Tuesday, June 16, 2015

OPINION: Bishop's mission to Iran raises more questions than it answers

What a crazy few weeks leading up to Anzac Day period it's been. We've had Reclaim Australia holding rallies in most major cities calling for jihad against halal vegemite. We've had hundreds of police swoop on a bunch of kids accused of plotting to kill more police, giving The Daily Telegraph an opportunity to report of "a devastating new terror threat planned for its most revered day", with one columnist reminding us: 

Oh, Islam. How the left so cravenly folds when that particular grievance card hits the table.

By now we should be convinced the Diggers went to Gallipoli to fight 100 per cent  halal-certified terrorists and their leftist allies, who are now threatening our Prime Minister's right to down a pint of beer in one go. Surely it's time to ban the burqa.

Which raises the question. What on earth was our Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, doing dressed in what looked like an Emirates uniform? Why did she have to wear that thing on her head? And why, of all places, in the home of beady-eyed mad mullahs and ayatollahs that is Tehran? Couldn't she have appeared bare-headed, in solidarity with millions of Iranian women who hate being forced to wear it? True, our Julie would prefer not to be labelled a feminist, but what about human rights?

Yes? What about it? Julie's mission wasn't to lecture the bearded, turbaned President Rouhani about human rights. Or about trade or halal meat. The mission, as far as the Abbott government was concerned, was dealing with nasty not-so-white Iranian asylum seekers and quite-often-white foreign fighters. Ms Bishop was in Tehran - almost completely covered - to talk about Iran taking back refugee fish that her colleague Peter Dutton rejects.

The Iranians must be scratching their heads wondering what took her so long. It has been three months since a man Tehran insisted was a fraudulent travel agent posing as a Shiite cleric walked into the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place and murdered two Australians in cold blood. Iranian prosecutors wanted Monis on charges of defrauding his customers. Australia granted Monis asylum.
Liberal pollsters will be disappointed Iran refuses to be involved in forced repatriation of failed asylum seekers, many of whom are found to be economic refugees. Perhaps they might be less hesitant to return if sanctions are lifted and Iran's economy opens up to the rest of the world. We can then sell Tehran 100 per cent halal certified coal.

What surely must surprise anyone born around 1970 or earlier is how quickly all this has happened. Not long ago Iran was regarded by many in Australia as the Great Satan. The 1979 Islamic Revolution removed a pro-Western monarch from power. The first Islamic Supreme Leader, Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini, was regarded as a supporter of terrorist groups in Lebanon who engaged in suicide bombings and kidnappings of Westerners. He established strong relations with more radical Arab leaders including Syria's Hafez al-Assaad.

It wasn't long ago that Israel's embarrassingly hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities. Pro-Israel lobby groups worked overtime to convince politicians (including our own) that Iran is evil. Iran's holocaust cartoon competitions weren't helping the cause. And a few days before Ms Bishop's arrival, an Army Day military parade in Tehran featured a truck with a huge sign loudly proclaiming "Death to Israel".

But thanks to the moronic antics of the "Coalition of the Willing" (which included Australia) in invading Iraq and overthrowing the brutal Saddam Hussein, and thanks to an incompetent sectarian government we are propping up, Iran is now the most powerful non-Arab player in Iraq. We need Iran more than Iran needs us. It is surely George W. Bush's greatest nightmare that the United States' Deputy Sheriff is now looking to one part of the Axis of Evil for help.

So what's in it for Iran? Increased international respectability. Access to more Iranian dissidents perhaps. And for Australia? A willing partner in solving our asylum woes. Intelligence to fight Islamic State of perhaps better quality than the intelligence used to invade Iraq in the first place. Even more Iranian students.

At this stage, Iran has been a trading partner but not exactly our best friend. Perhaps that status can be gained by Mr Abbott turning up to Tehran sporting a turban. Either way, both Iran and Australia can be well pleased with diplomacy well done.

Irfan Yusuf is a PhD candidate at the Alfred Deakin Research Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, at Deakin University. This article was first published in the Canberra Times on Tuesdau 21 April 2015.

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