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by Kimia Sanati

Iran Hardliners Split Over Release of Brit Sailors

(IPS) TEHRAN -- The knighthood recently awarded to British-Indian novelist Salman Rushie is one of many sources of tension that are worsening relations between Britain and Iran.

Other sore points include the intimidation of guests invited to the birthday celebration of Queen Elizabeth II by the British embassy and a dispute over the ownership of a compound owned by the British embassy in the Iranian capital.

Britain, the closest ally of Bush in his tirades against Iran, has accused Iran of helping and arming terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. For its part, Iran charges that Britain interferes in its internal affairs and is the mastermind behind Arab separatism in the southwestern province of Khuzistan.

The news about Rushdie's knighthood, which was announced on June 16 in recognition of his literary works, has drawn negative reactions from conservatives in Iran, just as it has triggered anger among groups in Pakistan and Malaysia.

Pakistan's parliament condemned the knighthood on June 18. On Wednesday, 201 Iranian lawmakers did the same. They said Britain had showed its "historic animosity with Islam and Muslims" and asked Islamic governments to downgrade ties with London.

The state Iranian Republic News Agency, reporting on the protest lodged by the Iranian ambassador to Britain, described the knighthood as one given to an "apostate and forgotten author."

"This will intensify the clash of cultures and civilizations," warned Iranian envoy Rasoul Movahedian.

Geoffrey Adams, Britain's ambassador to Iran, was summoned to the Iranian foreign ministry Tuesday to receive an official protest about what a foreign ministry official termed "an insulting, suspicious and unmeasured move of the British government," according to the Mehr news agency.

Responding to protests, British High Commissioner in Pakistan Robert Brinkley said, "It is simply untrue that this knighthood is intended as an insult to Islam or the prophet Muhammad." He added that the Queen had also honored two other Muslims.

In 1989, Iran's leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a death warrant or "fatwa" against Rushdie and his publishers for his book ÔThe Satanic Verses,' which he said had insulted Islam. The fatwa obliged any Muslim who found them to execute the "blasphemers," and forced Rushdie to go into hiding for nearly a decade.

In 1998, the Iranian government, maintaining that this was a religious matter and not a government issue, dissociated itself from the fatwa.

Conservatives, however, still consider it to be in place. On Monday, in fact, one hard-line Iranian group said it had increased the award for Rushdie's head from $100,000 to $150,000, the Aftab news agency reported.

"Awarding Rushdie was indeed an unmeasured act on the side of the British. It has angered Muslims all over the world, but even more significantly for us, it has caused further deterioration in the already not-so friendly relations between Iran and the U.K.," said an analyst in Tehran, requesting anonymity.

"The British have a bad historical record here, and there is so much contempt against them for their role in supporting dictatorships in this country in the past. They are still blamed very strongly by many people for every vice, even for allegedly bringing the clerics to power in Iran," he added.

The June 14 birthday celebrations for Queen Elizabeth by the British embassy also drew protests from angry students.

Some 50 students demanded that the British ambassador be expelled and the embassy be closed. They made it clear they were only awaiting a signal from the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to take over the "den of the old fox," as the British embassy is often called by anti-British Iranians.

Throwing stones, eggs, water bottles and paint-filled balloons at the embassy, the students filmed and photographed Iranian guests who had dared "partake of the British Queen's birthday food" and attacked the cars of guests, including those of diplomats.

Earlier, these students had warned the hundreds of Iranian officials and politicians, artists, journalists and business people invited to the annual birthday celebration to stay away from the British embassy. Those who did turn up were intimidated by the protesters, who called them traitors.

The students clashed with the riot police, and several were reportedly arrested.

An observer in Tehran, asking not to be named, said: "The very small protesting group of students is known to be a puppet group used by ruling hard-liners as a pressure group."

Meanwhile, hard-line Iranian groups and individuals stepped up demands to take back a British embassy-owned compound in northern Tehran.

The ownership of the park, granted to the British in the 19th century by Iran's king, has long been disputed by conservatives. After taking office, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ordered a committee to be formed to investigate ways of returning ownership to Iran.

The remains of a number of British soldiers killed in World Wars I and II lie in the park, which also houses the residences of some British diplomats as well as the British Council and the German and French schools.

"There are just too many sore spots in our relations with the United Kingdom," remarked the Tehran-based analyst. "British officials' sometimes too-insensitive remarks, their limitation of trade with Iran, their alliance with the United States in its war against Iran and now awarding knighthood to Rushdie only help give better justification to hard-liners' extremism in Iran's foreign policy."

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Albion Monitor   June 21, 2007   (

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