The American Embassy is in Mayfair, in Grosvenor square. Currently outside it are load of middle aged ladies on hunger strike. There is a big sign proudly displaying the number of days they have not eaten, when I was there it was 66. All the ladies taking part have signs around their necks that say ‘On hunger strike.’ I ask one these hunger strikers if I can talk to them. I’m led into a tent and sit on a chair wedged between two beds. This is how she explained it.
In 1988 there was a massacre of dissident intellectuals in Iran because they opposed the Mullahs. As a result of this atrocity most of the remaining intellectuals escaped from Iran and became refugees, they ended up in the Iraqi desert and built a city; “From desert they made a beautiful city for themselves, everything for their city, university, mosque, everything.”
These dissidents were largely alright and left alone until the current president of Iraq, nouri al-maliki, took charge of the rebellious country. Nouri al-maliki grew up in Iran so is good mates with the Iranian regime. As a result Iran has a lot of influence to what happens in Iraq, which means the Iranian government can go and kill these dissidents. Recently 52 were killed, which prompted the protest.
The fear is more of these dissidents will be killed again, and the aim of the hunger strike is to try and get America to use its influence in the UN so a UN blue helmet force is deployed to where these dissidents are to stop more of them getting killed. There are 3400 of these intellectuals at the mercy of the Iranian regime. They want America to use its political power so they are safe from harm. As soon as this happens they will stop the hunger strike. If nothing happens they will die in Grosvenor square.
I ask if anybody from the embassy had spoken to them, nobody, not a single acknowledgment from anyone from the American Government, nobody from the British government had bothered to talk to them as well. And if a government cannot even acknowledge that you exist they are not going to do what you want them to do.
So, by the looks of this these ladies are going to sit in this square until they die. Sounds rubbish, because it is. And it’s probably the reason nobody is interested. To get people to do stuff you need glamour.
Politics is all glamour, People loved Blair because he came across as a bit glam for a politician, and people didn’t like Brown because he didn’t. Pussy Riot gets attention because they are exciting and more fun for Putin to deal with than boring communists. Edward Snowden is a hero because he has been exposing top secret CIA stuff and defecting to the old enemy, which sounds like a John Grisham novel. Middle aged woman slowly rotting outside an embassy is the protest equivalent of a Sylvia Plath poem; John Grisham is more popular than Sylvia Plath.
But surely they can think of something better other than starving to death opposite the stars and stripes? They probably can’t think of anything better to do. They probably won’t change what they are doing, something needs to save them, maybe, a Big Mac could save them I thought. We all need a Big Mac under the American eagle some time. I ask the hunger-strike lady if she would like a Big Mac. She doesn’t want a Big Mac, she just laughs. If the thought of a Big Mac won’t save you after not eating for 66 days, you’re doomed because Big Macs are good.
There was actually something courageous about these ladies, and, as far as I could work out they were doing the protest for the right reasons, they seemed genuine, they seemed happy to die as well. But when I was leaving them I said to her that their protest was not worth it dying for, especially not worth dying for under the American Eagle and the star spangled banner - signs of military heft, big cash, Hollywood and Ross Perot.
After walking out from under the tent the American eagle now felt like an obedient vulture waiting for all of them to die so it could pick them up and drop them off somewhere far away from Grosvenor square, pick-up the whole boring, self-pitying protest and drop it somewhere else, so the diplomats, hedge fund managers and art dealers no longer have to feel bad about lunch.