Filter Tips: Distortion and Demonization on the Iran Beat


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made an unremarkable, indeed redundant, statement on Thursday. Repeating a sentiment that he has expressed many times before, he declared that Iran is a "friend of the Jewish people" and that neither he nor the Iranian government had any desire to destroy the Jews living in Israel or force them to leave the land.

He did reiterate Tehran's commitment to "regime change" in Israel, and in remarks on the Holocaust, exposed once more a view of modern history that is every bit as ignorant and tendentious as the one held by his counterpart in Washington. Again, there was nothing new in this either.

But the New York Times seized on Ahmadinejad's umpteenth denial of hostility toward the Jewish people -- offered up in support of similar remarks made recently by his vice president -- as newsworthy. Of course, the only thing new about the statement was that the Times decided to report it.

Naturally, this reportage came filtered through the usual prism of Beltway conventional wisdom, which can admit of no let-up in the relentless push to punish the evil Persians. For example, the story managed to get in the old blood libel about Ahmadinejad's alleged vow to "wipe Israel off the map." This egregious and deliberate mistranslation has been one of the most effective and potent propaganda devices of our time, right up there with the "smoking gun--mushroom cloud" gambit that was instrumental in the slaughter of a million innocent people (and counting) in Iraq.

And there is still a very good chance that the "map-wiping" ploy will lead to another dose of mass death itself. For as that Terror War triumvirate of George, John and Barack never cease to remind us, war with Iran is "always on the table." The only apparent difference between these macho men is that Barack seems willing to entertain the possibility of perhaps giving Iran a bit more time to knuckle under to American demands before he pulls the trigger.

And the Times falls right in step with the Potomac war drums by pretending that Ahmadinejad's reiteration of a position that he has held for years is somehow a reaction to pressure from Washington:

Analysts viewed Mr. Ahmadinejad’s public support for Mr. Mashai’s remarks as a sign that Iran might be softening its position amid increasing pressure by the West over its nuclear program.

Of course, it would not be surprising if Iran's leaders made all kinds of mollifying statements in the face of Washington's relentless barrage of charges, sanctions, blockades, Congressional resolutions, covert ops, terrorist strikes and infiltrations directed at Tehran. What else would you do if the world's most powerful nation -- bristling with a global strike capacity and a bipartisan leadership pledging to use it against you at any time -- had made "regime change" in your country its official, legally mandated policy?

But it so happens that in this case, Ahmadinejad is only saying what he -- and many other Iranian leaders -- have said for years: they have no intent, no desire (and certainly no capacity) to destroy the Jewish people in Israel, although they are as implacably opposed to the system of government in Israel as the Israelis are to the system of government in Iran.

How strange it all is. Consider this fact: There is a Jewish member in the Iranian parliament, a legislature elected by universal suffrage for men, women and every ethnicity and religion.** Is there a Jewish member in the Iraqi parliament, which was established and is maintained by American guns? No; but the American-backed Iraqi parliament has just formally condemned one of its members for the heinous crime of attending a conference in Israel. They lifted his immunity, which could be tantamount to a death sentence in the Hobbesian hellhole that the American invasion has created there. In other words, in Iran, a Jew can be a member of the government; but in Iraq, a member of government cannot even meet a Jew without official condemnation.

Is there a Jewish member of the Saudi parliament, a legislature elected by universal suffrage for men, women and every ethnicity and religion? Oh wait; the Bush Family's longtime business partners don't have one of those. Is there a Jewish member in the parliament of America's staunch ally, the authoritarian regime in Egypt? No. Is there a Jewish legislator in the kingdom of Kuwait, run by yet another gang of Bush Family business partners? No. In the United Arab Emirates, launching pad for U.S. military adventures throughout the region? No. In Libya, the Anglo-American oil barons' new best friend? No.

The regime in Iran is a harsh and repressive one (although not as harsh and repressive as most of America's allies in the region). I'd like to see it changed myself -- but by the Iranian people, as they see fit, not by the guns of foreign forces imposing their own agenda of domination on yet another nation. This is also the view of all almost Iranian dissidents. As Iranian pro-democracy activist Muhammad Sahimi noted last year in The Progressive:

“Democracy cannot be imported, nor can it be given to a people by invading their nation, nor by bombing them with cluster bombs. It must be indigenous,” says Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian human rights advocate who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003...

“Iranians will not allow a single U.S. soldier to set foot in Iran,” declares Ebadi, and this is a woman who has been imprisoned by Iran’s hardliners and is constantly harassed for her work on behalf of political prisoners.

Armchair warriors, such as William Kristol, have been claiming that intense bombing of Iran will lead to an uprising by Iranians. The absurd argument is that, “We will destroy Iran, but Iranians will love us for bombing them, and hate the hardliners.” Although a large majority of Iranians despise the hardliners, anyone who has the slightest familiarity with Iran’s history knows that intense bombing of Iran will not lead to their downfall. Rather, it will help them consolidate power...

Iran has a wide spectrum of reformist and democratic groups that are all against U.S. intervention in Iran’s internal affairs and its goal of regime change. They favor political evolution and have made it clear that, for many reasons, they will not work with the United States. Many wonder aloud why the U.S. did nothing when the reformist Khatami was elected in 1997. Washington could have lifted its economic sanctions against Iran that hurt only ordinary Iranians, but it did not. After Khatami’s government helped the U.S. defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, President Bush responded by listing Iran as a charter member of the “axis of evil.”

And as we have often noted here before, the Bush-Cheney squeeze play was a major factor in the elevation of Ahmadinejad to the presidency, for it discredited the reformists, making them look weak and ineffectual. Of course, for those who regard Iran as one of the grand prizes in the "Great Game" of geopolitical domination, a reformist government that might ease the plight of the Iranian people without giving up the nation's independence is the last thing you want to see. A hardline regime is much easier to demonize, much easier to attack.

Khatami was not a reckless and ignorant ideologue like Ahmadinejad (and Bush); he would never have supplied the kind of propaganda ammo that his successor has offered up -- albeit with a very large assist from the vast machinery of misinformation and deceit that helps stoke the Terror War. And as the NYT story shows, that machinery is still in high gear, still pushing toward the Dominationists' dream of aping Alexander in Persia.

**Note. I'm well aware that Iran's nominal democracy is highly circumscribed, with potential candidates rigorously vetted by unelected elites, pruning anyone who might seriously challenge the system, thus leaving voters with a very limited choice between safe, "serious" Establishment figures. I agree that it would be just awful to live under a system like that!

UPDATE: Juan Cole has more here.