A Tower of Babel?

More than 30 MEPs from all political groups and most of the EU’s Member States protested this week against a campaign being waged in the European Parliament by the Iranian regime.

In a letter addressed to the President of the Parliament Antonio Tajani, the MEPs objected to the use of the Parliament’s premises to permit the organisation of a meeting by Portuguese Socialist MEP Ana Gomes and French Liberal MEP Patricia Lalonde on 10th April.

We deeply regret that this meeting with such speakers is taking place in our parliament and strongly condemn the Iranian regime’s misinformation campaign against the Iranian democratic opposition,” they said.

They pointed out that “One of the speakers is a British national named Anne Singleton, who according to a report in December 2012 by the US Library of Congress is a paid Iranian agent who has been denied entry to the United States and denied holding similar events in the British Parliament in Westminster.

Notwithstanding the MEPs’ protests, the meeting went ahead anyway; so out of curiosity to see how deliberate misinformation is organised in Brussels by an oppressive regime, I went along voluntarily to join the audience to be brain-washed.

The meeting was in a small room down a maze of corridors, hidden in the bowels of the European Parliament, with no signage or directions for how to find it. It was pretty clear from the outset that the meeting was not intended to be public at all; it was meant to be a private affair aimed at the supporters of the Iranian government.

It was not particularly well attended, but there was a bank of cameramen to film and record the proceedings, presumably for propaganda purposes back in Tehran, as there was absolutely nothing of any news value happening.

You could have been excused for thinking that you were attending a debate in the Iranian Parliament. There was no discussion, but a procession of one sided monologues all aimed at the common campaign purpose, which was to undermine the status of Iran’s opposition in exile, and demonise them as a subversive threat to Europe.

The speakers were blatantly opinionated and scarcely credible. Not even a squeak of a contrary view or opinion was to be heard. No normal thinking person could possibly have been taken in by such unconvincing and biased rhetoric. Normally in the European Parliament most people simply ignore such meetings and pay no attention to the drone of the speakers who are paid to deliver their campaign messages.

But there is an inherent danger in turning a blind eye to such misinformation practices. Whilst such campaigns may have minimal effect on the European public, we should never underestimate the sinister manipulation that can take place with audiences outside the EU where biased reports which are economical with the truth about “debates in the European Parliament” can be used to prop up totalitarian regimes and deter political opposition.

Former MEP Struan Stevenson, who is now an international lecturer on the Middle East, was highly critical of this week’s Ana Gomes meeting. “I believe it is very unwise to allow the Iranian regime and its agents to misuse the European Parliament. The 1997 decision of the European Union to expel Iranian intelligence agents from Europe must be implemented in the European Parliament with greater emphasis and these agents should not be allowed to appear there,” he said.

At a time when the EU is taking steps to halt the spread of fake news, the European Parliament should perhaps pay attention to his views, and take action to stop its premises from being abused by oppressive regimes for the production of malign and manipulative disinformation campaigns of this type. However, a contrary view which deserves to also be considered, would be to still allow such practices to continue, but in a controlled way, so that at least you know what kind of people Europe has to deal with.