I was, as usual, appearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee with the moderately dead comic actor, Zero Mostel. I sat calmly beside him sipping Burgundy, occasionally handing him a cracker whilst he defended himself against a series of increasingly absurd questions from the assembled senators and their whey-faced counsel. Joe McCarthy wasn’t present as he was rehearsing for his appearance in another dream I had scheduled, along with popular singing sensation Dana, a Serbian mime troupe and a bucket of whelks.
Suddenly the Committee’s attorney left off baiting Zero and turned his attention to me. Caught in the spotlight, my mouth full of crackers and my wine glass tantalisingly out of reach, I spat a snowstorm of dry shrapnel over the back of Fred Flintstone who was waiting to plead the Fifth against accusations of being socialist and two-dimensional. My accuser’s eyes turned black and right there in the middle of my innocent Fitou-induced dream, he stabbed me with an ugly shard of reality.
‘Mr Shaw, outside of this tawdry little fantasy, in your conscious waking life, didn’t you once give £200 to Mujaheddin el Khalq, a proscribed terrorist organisation?’
I spluttered a denial and quivered before his outstretched inquisitorial finger.
‘Come now, Sheik al Shah, surely you knew when those smart-suited men approached you, mooching around Leicester Square waiting for your chosen movie entertainment to begin, that you were funding oppression and torture?’
‘Doesn’t he do that now, through the Limey tax system?’ asked Zero rushing to my defence. I nudged him and hissed ‘Stop helping me, you fat, Commie putz’.
‘Surely you knew’, counsel continued, ignoring my portly compadre, ‘that these men, purporting to be representatives of a charity, were directly funding Saddam Hussein’s suppression of opposition groups?’
I gulped guiltily and looked to Zero for support, but now his comb-over quivered with disgust. I swallowed hard and squeaked feebly ‘I just wanted to help the little Arab babies.’ I awoke, sweating, just after Zero slammed me with a custard pie and screamed ‘Plead the Fifth you dumb anti-Semite, you’re making me look bad.’
The next morning I fished my invite out of the bin (Please RSVP so that we can make catering arrangements) and smoothed it out on my cracker-stained dressing gown. At once I was taken back by a harp glissando and a wavy dissolve to a warm summer evening over a decade ago. The men seemed so nice and the pictures of frightened children abused and imprisoned by the mullahs, simply because their parents opposed the regime, were heartbreaking, married as they were to an inspiring plan to spirit them away to safe houses in neighbouring countries with the help of my donation.
I am a sucker for a sob story and have funded enough lame ducks to cast my own differently-abled waterfowl version of Swan Lake, so I forked out the cash and forgot all about it, until, some weeks later, a photograph arrived of several smiling Iranian tots, standing in a garden, apparently liberated by the money I’d been saving for a musical cracker barrel.
That would have been the end of it, had an acquaintance with a brother at GCHQ not informed me that the charity was ‘on a little list’ at MI5 and that the Charity Commission were investigating. In fact the Commission concluded that although they were not in a position to tell whether donations were being funnelled to Iran’s internal security thugs, they had determined that the donations, some £5 million per year, were all paid into an individual's account in a country other than Iran, which clearly wasn’t er, kosher. Their concerns also focused on some donors being misled into believing that they were personally sponsoring individual children. The implied feeble-minded wishy-washy liberals weren’t mentioned by name, but I blushed anyway. The Commission consequently wound up the organisation and transferred its assets to a new, independent and genuine, charitable foundation.
Over the years, I periodically received written appeals from a variety of allegedly Iranian committees and charities, no doubt using my details from the database of donors who were snared, like me, in a weak moment on a warm day in the West End. I ignored them all and gradually the begging correspondence dropped off. Until my Nowruz invite, which tells me that my donation has not been forgotten and still sits ‘on a little list’ not only on some Iranian based database, but probably with British Intelligence who were evidently watching the smart-suited men and their fellow travellers. On the face of it, like Kafka’s ‘K’, I have nothing to worry about. As a guileless dupe, I have a clear conscience. But then, I did look up the Mujaheddin el Khalq on this laptop whilst I was researching this article…and I can’t help thinking back to all those currently sitting under control orders who left their browsing history un-deleted… It doesn’t look good, does it? A naked name and address held on a database and a search for a proscribed organisation on your computer doesn’t allow room for an explanation, a justification, a defence. The Database State doesn’t care. Someone just knocked on my door while I wrote that last bit and suddenly the crackers have turned to ashes in my mouth. My all duck paraplegic ballet opens Thursday at Belmarsh Gaol.