free themselves from these restrictive, segregationist ideas, and the ruling classes, who want to maintain them in their own interests.

Maryam Namazie: Does that mean that for example in the Olympic games, people shouldn’t wave their flags if this is what nationalism is? How does that translate to everyday life?

Fariborz Pooya: I could imagine the Olympic games continuing for many years to come without having people participating based on nationality. People from different parts of the world could actually take part, compete and, yes let’s support the best athletes. But nationalism doesn’t come into it. Nationalism is imposed on the Olympics. The flag is imposed on the Olympics and sports. And I’m against that.

Maryam Namazie: Let me ask you another question. You have now lived in the UK for more than 20 years, and you still focus on the Islamic Republic of Iran, as well as many other issues in the UK. You are working to help bring about the overthrow of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Some might say, well aren’t you being a bit nationalistic, continuing to focus on your so-called ‘home’ country?

Fariborz Pooya: No, because I feel a lot closer to the miners of Yorkshire than to the Mullahs sitting in Iran. I see myself as part of the movement that wants to overthrow dictatorships in other countries. I feel a lot closer to the strikers in France. My strength is that I am familiar with Iranian society and we want to overthrow the Islamic government; that’s part of my knowledge and expertise. But that’s not because I specifically feel for the ‘nation of Iran’. I am for the miners’ strike, the miners in Britain, in Siberia and in the mines of the United States.

Bahram Soroush: The question of nationalism is not a question of concentrating on a particular geography. In real life, you have to start from somewhere, and if you are more effective in a particular part of this world, that’s what you do, and it can be the most internationalist work in the world by concentrating on a particular thing. Nationalism is a question of approach, i.e. giving priority and preference to a particular section of people against others, on the basis, for example, of country. Then you are pitting one group against another.

Maryam Namazie: One final question. In the Programme of the Worker-communist Party of Iran, A Better World, it says that nationalism is incompatible with human freedom and progress. Isn’t that going a bit too far in your opinion?

Bahram Soroush: No, I think that’s the truth. Nationalism doesn’t start with the human being. It divides. Whereas we are talking about the universality of human beings, putting the human beings first, the primacy of human beings. Nationalism is opposed to that. It is opposed to the universality of human beings and what binds people together. It’s a very segregationist, divisive approach. So the Programme is not at all going too far. And in order to have this commonness among people, the first thing you have to do is to oppose nationalism.

Fariborz Pooya: And what I would like to add is that these constructed identities come in conflict with the material conditions of people, the way people live everyday. The reality of life for people all over the world is roughly the same. Of course, there are differences, but the living conditions are opposed to the identity that the governments and ruling classes have imposed on people.

The above is an International TV ( interview.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.