Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, January 30, 2006

"Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - the new demon," January 30, 2006.

In December 2002, during the final months before the American invasion of Iraq, Noam Chomsky took time out from the debate about Iraq to point out that even then quote "war with Iran is probably underway." Chomsky explained this opinion quote "It's known that about 12% of the Israeli air force is in southeastern Turkey. They're there because they're preparing for the war against Iran. They don't care about Iraq. Iraq they figure's a pushover, but Iran has always been a problem for Israel. It's the one country in the region that they can't handle and they've been after the US to take it on for years. According to one report, the Israeli air force is now flying at the Iranian border for intelligence, provocation and so on. And it's not a small air force. It's bigger than the British air force, bigger than any NATO power other than the US. So it's probably underway. There are claims that there are efforts to stir up Azeri separatism, which makes some sense. It's what the Russians tried to do in 1946, and that would separate Iran, or what's left of Iran, from the Caspian oil producing centres. Then you could partition it. That will probably be underway at the time and then there'll be a story about how Iran's going to kill us tomorrow, so we need to get rid of them today. At least that's been the pattern." (Chomsky, Interview, December 28, 2002).

By February 2005, several reporters including Dafna Linzer at the Washington Post and Paul Rogers at openDemocracy said, "There is now reliable evidence that the US has been using bases in Iraq for nearly a year to undertake extensive surveillance missions [using drones] across Iran" (Rogers Iranian options Feb 24 05).

In June of 2005, Scott Ritter the former US Marine intelligence officer and one-time chief weapons inspector in Iraq reported that quote "CIA paramilitary operatives and US Special Operations units ... are training with Azerbaijan forces to form special units capable of operating inside Iran for the purpose of intelligence gathering, direct action, and mobilising indigenous opposition to the Mullahs in Tehran" (Ritter War with Iran Jun 20 05).

"The [Iranian] province of Kurdistan has been a scene of sporadic anti-government demonstrations since last June [2005]. At least 40 people have reportedly died in clashes with the security forces while more than 700 have been arrested....Ahvaz, [the capital of the Khuzistan province,] for its part, has witnessed a series of bomb attacks and terrorist operations during the past four months with several clandestine organizations calling on the province's ethnic Arabs to revolt against Ahmadinejad's 'repressive policies'" (Taheri Arab News Jan 28 06).

It seems we are moving through a series of predictable steps almost as if they had been foreordained by the pathology of our collective habits.

So far the US has called for an emergency meeting of the IAEA on Wednesday, February 2, so that the matter can be referred to the Security Council for sanctions. The US has already implemented unilateral sanctions against Iran.

On the cover of its January 23 issue, Maclean's published a picture of Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with the bold heading "the scariest man in the world." The article belongs to a genre known as demonization. If it were about a Canadian, we would call it a "smear" because it comes complete with rumours, half-truths, and unsubstantiated allegations.

Author of the article, Michael Petrou, whose journalistic work in Afghanistan and elsewhere has been praised, passes along the allegation that Ahmadinejad has been quote "accused of playing a role in the covert assassinations of Kurdish opposition leaders in Austria" along with a disclaimer that quote "These allegations are not proven and he has denied them" endquote But Petrou adds nothing to that one sentence, no evidence and nothing to our understanding of the situation.

In contrast, Amir Taheri at the pro-government Arab News in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, whose purpose in this case appears to be providing the reader with information, says that quote "The province of Kurdistan has been a scene of sporadic anti-government demonstrations since last June. At least 40 people have reportedly died in clashes with the security forces while more than 700 have been arrested.

The authorities have also closed down a number of Kurdish-language publications, in contrast with Ahmadinejad's promise not to organize a crackdown against the press" (Taheri Arab News Jan 28 06).

Taheri points out that "Iran's ethnic minorities, including the Kurds, the Arabs, the Turkmen and the Baluch, account for at least 12 percent of the population.

"Located along the country's long and porous borders these [ethnic] communities could be open to manipulation by anyone who wishes to weaken Iran," including the United States, which would clearly prefer a color revolution-style regime change as in Ukraine over a replay of Iraq in a shock-, awe- and occupation-type change. (Taheri Arab News Jan 28 06).

Petrou dutifully passes along the charge that Ahmadinejad is quote "rumoured to have taken part in the 1979 seizure of the American embassy in Tehran during the early days of the Islamic revolution, and some former hostages and a journalist who covered the crisis say they recognize him from that time." Again, Petrou devotes all of a sentence to this subject though it is a long one. He does not name names. He does not clarify the truth. Petrou contributes nothing to our understanding. -jlt]

There is plenty more conflicting testimony--blogs with allegedly incriminating photographs, an AP interview with some of the hostages, a Radio Netherlands report that, "other former student leaders involved in the embassy seige deny that the Iranian president took part" in the seige itself (RNW Jul 1 05).

Bloomberg actually makes the unconfirmed claim that Ahmadinejad was "a founder of the group that stormed the US Embassy in Iran in 1979..." (Bloomberg Jun 25 05).

However, according to Al Jazeera, the satellite news station based in Qatar, "As a young student, Ahmadinejad joined [but did not found] an ultraconservative faction of the Office for Strengthening Unity, the radical student group spawned by the 1979 Islamic Revolution and staged the capture of the US Embassy."

