Monday, 16 May 2011

A steadfast Iranian socialist: Behzad Kazemi aka Alireza Nasab

I went to the funeral today of Iranian socialist Alireza Nasab, aka Behzad Kazemi, or should that be the other way around? I'm still not sure. Lots of Iranian socialists have more than one name, for the obvious reason that you sometimes needed to conceal your identity to save your own life, or those of your loved ones.

In any case, I always knew him as Ali! Ali was someone I knew only a little... but for 25 years. And, unwittingly, he played an important part in my political life. I met him when I was at university (the first time around) and just getting involved in student politics. He was part of an effort to get the National Union of Students to affiliate to an Iranian solidarity group... but one with decent politics - there were competitors.

I'll spare you the details of the internecine fights of the Iranian left in those days, but the differences between the groups was not just of a People's Front of Judea versus the Judean People's Front nitpicking type. Politics mattered and still does.

Ali taught me that it matters who you show solidarity with when you decide to give political support to people from a country not your own. Yes, it's complicated, but it's very patronising also not to take the time to find out whether those nice Iranians collecting money in the street and showing pictures of the crimes of the Iranian regime (which are horrendous) are a group you really want to give your money to. It's also patronising, as some otherwise well meaning types do, to dismiss all arguments between "foreigners" as, well, typical foreigner-type behaviour: those Iranians/Afghanis/Indians, etc, they're always arguing among themselves. I can't be bothered to find out why. Shake your head in exasperation and walk away.

Anyway, while that's all true it's a bit cheerless! The funeral was, I hesitate to say this, great; a real socialist funeral! Banners, poems, speeches, a glass of wine, singing of the International, and most people wearing red neckties!

In recent years, Ali's main political activity was campaigning for more attention for the very brave people repressed for organising trade unions in Iran, the most famous of them being the busworker leader Mansour Osanloo. Ali did this through a campaign based in Canada, the International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran.

The main thing to say about him is that he never stopped being active in politics, it was his life. When I started aged 20 he had already been a socialist for years, and he was still going strong recently, in spite of severe ill health. The other important thing about him was the efforts he made to work with UK socialists and trade unions, not just to keep the campaigns he was involved with an issue for Iranians themselves. We are going to miss those lines of communication. Farewell to a very good man and a personal hero.

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