Category Archives: Iran

The enemy of my enemy is my…

The U.S. State Department announced yesterday that it has designated the Iranian Baluch group Jundullah a terrorist organization. This makes a lot of sense considering that Jundullah is known for suicide bombings, beheadings and other hallmarks of many of the other radical groups the U.S. designates as terrorists. The Baluch separatist group might even have ties to al Qaeda.

The State Department release said:

Since its inception in 2003, Jundallah has engaged in numerous attacks resulting in the death and maiming of scores of Iranian civilians and government officials, primarily in Iran’s Sistan va Balochistan province. Jundallah uses a variety of terrorist tactics, including suicide bombings, ambushes, kidnappings and targeted assassinations. In May 2009, Jundallah attacked the crowded Shiite Amir al-Mo’menin mosque in Zahedan, destroying the mosque and killing and wounding numerous worshipers. An October 2009 bomb attack which killed more than 40 people was reportedly the deadliest terrorist attack in Iran since the 1980s. Following the February 2010 capture by Iranian authorities of Jundallah’s ex-leader, Abdul Malik Rigi, the group selected a new leader, al-Hajj Mohammed Dhahir Baluch, and confirmed its commitment to continue its terrorist activities. In July 2010, Jundallah attacked the Grand Mosque in Zahedan, killing approximately 30 and injuring hundreds.

What the State Department doesn’t mention, however, is that it’s commonly believed that the CIA supports Jundullah’s activities in an attempt to destabilize the Iranian government. Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker in July 2008 that Jundullah (and other domestic Iranian rebel groups) receive funding and support from Langley.

Maybe the Obama administration has cut back on its predecessor’s covert programs like support for Iranian terrorist group. Politico cites an unnamed Washington-based Iran expert saying that the designation of Jundullah as a terrorist group shows that “one bureaucratic fight in favor of engagement was won.” It’s a place to start.

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What you don’t need to know about Ahmadinejad’s trip to Lebanon

I don’t read Slate for their foreign affairs coverage and I sincerely hope that you don’t either. This is exactly why.

Ruthie Ackerman, reporting from southern Beirut, gives Slate readers an ass-backwards take on democracy, Lebanon, and Iran. The article sounds like it was written by someone who only knows about the Middle East from reading the Washington Post’s editorial page.

What am I talking about? Take, for example, this passage:

But standing on the airport road Wednesday morning, watching the crowd of thousands shower Ahmadinejad with rose petals and rice as he waved from his black SUV, the uphill battle that activists and democracy-dreamers face here seemed formidable. Young children shook Iranian and Lebanese flags energetically, while over the loudspeaker a voice urged onlookers to welcome Ahmadinejad and warned about the Great Satan that is America.

Stop and think about that for a minute. Why does an overwhelming support for the president of Iran mean that “democracy-dreamers” in Beirut face an “uphill battle”? Ackerman doesn’t bother to explain, but it seems like readers are supposed to assume that because Ahmadinejad’s regime is anti-democratic in Iran, it will, by virtue of its popularity, somehow transfer its repressive ways to Lebanon.

There’s no reason to think Ahmadinejad’s popularity in Lebanon has anything to do with that country own (exceedingly complex) democracy. Moreover, there is no reason to believe that an un-democratic demagogue can’t be popular in foreign countries

The article continues with this kind of nonsense. A few paragraphs later, she writes:

Even Ahmadinejad’s supporters seem to be torn between their love for the Iranian leader and their desire to live in the United States. A 22-year-old woman wearing a veil said she really liked Ahmadinejad, but in the same breath she told me that her father had lived in North Carolina and that she dreams of going to America. “Take me with you,” she pleaded, half-jokingly. She saw no contradiction.

Anyone who has traveled in the Middle East (and, I suspect, other regions of the world where anti-American sentiment is prevalent) knows that it’s common for people to say they hate the U.S. in one breath and then they want to live there in the next. It’s certainly not notable. For now, let’s ignore the fact that Ackerman’s only example of Ahmadinejad supporters being “torn” between their allegiance to the Iranian leader and love for the United States is one 22 year old.

In another major faux pas, Ackerman writes that it was “odd” that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah addressed the crowd via videolink rather than in person. Of course anyone who follows Lebanon even marginally knows that Nasrallah speaks almost exclusively via videolink. The last time Nasrallah appeared in person was in July 2008.

The article ends with a nice flourish of old-fashioned Orientalism, including some talk about camels in Isalmic culture.

It may seem excessive to unload on a single article like this, especially one in Slate of all places. But it’s not. It’s worth it because this is what is wrong with U.S. coverage of the Middle East. Americans are all too often provided with reports by journalists who have a complete ignorance of the place from which they are reporting. The only point of reference these correspondents have is U.S. foreign policy interests and the coverage becomes a tautological mess (i.e., Ahmadinejad is bad because he’s bad and dangerous because he’s dangerous). In the end, Americans — in this case Slate readers — get “news” that teaches them nothing and only reinforces their preconceptions.

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Mouthpieces?

According to the BBC, “A spokesman [for the Iranian government]  said foreign media were ‘mouthpieces’ of enemy governments seeking Iran’s disintegration.” I have no love for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the regime in Iran, but I think they might be on to something here.

American media has abandoned any pretense of objectivity when it comes to protests in Iran. I was watching CNN for a while last night and each and every pundit, expert, and correspondent took a hard line against the regime and in favor of the protesters. Don Lemon called Neda a martyr about a dozen times. Every Iranian they talked to was a dissident.  There wasn’t a single attempt to represent the regime’s side of the story.

Where I think that the Iranian spokesman was wrong is in his characterization of the media as mouthpieces for “enemy governments.” What they look like to me are mouthpieces for the Iranian opposition. It’s natural that Americans and their media are sympathetic to the pro-Moussavi movement.  But that doesn’t mean that everyone from Fox News to NPR should act as though they are the voice of the Moussavi government in exile.

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Iran and the future of political Islam

Reul Marc Gerecht had an interesting op-ed in the New York Times today.  Gerecht is a former CIA Iran specialist and affiliated with some fairly conservative think tanks.  I’m not sure I agree with everything that Gerecht says, but he raises an important question: What does this revolution mean for the future of political Islam?

Yet in the current demonstrations we are witnessing not just the end of the first stage of the Iranian democratic experiment, but the collapse of the structural underpinnings of the entire Islamic approach to modern political self-rule. Islam’s categorical imperative for both traditional and fundamentalist Muslims —“commanding right and forbidding wrong” — is being transformed.

[…]

Westerners would do well to understand the magnitude of what is transpiring in the Islamic Republic. Iran’s revolution shook the Islamic world. It was the first attempt by militant Muslims to prove that “Islam has all the answers” — or at least enough of them to run a modern state and make its citizenry more moral children of God. But the experiment has failed. The so-called June 12th revolution is the Iranian answer to the recurring hope in Islamic history that the world can be reborn closer to the Prophet Muhammad’s virtuous community. Millions of Iranians said in the presidential election, and more powerfully on the streets since, that they want out of Ayatollah Khomeini’s dream, which has become a nightmare.

The conventional wisdom–at least in my education–is that Iran’s Islamic Revolution was the catalyst for Islamists around the world.  So if that proves itself a failure (because it lacks popular support) will it deflate Islamists everywhere?

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