Al Jazeera reports that "Ahmadinejad attended planning meetings for the US Embassy takeover and at these meetings lobbied for a simultaneous takeover of the Soviet Embassy" (Al Jazeera Jun 19 05).

Petrou's article for Maclean's adds another cryptic sentence to its hysterical emotional indictment, quote "he was elected mayor of Tehran in an election in which most residents did not vote" (Petrou Maclean's Jan 23 06). Since the context is an article about "the scariest man in the world" we may be forgiven if we conjure the image of a fate worse than Klingons for those who dared to vote in Tehran's election for mayor.

However, in an article first published by the Iranian newspaper Sargh and later reprinted by the left-wing ZNet, Ahmad Sadri who is Chairman of the Sociology and Anthropology Department at Lake Forest College, IL explains why "most residents did not vote" in that election quote:

"After twice electing a reform president and empowering a reform parliament the electorate finally decided to give up on a do-nothing president and a parliament paralyzed by the right wing sabotage. Regardless of the causes of reformists' failure, people's despair was deep and blind. So, they stayed away from the polls, handing to the right wing first the City Councils (and hence the office of Tehran's Mayor taken over by Mr. Ahmadinejad) and then the Seventh Parliament" endquote (Sadri Jun 30 05).

Finally, Petrou writes, "Ballot boxes were reportedly stuffed. Ahmadinejad became president" (Petrou Maclean's Jan 23 06). [Two sentences this time. Who reported the stuffing of ballot boxes? Did anyone follow up? Not Petrou. He says nothing further about this undocumented allegation.]

Once again, there is plenty of conflicting information in Michael Ledeen's neoconservative satirical sendup of the Iranian elections for National Review Online and Ahmad Sadri's left-wing critique of Ledeen for ZNet. Unfortunately, Maclean's was satisfied with Petrou's terse fabrication.

There are several problems with all this fine-grained fear-mongering. The first is that while minor issues are being fumbled, all this unnecessary detail obscures the important issues.

As a first approximation, I suggest that the top three issues here are the abundant tensions between Israel and Iran including racial and religious as well as geopolitical tensions. Second, the role religion does play as opposed to the role it should or should not play in politics needs to be subjected to some respectful and rigorous disagreement. Most especially we need to scrutinize the attitudes of people who self-identify as secular on this subject.

Third, there is a massive and suppressed internal debate in Canada about the nature of democracy. Mr Petrou's hate piece manages to avoid it even though it surfaced again with the election of Hamas. Clearly more is required than the comfy rankings of Freedom House.

A further problem with Maclean's fear-mongering profile is that it omits the kind of simple, uncontested information that helps us to form a picture of a live human being instead of a voodoo doll.

Predictably, the Maclean's article doesn't mention that in 2005, Mayor Ahmadinejad was one of 65 finalists out of 550 nominees for the annual World Mayor award. Al Jazeera *did.* Other finalists included Vancouver's Larry Campbell. Ahmadinejad did *not* win, but Mississauga's octogenarian and Don Cherry's favourite, Hazel McCallion was the second place runner-up. (World Mayor 05)

Western listeners might find it odd that the most detailed and relatively objective biographical information on the man appeared in China's state-owned People's Daily, supplemented in this account by a few details from Al Jazeera.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was born in 1956. One of seven children, his was a blacksmithing family in Garmsar, a neighbourhood southeast of Tehran" (Al Jazeera Jun 19 05).

At 19, he began his studies at Iran University of Science and Technology and graduated with a degree in civil engineering. (Al Jazeera Jun 19 05).

He returned to university two separate times and finally earned his transportation engineering PhD in 1997.

He started his political career in the late 70s as a consultant to the mayor of the southwestern city Shahr Kord.

His positive reputation as Mayor of Tehran came from the merits of improving traffic conditions and stabilizing prices in the sprawling and polluted capital city.

Ahmadinejad is enthusiastically supported by people of lower social status in the country. Hardline religious Iranians, on the other hand, prefer him due to his conservative politics. Ahmadinejad has said that he is against any compromise on the issue of Iran's nuclear program and relations with the United States" (People's Daily Jun 25 05).

Amir Taheri at the Arab News offers "...a word of warning ... to all those who might think that playing the ethnic and sectarian cards against Ahmadinejad's new militancy might help knock some sense into Tehran. Any attempt at encouraging secessionism in the Iranian periphery could only mobilize the mainstream nationalism of Iranians in support of a [Khomeinist] regime that, its feigned defiance notwithstanding, [Amir Taheri believes] has lost much of its original support base.

"Ahmadinejad's so-called "second revolution" may have little in the way of positive creativity... But it still has large reserves of....nationalism and religious zealotry that could plunge the entire region into years if not decades of bloody crises....

"Fanning the fires of ethnic and sectarian resentment against Tehran is not difficult - especially at a time that Ahmadinejad seems determined to lead the nation into an unnecessary conflict with the rest of the world....

"The current fever provoked in Iran by Ahmadinejad and his pseudo-messianic message is little more than an epiphenomenon which, given patience and wisdom, could be contained and neutralized. Here is a monster that feeds and grows on crisis and conflict. The answer is not to lead it to a banquet table but to starve it" (Taheri Arab News Jan 28 06).

As former CIA analysts Bill and Kathleen Christison said in December, quote "The peace movements of the entire world should be in crisis mode right now, working non-stop to prevent the US and Israel from starting a war against Iran" endquote (Christison Dec 29 05).

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