There was a time in Iran, when the state didn't tell you what you could wear, what religion you could follow, what music you could listen to, whose hands you could hold, who you could shake hands with or how you should piss, etc.
During one of those days in Tehran, when Iranians still had their civil liberties, I was walking with my friends, after school had finished, towards the bus terminals in 24 Esfand Square along the wide pavements of the Shahreza Avenue that later become the scene of major protests against the Shah and is now called Revolution Avenue. On that day, our daily fun filled fifteen minutes walk was suddenly interrupted by a loud noise of glass shattering and chants of Allah Akbar.
I saw some bearded young men hurriedly run into the side streets and some women wearing black chadors hurl some leaflets in the air before they too disappeared into the side streets. The bearded men had smashed the bank's front glass panel by throwing bricks at it, leaving the people inside the bank looking dazed and shocked.
The entire incident took a few seconds, like a temporary visual abberation. Once it was over, I asked my friends "what the hell was all that about?". One of my friends replied "They must have been Khomeini's supporters" and I asked again "who the hell is Khomeini?"
Until then, I had never heard of Khomeini. When my friend explained Khomeini to be this cleric who had been exiled and wanted to turn Iran into an Islamic Republic forcing women to wear the veil and rule the country according to the Islamic Sharia, I laughed and said "Well that would never happen here!", what a fool I was!
Every time I hear the phrase "it could never happen here", I am reminded of that childhood incidence, but whereas I could be forgiven for being no more than a naive school kid, the politicians, statesmen and those responsible for the security of their citizens should not be forgiven for burying their heads in the sand and neglecting their responsibilities to safeguard their citizens.
Such manifestations of naivety amongst officials who should have known better was best demonstrated during the Carter administration years.
Andrew Young, Carter's ambassador to UN at the time of Iranian revolution, described Khomeini as a “saint”.
Carter's national security adviser, Brezhinsky, thought “we can get along with Khomeini”.
Carter's ambassador in Iran, William Sullivan, referred to Khomeini as Iran's Mehatma Gandhi.
Those who had actually bothered to read Khomeini's books and had dared to tell the truth, were silenced and accused of being scaremongers. When three American newspapers published extensive accounts of Khomeini's writings, that revealed him to be as anti-Western and extremely reactionary, Henry Precht, the Head of US State Department's Iran Desk, said those newspaper accounts were severely misleading and likened the newspaper articles that revealed the true nature of Khomeini, as “at best a collection of school student notes and at worst a forgery”!
Well, hindsight now tells us who the "school students" were and which was a "forgery". If this bitter experience of Carter administration callowness and gullibility had taught the politicians and their advisors a useful lesson, it wouldn't be so bad, but unfortunately history keeps repeating itself and I keep hearing "it will never happen here" optimist rebuttals over and over again.
I remember in year 2000, I was describing a scene to a colleague that I had witnessed in the Speakers Corner, London, involving the Islamists there and expressing my concern over the rise of Islamic fanatics in the UK. My colleague's response was to shrug his shoulders and to reassure himself by saying the famous words "It will never happen over here"!
It is probably unnecessary for me to list all the things that have happened here in UK since that casual conversation 15 years ago, perhaps its best to talk about why they happened here and why they will continue to happen and the only way that it can be stopped.
Extremism is not hard to define. Extremism is when a group of people become totally absorbed by an ideology to the extent that everything becomes justifiable for them to serve their ideology. They perceive their ideology as so great, so superior and so impeccable that any crime in the service of the ideology becomes justifiable for them. They will kill innocent civilians, they will kill women and children, because human life compared to their perceived sanctity and superiority of their ideology becomes totally insignificant, no matter how innocent.
Extremism requires foot soldiers however. Extremists are not after winning the hearts and minds of the mainstream public, they are after brainwashing and recruiting foot soldiers as canon fodder. They are after brainwashing receptive minds of disgruntled individuals and recruiting them to deliver violence, by turning ordinary individuals into zealot thugs, who misguidedly think their violence is for a good cause, they have an impact far greater than their numbers. Extremists want to seize power by whatever means available to them and not necessarily by a majority vote.
To do the above they need institutions, infrastructure and umbrella organisations and this is where the Western politicians have failed their citizens. In order to reach the highest common denominator for votes and attract as many votes from any quarter, they have preferred to ignore or simply not recognise how these building blocks function for breeding extremism.
For example it may surprise most readers that the Supreme Leader of Iran, who encourages his followers to chant death to England and burn the British flag, has a representative office here in London. Even when the Iranian embassy was closed in the aftermath of the attack on the British embassy in Tehran, the Supreme Leader's office in Maida Vale continued to thrive and carry on with its activities which include a Muslim school network that teaches its pupils loyalty to the Supreme Leader of Iran. The British Council in Iran however still remains closed.
It may also surprise the readers, that a reactionary Ayatollah in Iran, Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, a holocaust denier and someone who has issued a death fatwa against an Iranian rap singer in Germany has a registered charity in UK and also has a representative office in Harrow Road. Whats more, he has received financial aid and grant from Brent Council for "promoting religious freedom and tolerance"! The mind boggles at such stupidity and ignorance.
Throughout Western democracies and by using the loopholes in democracies, Mosques, Madressehs, book shops, charities, TV stations etc. are being set up by extremists as the breeding grounds they require to thrive. The existing laws often suffice in closing them down, but what is lacking however is the courage to apply the existing laws.
Extremism doesn't grow overnight, it needs to spread its seeds and then nurture them over the years through institutions and build an infrastructure that can thrive and spread. Until our politically correct politicians are reluctant to pluck the courage and dismantle these institutions and our voters don't push them into doing so, arresting and killing the perpetrators of terror acts, only creates martyrs who can easily be replaced by new more experienced and more hardened terrorists, as we have witnessed since the last decade.