The courage of the Iranian people shames the craven international elite

Kowsar Eftekhari, who was blinded in the right eye during a protest in Iran, attends a rally against a death sentence given to a popular rapper in Iran and to support to the women of Iran, in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, April 28, 2024
Blinded by an evil regime: Kowsar Eftekhar lost sight in her right eye when protesting for women's rights in Iran - Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

The women of Iran are dancing. Women blinded, with one eye, or one arm, are dancing. Iranian Kurds are dancing. Across Europe, Iranian dissidents are dancing. Iranians – often, relatives of the regime’s victims – are drinking to show their joy. The daughters of Minoo Majidi, a mother shot dead by security services during the 2022 protests, shared a video of them raising a glass to President Raisi’s death.

Dark humour – the jokes of an oppressed people – are circulating. “Mr Raisi, you surprised us. We have no tapas for our drinks,” chuckles one Iranian in a celebratory video on social media. There was the gag about how a Mossad agent called “Eli Copter” had caused the crash. People have handed out cakes and sweets in public squares – an act of symbolic importance in Persian culture, often associated with joyous events. Celebratory fireworks filled the skies in Iranian cities.

Such courage is all the more impressive given how little Raisi’s death is likely to change anything in this closed prison of a society. It may somewhat alter the succession, since he had been one of the men tipped to succeed Khamenei, but the Ayatollahs retain their stranglehold. The bravery of anyone involved in any celebration or act of civil disobedience such as removing a headscarf, is astounding. Those letting off fireworks or handing out sweets are risking their lives.

History will remember Raisi as a squalid tyrant who took a twisted pride in human suffering. He was involved in the torture and extrajudicial murder of thousands of political prisoners held in Iranian jails and the mass killings of opponents in 1988, when as many as 30,000 are believed to have lost their lives. As Mariam Memarsadeghi wrote in a chilling article for Tablet magazine, “virgins were systematically raped before their execution, to circumvent the Islamic prohibition on killing virgins and to prevent women and girls from reaching heaven”.

And yet, the BBC posted about “President Ebrahim Raisi’s mixed legacy in Iran”. You can imagine the 1945 headlines about the mixed legacy of “motorway-builder, vegetarian rights enthusiast and dog-lover” Adolf Hitler, or that of “inspirational plus-size influencer” Hermann Goering. Reuters described how Raisi “rose through Iran’s theocracy from hardline prosecutor to uncompromising president, as he burnished his credentials to position himself to become the next supreme leader”.

Reading such things you would think Raisi was, at worst, a slight renegade. A cheeky chappie in a kaftan whose loss will be felt by light entertainment for generations. They tweeted like he was Rod Hull – rather than, you know, someone nicknamed “the Butcher of Tehran”. But in the real world, faced with the real consequences of the regime he ran, people are dancing.

It wasn’t just the BBC in its classic “tightrope walk” mode, either. Things were getting a bit Candle in the Wind at the UN, as the entire Security Council (including both the UK and US representatives) stood to observe a minute of silence for President Raisi. Goodbye Tehran’s rose.

European Council president Charles Michel tweeted out his sincere condolences, while the “European Commissioner for Crisis Management” committed the EU’s Copernicus satellite system to help locate Raisi’s helicopter, in the name of “#EUSolidarity”.

Lest we forget, Johan Floderus, a young EU official from Sweden, has been incarcerated at Iran’s notorious Evin prison for more than two years. We don’t see much “#EUSolidarity” coming from the other direction. Not to be undone, President Higgins of Ireland channelled the spirit of Eamon de Valera c.1945, by offering his “deepest sympathies” upon the death of a tyrant.

Such statements go well beyond basic diplomacy. Nobody asked anyone to gush; they chose to. The message it sends is a slap in the face to those bravely putting their lives on the line for freedom. But it’s par for the course in what is (sometimes optimistically) termed the “international community”.

Speaking of which, on Monday, the International Criminal Court put out joint bids for arrest warrants for the leaders of Hamas and the prime minister and defence minister of Israel. Given that the ICC has no jurisdiction, nor power of its own to arrest anyone, there was something bleakly comic about the manner of the announcement. Chief prosecutor Karim Khan delivered his statement flanked by a couple of glaring bureaucrats. The ICC appeared to be putting on its best “don’t mess with us” face. It looked like a geriatric version of Bugsy Malone.

The ICC application refers, pointedly, to the “territory of Israel” and the “state of Palestine”, which makes it clear which side its bread is buttered. It notably ignores Hamas’s use of human shields, surely a factor when assessing the civilian death toll. It even holds Israel entirely responsible for “closing the three border crossing points” after October 7.

Yet Hamas destroyed the Erez crossing, murdering its operators and blowing up the barriers separating it from the Gaza strip. Small wonder border checkpoints weren’t up and running immediately. Condemning Israel for this is grotesque; gaslighting on an international scale.

The timing is also telling. We have known about the crimes of October 7 from day one, thanks to the body-cams Hamas terrorists so proudly wore to document their butchery. Yet the ICC waited until May 2024 to condemn both Israel and Hamas on the same day. The effect is to suggest a moral equivalence between a democratic state and a genocidal terrorist group that says it wants to repeat the atrocities of October 7 indefinitely. You don’t have to believe Israel is above criticism – and nor should we – to recognise this.

Multinational organisations like the ICC are often held up as moral arbiters in themselves, when they will only be as virtuous or corrupt as their component member states, and reflecting the same biases. The World Health Organisation has long excluded Taiwan from its membership due to Chinese pressure. A ruinous decision, when Taiwan’s early warnings about the risks of human-to-human transmission of Covid in late 2019 were ignored. Something is rotten in the state of many international bodies and moral courage is in short supply.

Given such a clear-cut case of evil as Raisi, the mealy-mouthed global response does not bode well. For genuine bravery, we can look to the people at the sharp end of such regimes. Because still, in the midst of it all, the women of Iran dance.