Monthly Archives: October 2007

An instruction from civilisation to barbarism

Not listening to the Iranians

In the days leading up to and following President Ahmadinejad’s address at Columbia University during his recent trip to New York for the United Nations General Assembly, mainstream western media largely lost the run of itself in its eagerness to ensure that nothing he said could be interpreted other than through the prism of his being ‘a petty and cruel dictator’ – the words with which the President of Columbia University, Lee Bollinger, introduced Ahmadinejad in his ‘welcome’ address. Bollinger made another startling statement, one of many, as he greeted Ahmadinejad:

“…to be clear on another matter – this event has nothing whatsoever to do with any ‘rights’ of the speaker [the democratically elected leader of Iran] but only with our [US] rights to listen and speak. We do it for ourselves.”
[….html]He can hardly have meant it as such, but this must be the most apt summation of the Bush administration’s attitude to the rest of the world we are likely to hear.

The day of the Columbia address, the US media was in shrill mode. Bollinger’s was of course very much the perspective all round and over on the Hannity and Colmes programme on Fox News, for example. In the studio former and present students at Columbia were gathered to discuss whether it was right for Ahmadinejad to have been invited at all. Aliza Davidovit, a prominent journalist and TV producer herself and whose website carries an endorsement from Benjamin Netanyahu testifying to her fairness, had torn up the original copy of her diploma from Columbia, she was so outraged. []

Davidovit, challenging the idea the Iranian President had a right to freedom of speech, said that if someone has threatened to kill your mother, you don’t invite them to talk about it. When it was pointed out by co-host Colmes that “There’s some dispute as to whether he actually said that or whether he ever said he wanted to kill anybody” Davidovit jumped seamlessly from Iran to Iraq. In a breathtaking knight’s move devoid of logic she said – “I don’t need [him] to say it. We have dead bodies coming home every day”. Saddam being conveniently dead, and the US’s own abject military failures in Iraq pushed firmly aside, Ahmadinejad is now to accept full responsibility for the deaths of American soldiers there, despite having formerly welcomed the US’s removal of Saddam in Iraq. Colmes and Davidovit were agreed, though, on Davidovit’s description of Ahmadinejad as a “meshugena” – Yiddish for a crazy person. “A good word” Colmes said.

[,2933,297937,00.html]Closer to home we haven’t fared much better when it comes to reporting news about Iran.

‘Syrian ‘incident’ underlines growing threat from Iran’ proclaimed a headline in The Irish Times on the 24th September (the day before Ahmadinejad’s speech) as if it were a matter of solid fact. Charles Krauthammer, the Irish Times’ favourite US neo-con, offered his customary fare but the subheading gave the game away, if anyone was likely to spot it beneath the certainty of its parent:

“On September 6th, something important happened in northern Syria, writes Charles Krauthammer. Problem is, no one knows exactly what. Except for those few who were involved, and they’re not saying.”

[…html]But we do know that Iran is responsible, whatever it is. Why? How? Shouldn’t we be being more vigilant about this, given that the destruction of another Middle Eastern country is being advocated? What if, as in Iraq, the media allows itself to be unthinkingly deployed in cheering on yet another genocide, and on yet another false premise?

The Irish Times often relies on press agency reports without screening them for accuracy or fairness:

‘Ahmadinejad hits out at Israel and the US’ ran another exaggerated headline over a Reuters report, which characterised Bollinger’s aggressively insulting speech as merely being ‘tough’. The Irish Times allowed the report to go to press replete with multiple assertions long since proven to be unfounded, of which more below.

[…breaking11.html]An online RTE report introduced its account of the Columbia University event, “Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad clashed with a US academic at a forum in New York,” entirely reversing the character of Ahmadinejad’s calm response and projecting Bollinger’s aggression onto to the former instead.

[]What Ahmadinejad did not say

While in New York, Ahmadinejad gave the western media the opportunity it was praying for. He was widely thought to have undermined his already much disrespected credibility with his statements on homosexuality, which appeared to say it was unknown in Iran, despite, for instance, the execution of two teenage boys there a couple of years ago for practicing it. An Iranian scholar has responded to that interpretation of his words, however. Ali Quli Qarai, in an essay that international observers would do well to heed, has lamented the often crude nature of both western and Iranian translations of Farsi into English which have caused widespread misrepresentation of Ahmadinejad’s words on numerous occasions. While debunking the most notorious of the resulting distortions of the Iranian president’s words, AQQ insists that the Iranian leader did not say anything so ludicrous as that there was no homosexuality in Iran. What Ahmadinejad was actually saying, AQQ says, was that homosexuality is not an issue that is regarded the same way in Iranian society as it is in the US – a very different thing. But the tabloids and broadsheets have had a field day – they will no doubt continue to prefer their version, regardless.

