TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

Sunday Fun at the New York Times and in Teheran

This Sunday’s NYT included an article in the “Week in Review” section poking fun at the term “Islamo-fascism.” The author, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, had a jolly time gloating over the trajectory of the term: ” . . . no phrase has crashed and burned as fast as the president’s most recent entry into the foreign policy lexicon.” It’s an amusing little sneer at presidential rhetoric, the implication being: he doesn’t know what to call it because it’s not really there. It must have made for a great read and lots of hoots over brunch on the Upper West Side.

Stolberg’s sniping at rhetoric demonstrates the degradation of journalism: it’s no longer about just the facts, Ma’am, it’s about the terms and the words and the rhetoric. And how journalists report on other journalists. And how the battle to separate news from opinion was lost long ago. Postmodernism has morphed into media liberalism at its most giddy. What a gas. (Of course Stolberg fails to mention that the administration probably backed off from the term due to explicitly political pressure from Islamic pressure groups in the US: Mr. PC multiculturalism goes to Washington.)

The problem is, though, that there may really be an enemy out there, as much as the NYT would like to stick its ostrich head somewhere more to its taste. The media that want to see no evil have become complicit with the evil-doers (a term, by the way, which Stolberg picks up, sniffs, and rejects). “Journalism” has dwindled into partisan battle, and since reporting on the miserable lives of those condemned to live and die under Islamo-fascist regimes would probably score no points against the current administration, that suffering is condemned to the black holes of newsprint oblivion. If it doesn’t hurt Bush, it’s just not newsworthy.

Consider the alternative use to which the space devoted to Stolberg’s chatter in the Sunday Times might have been otherwise devoted. Instead of Stolberg’s good, hearty laughter over the effort to characterize the enemy—how silly to imagine a threat, when life is so good at the paper of record—the editors might have deigned to report on the plight of four Iranian women awaiting execution and for whom demonstrations were held, both in Los Angeles and Teheran. Of course, if it had been a protest against an execution pending in the US, it would have been front-page news. But presumably for the good-humored editorial staff, executing Iranians is, well, just not worth the time of day. And certainly not worth sacrificing a laugh on a bright Sunday morning.

So this is what could have gone into the space where Stolberg’s droll humor amused breakfasting readers. As reported by IranPressNews:

Large number of civil and human rights activists gathered on Sunday, September 25th at 5 pm Tehran time, in front of the Tehran offices of the United Nations to protest the regime’s refusal to stop the execution of 4 women, Nazanin Fatehi, 18 years old, Kobra Rahmanpour, 25 years old, Fatemeh Haghighat-pajooh, 35 years old and Shahla Jahed, also 35.

The families of these women had requested an appointment to meet with the U.N. officials and had called for human rights and civil activists to also gather for a peaceful protest against the Islamic regime’s execution sentence for the 4 women. Hours before the gathering of the protestors, the regime’s disciplinary guards that are now a permanent fixture in every street, in every city, town and village all across Iran, along with plain-clothes secret service agents had been increased and strategically deployed; they surrounded the nearby area streets in order to minimize attendance and intimidate people from joining up with the others who would have already been there.

This is the regime whose representatives were recently feted with speaking opportunities at Harvard and the Council for Foreign Relations. I suppose the NYT might say that since the demonstrations took place, it could have been worse and was therefore not “Islamo-fascism.” That sort of stance, however, imputes an inappropriate rigidity to the term, on the basis of the inflexible argument that if Teheran is not an exact replica of fascist Italy the term is illegitimate. Clearing up the muddled thinking at the NYT is a thankless task indeed. In the meantime, Stolberg gets her laughs and gets to ignore this:

Outside on the street however, in the early moments, as the protestors gathered the agents and guards brutally attacked, beating the protestors; they arrested many, most of whom were women and girls, as well as several student leaders who had traveled from the city of Isfahan to take part in the protest. They were taken to a precinct in northern Tehran, close to the U.N. offices. It is reported that the guards did manage to drive away hundreds more protestors who had been seen approaching.

As the crowds who managed to get passed the guards and succeeded in joining up with the other protestors, plain-clothes agents pushed their way through the crowds that were present, threatening and menacing them with violence and bodily harm. Protestors tried to ignore the agents by chanting slogans of condemnation of executions of not only the 4 women but of the Islamic regime’s constant reign of terror and intimidation by execution in general.

However it is not only a matter of the “liberal press”—but what is liberal about a press that minimizes the abuse of civil liberties around the world, unless the US or an ally is the culprit? Why no solidarity with the Iranians? This is a far cry from the heroic liberalism of the past century that rallied against oppression everywhere. It is not only a matter of the “liberal press” willfully ignoring situations such as these. It gets worse, in fact, when the media take one more step from irresponsible ignorance to an apologetic celebration of brutal regimes: as long as it fits the political agenda of the press.

Thus in Britain, in order to undermine Prime Minister Tony Blair’s foreign policy stance in its waning days, the BBC has moved to an outright celebration of the Iranian mullahocracy. As a reliable blogger writes from London:

The BBC radio 4 in Britain has started a campaign of misinformation on Iran. It is called ‘Uncovering Iran’. What is the BBC’s agenda, I wonder? On tonight’s edition broadcast at 8 pm what I heard was akin to what you would hear on the regime’s state run media channels inside Iran every hour of every day! This set of misinformation is a kind of propaganda that the regime itself could not have devised any better to illustrate to the British public an image of a good regime that respects human rights, democratic principles and values on the one hand and on the other a regime which has been subjected to the unreasonable aggression of the Bush administration. I am speechless!

And he continues:

In the earlier editions and so far the BBC has painted the Islamic Republic as a nice place to live in. No mention of the regime’s atrocities against the Iranians; no mention of the living conditions of millions of Iranians; no mention of the high number of drug addicts; no mention of the Iranian girls being sold as sex slaves to the neighbouring Arab countries; no mention of the Islamic regime being the second biggest executioner in the world after China; no mention of the hangings of children; no mention of the high level of corruption; no mention of the closure of newspapers and magazines for the slightest criticism of the regime; no mention of the thousands of prisoners of conscience; no mention of countless other breaches of basic human rights; no mention of the regime’s intentions to export their revolution to the third world Muslim countries; no mention of the regime’s military and financial support of the terrorist organisations; no mention of the . . . 

Of course, there was no mention of this either when Khatami spoke at Harvard, or when Ahmadenijad accepted his invitation at the CFR. No doubt their propaganda appearances here only gave them added strength and credibility in Iran.

But the issue in this commentary is not so much the crimes of the regime and its representatives, but the repeatedly observed desire of large parts of the western public sphere to curry favor with dictators, to ignore real suffering, and to dismiss critics of these conditions as off the mark. The NYT and the BBC—an Atlantic Charter of betrayal. The journalism of today’s Stolbergs stands in a direct lineage with the grand tradition of the NYT, hiding the crimes of Stalinism and marginalizing the Holocaust in the era of the other totalitarianisms.

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