We have no idea what’s going on in Iran!!!!

People have been calling me, sending me text messages, Twitter messages, and emails day and night asking me, “Max! Where is your coverage of the Iranian election turmoil? I am dying to hear what you have to say.” (Maybe I’m exaggerating.)

But the truth is I don’t know the first goddamn thing about Iran.  For a part time job I have this summer I am doing some research on Shi’a Islam.  When I go to the section in the Oberlin library with books about Shi’ism, I am astounded by the paltry selection.  There are few of good quality; most are only related to the Islamic Revolution of 1979 or related topics, particularly American foreign policy.  So I took heart when I read this post from Rob at the Arabic Media Shack:

We already have a huge expertise problem on the Arab world, at least in America.  But if we assume that one can’t get more than a superficial understanding of a country without a strong grasp of its language (especially if they just show up to cover elections every four years), then the Iran expertise problem is ten times as big.  If someone wants to dispute this, how many Americans would agree that a foreigner who doesn’t speak English can understand America?   We haven’t had a formal government presence for more than three decades and no US university has study abroad programs in Iran.  I’ve probably met 300 people that have been to Egypt, Syria and Lebanon whereas I’ve met 3 that have been to Iran (here’s_one_of_them).  What’s the result?  There aren’t a whole lot of Americans who have a deep grasp of Iran.   So yes,  Stewart is right, the coverage has been bad. Structurally, however,  I don’t see how the American media (in general) could actually do a good job.   Which, in my view, requires that people take anything that’s reported on Iran with extreme skepticism.  In many places, however, I don’t see much of that at all.

He raises a great point.  I think that the coverage of the Iranian election has been poor from the beginning.  I’ll admit that when I see you Moussavi supporters in the streets, frantically tweeting revolutionary slogans, burning bicycles, and fervently calling for a recount I am touched.  But then again, the Russian Revolution is romantic, as is the Spanish Civil War.  It’s easy to get excited when there is good drama.

So I’ll be honest and admit that I have nothing to say about what is going on in Iran because I am, like most Americans, profoundly uninformed.

John Stewart agrees about American media coverage.  But let me finish by saying that the mocking the coverage is not to say that I don’t appreciate the power of Facebook, Twitter, etc. in this movement and other movements to come.


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