Thursday, March 29, 2007

Iran and "hostages": image & meaning.

Some people are never happy. Turns out the Foreign Office, who you might have thought would be delighted to see that the Marines are safe and well, are furious that Iran showed video footage of them eating snacks and confessing to their misdeeds. Clearly, no media outlet in the UK is simply going to look at that footage and go "oh well, that means they're guilty". One rightly assumes that there is more to the image than that, whatever one's thoughts about whether the Brave Boys™ were doing what the MoD says. Every report I've seen puts the word 'confession' in square quotes, or prefixes it with something like 'alleged', which seems entirely sensible. That is, one is capable of decoupling the image from the meaning overlaid by the Iranian state.

There again, there are other images with other kinds of overlaid signification. Take this map, derived from amazing photographic evidence:



The government's version of what took place is handling provided in this narrative. They say the Marines were 3.1 kilometres inside Iraqi waters and that the Iranians changed their story after they were told that their claims as to where their ship was when they carried out the arrest was inside Iraqi waters. So, there's an image and a story. Not much scepticism this time. The Independent calls the Marines "hostages". So does the Telegraph. So, in fact, does the Press Association. As for the right-wing American media? Oh, go and have a look for yourself.

A hostage is a person given or held as security for the fulfillment of certain conditions or terms, promises, etc., by another. No demands, conditions or terms have yet been raised by Iran, to my knowledge. Yet, of course, the use of the term indicates the widespread acceptance of the British government's narrative: if the arrested are "hostages", then clearly there is no sense in which the arrest can have been legitimately made in Iranian waters. (Or perhaps, more insidiuously, the story of Iranian Guilt is such that even if they were in Iranian territory, they have no rights to control over that territory. Their sovereignty is always de facto in question, something that might be compromised at any time by an invasion or air strikes, or the use of terror squads). Yet, as Craig Murray points out, there is a tremendous amount of naivete in the acceptance of the MoD's little map:

The mainstream media and even the blogosphere has bought this hook, line and sinker.

But there are two colossal problems.

A) The Iran/Iraq maritime boundary shown on the British government map does not exist. It has been drawn up by the British Government. Only Iraq and Iran can agree their bilateral boundary, and they never have done this in the Gulf, only inside the Shatt because there it is the land border too. This published boundary is a fake with no legal force.

B) Accepting the British coordinates for the position of both HMS Cornwall and the incident, both were closer to Iranian land than Iraqi land. Go on, print out the map and measure it. Which underlines the point that the British produced border is not a reliable one.


Elsewhere, he notes official acceptance of this point:

Before the spin doctors could get to him, Commodore Lambert said:

"There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that they were in Iraqi territorial waters. Equally, the Iranians may well claim that they were in their territorial waters. The extent and definition of territorial waters in this part of the world is very complicated".


See how quickly it can happen? See how eager some people are to simply believe, and how avidly they suspend disbelief? We know the arrested Marines are "hostages" because that's what the Iranians do, because we have this here map, because the government said so.