[]International condemnation has been loud about human rights abuses in Iran including that of homosexuals, justifiably so. There is an uneasy agreement between pro and anti war factions about this and the US government and its supporters in the media have made much of the issue in building the case for an attack on Iran. The question therefore arises why we hear no similar condemnation from them of Saudi Arabia (friend of the US and the Bush family in particular) and many other countries where oppression like this is as bad and in some instances far worse. On these contradictions and hypocrisies, however, the mainstream media is silent.

In communication with Noam Chomsky about the Columbia episode, he offered us these comments:

“Bollinger’s tantrum was utterly depraved. The best comment on it I’ve seen is in Asia Times (9-25), by Pepe Escobar:

‘An even more appalling measure of Western arrogance – also speaking volumes about “us” when confronted with the incomprehensible “other” – is the diatribe with which the president of Columbia University, Lee Bollinger, chose to “greet” his guest, a head of state. Bollinger, supposedly an academic, spoke about confronting “the mind of evil”. His crass behavior got him 15 minutes of fame. Were President Bush to be greeted in the same manner in any university in the developing world – and motives would abound also to qualify him as a “cruel, petty dictator” – the Pentagon would have instantly switched to let’s-bomb-them- with-democracy mode.’

To which we may add that Bush’s crimes vastly exceed, by a huge margin, anything attributed to Ahmadinejad.

The hysteria also has its comical aspects — or what would be comical if it were not so serious. Since Ahmadinejad didn’t say much that was offensive, the media and commentators leaped on his statement about homosexuality. There’s a little more to that that one might say about the US-UK attitudes towards homosexuality. For example, the murder of the very distinguished mathematician, biologist, and computer scientist Alan Turing by the British government, which forced him to undergo hormone therapy for his “disease,” leading to suicide. The year? 1953, which has a certain significance in US/UK-Iran relations.

It also might be worth remembering the reaction in the media and Columbia university to that interesting year, in which the US-UK destroyed the Iranian parliamentary system and installed a brutal tyrant. The New York Times editors wrote that “Underdeveloped countries with rich resources now have an object lesson in the heavy cost that must be paid by one of their number which goes berserk with fanatical nationalism. It is perhaps too much to hope that Iran’s experience will prevent the rise of Mossadeghs in other countries, but that experience may at least strengthen the hands of more reasonable and more far-seeing leaders,” who will have a clear-eyed understanding of our overriding priorities” (Aug. 6, 1954 — we may put aside the symbolism of the date). As for Columbia University, it invited the Shah to deliver the university’s 1955 Gabriel Silver Lecture Dedicated to International Peace, the New York Times reported, also granting him an honorary degree. The headline read: “Shah Praises U.S. for Peace Policy; Iran’s Ruler Calls on West to Bolster Independent Nations” (Feb. 5, 1955), as the US and UK had just done with such grace and nobility in Iran.”

Which brings us to the point of this MediaShot. An Iranian response to the shrill western media chorus that surrounded Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia University might have been anticipated – eagerly looked for even – and in fact, there has been one. But there is so little mention of it in the media it’s likely to be news to many that a letter from seven heads of Iranian universities has arrived in response to Lee Bollinger’s attack on Ahmadinejad. Addressed to Bollinger, this is a letter that deserves attention – at least as much attention as Bollinger’s own laughable address has received. It poses ten questions, some of them the most urgent of the immediate time, where international relations with Iran are concerned:

1- Why did the US media put you under so much pressure to prevent Mr. Ahmadinejad from delivering his speech at Columbia University? And why have American TV networks been broadcasting hours of news reports insulting our president while refusing to allow him the opportunity to respond? Is this not against the principle of freedom of speech?

2- Why, in 1953, did the US administration overthrow Iran’s national government under Dr Mohammad Mosaddegh and go on to support the Shah’s dictatorship?

3- Why did the US support the blood-thirsty dictator Saddam Hussein during the 1980-88 Iraqi-imposed war on Iran, considering his reckless use of chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers defending their land and even against his own people?

