IF there is one country on earth where the cry “Death to England” still carries weight — where people still harbor the white-hot hatred of British colonialism that once inflamed millions from South Africa to China — that country would be Iran. And that is what the leaders of Iran must have been counting on when screaming militiamen, unhindered by the police, poured into the British Embassy in Tehran to vandalize it on Tuesday.
Most Iranians, like most people anywhere, would deplore the idea of thugs storming into a foreign embassy. Nonetheless, some may have felt a flicker of satisfaction. Even an outrage like this, they might have said, is a trifle compared with the generations of torment Britain inflicted on their country.
So Iran’s mullahs — they, not President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are reported to have been behind the attack — were not gambling in ordering, or at least tolerating, it. They presumably realized that the world would denounce their flagrant violation of international law. But they also knew it would resonate with the narrative Iranians have heard for so long about their own history.