Recently, I found myself facing a baying mob, aka a booing, sneering audience bristling with outrage and hostility towards me, on Question Time.
Nothing new there, then.
So what unpardonable thing had I said this time? Simply that the government’s priority should be to neutralise Iran, since this posed the greatest current threat to Britain and the west.
The Iranian regime sponsors international terrorism, has been waging war against the west since 1979 and has vowed to wipe out Israel. To those who sweat daily over its progress towards making nuclear weapons, the threat this poses is all too obvious.
While there is legitimate debate about just how to neutralise this threat, that it exists is a given. That’s why western governments have imposed sanctions and are attempting (unwisely, in my view) to persuade the regime not to build the bomb.
But the audience was incredulous at the very idea Iran was a threat. They scoffed at my (accurate) statement that the regime was dominated by people who believe that by provoking an apocalypse they would bring the Mahdi, or Shia messiah, to earth. And of course one person hurled “Israel” at me, as if that clinched the matter.
Much more alarming, however, was the statement by my fellow panellist Boris Johnson. Iran posed no threat to anyone, he asserted, and the idea that it was attempting to build a nuclear bomb was utterly unfounded.
This was simply astonishing. Had he not understood that the shape and scope of Iran’s nuclear programme revealed inescapably that this could not be intended to provide civil nuclear power? Had he not read the anxiety expressed even by the super-cautious International Atomic Energy Authority that it was not designed for purely peaceful purposes, a concern echoed by the British government? How could Boris, possibly the next Tory leader and even a future prime minister, be so ignorant about such a threat to British and western interests?
Worse, he was not alone in talking such nonsense. Energy secretary Ed Davey waxed lyrical about Iran’s new president Hassan Rohani who was apparently a terrific moderate and an altogether splendid human being.
Could that be the same Rohani who helped Ayatollah Khomeini found the Iranian revolution and boasted in 2004 of how, as a nuclear negotiator, he had hoodwinked the west by his apparent moderation — thus enabling the regime to complete its nuclear installation in Isfahan? The same Rohani who defended Hizbollah as “a legitimate political group”, called Israel “a terrorist nation” and, according to blogger Potkin Azarmehr, in 1995 stated: “The beautiful chant of ‘Death to America’ is unifying our country”?
A few days later, I was in another TV studio on BBC2’s Daily Politics. No baying mob this time, but the courteous, affable former Labour foreign secretary Jack Straw — another Rohani fan.
There was absolutely no evidence that Iran wanted to develop a nuclear weapon, he declared. So what on earth had Straw been negotiating with the regime about when he was foreign secretary, asked an incredulous Andrew Neill. Even the somewhat wet Richard Ottaway, chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, was moved to remind Straw that the IAEA had expressed precisely such concerns.
How to explain such a widespread and utterly perverse state of denial? It seems to be a toxic mix of abject ignorance, cowardice, malice, naivety, defeatism and cultural exhaustion.
Oh — and of course that “after Iraq we’ll never believe any such scaremongering ever again” — particularly over countries whose names comprise four letters starting with I.
Ok, I made that last bit up. But the denial of the Iranian threat is hardly any more rational. Is it surprising, therefore, that when it comes to Israel much of the UK is simply out to lunch?