4- Why is the US putting pressure on the government elected by the majority of Palestinians in Gaza instead of officially recognizing it? And why does it oppose Iran ‘s proposal to resolve the 60-year-old Palestinian issue through a general referendum?

5- Why has the US military failed to find Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden even with all its advanced equipment? How do you justify the old friendship between the Bush and Bin Laden families and their cooperation on oil deals? How can you justify the Bush administration’s efforts to disrupt investigations concerning the September 11 attacks?

6- Why does the US administration support the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) despite the fact that the group has officially and openly accepted the responsibility for numerous deadly bombings and massacres in Iran and Iraq? Why does the US refuse to allow Iran ‘s current government to act against the MKO’s main base in Iraq?

7- Was the US invasion of Iraq based on international consensus and did international institutions support it? What was the real purpose behind the invasion which has claimed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives? Where are the weapons of mass destruction that the US claimed were being stockpiled in Iraq?

8- Why do America’s closest allies in the Middle East come from extremely undemocratic governments with absolutist monarchical regimes?

9- Why did the US oppose the plan for a Middle East free of unconventional weapons in the recent session of the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors despite the fact the move won the support of all members other than Israel?

10- Why is the US displeased with Iran’s agreement with the IAEA and why does it openly oppose any progress in talks between Iran and the agency to resolve the nuclear issue under international law?
[Full text:]

The Iranian academics should have added an eleventh question:

“Why is the US, the possessor of an apocalyptic arsenal of nuclear weaponry, threatening for a second time to undermine a country, Iran, that does not possess even one – on the pretext that Iran’s interest in nuclear capability is the greater threat to the world ?”

But the letter, to all intents and purposes, has not ‘happened’. Bollinger has so far been unequal to a return bout of ‘tough’ questions, it seems. At the time of writing, 2nd October, we could not find a single mention of the academics’ letter in the Irish mainstream media – and very little concern for it internationally either.

Ahmadinejad’s visit to Columbia University might have been a turning point had it been conducted in the spirit in which it was originally intended by Dean John Coatsworth, the man who had originally invited him. Only moments before Bollinger’s abusive address Coatsworth had described the occasion as “…an extraordinary opportunity to engage in an atmosphere of civility and restraint.”

When, as it inevitably will, the falsity of the basis for the war is finally acknowledged (the action over, the profits secured) we will be able to look back to Ahmadinejad’s visit to America and this letter from Iranian universities – two more examples of the rejected offers which the Iranian government made to co-operate and communicate over several years – and wish that we had availed ourselves of those opportunities. Offers that included, among other things, the possibility of cessation of support for Hamas and the conversion of Hezbollah into a ‘purely socio-political organization’. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, a former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell is quoted in a revealing, if depressing, article on the Washington Notes website as follows:

“I also outlined for my audience all the times – some of them when we had maximum leverage – that we refused dialogue over the past four years. The default decision by the cabal [Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush] – after it had flummoxed the statutory process – was achieved: no talks with evil people, particularly those occupying prominent positions on the axis.”

The mainstream media might ultimately experience a fleeting moment of self-doubt about its failure to document the true role of the US in all of this but it will recover quickly and move on, as it did with alarming speed in the case of Iraq. It knows who it must serve, after all. Here in Ireland, a poster on the current affairs website, quite possibly an elected politician, when told that war on Iran was now more probability than possibility, noted without a hint of sarcasm: ‘We have to put our own national economic interests first. Charity begins at home. And remember this – if the US couldn’t go through Shannon they would just go through a UK airport like Prestwick instead. End result: the length of the war would be unaffected but thousands of jobs at Shannon would be lost – remember that 70% of the airport’s revenues come from the US military. Sometimes the price of principle is too high.’

This is the true nature of capitalism’s success and what the US really means when it speaks of ‘bringing democracy’ to others for its own benefit – that the preservation of livelihoods in one part of the world is pitted favourably against death and destruction in another. Of course, If we were talking about a situation in which the lives of citizens of the US, the UK, France or any other European country were being weighed up against the economic interests of the Shannon region, nobody would dare to express such a grotesque opinion.

Suggested Action

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Complaints, RTE

Michael Good, RTE News Editor

Letters to the Editor, The Irish Times

Geraldine Kennedy, Irish Times Editor

Fintan O’Toole, Irish Times Assistant Editor

Gerald O’Regan, Irish Independent Editor

Tim Vaughan, Irish Examiner Editor

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