TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

The Anatomy of Repression in Iran (and Selective Reporting in the New York Times)

Remember the streets filled with demonstrators to protest the Iraq War? Or the outrage over Gaza? Today, in the face of the repression in Iran, that camp is silent: no solidarity with democrats, no enormous gatherings in London or Paris or New York. There is a terrible calculation at stake. To support the democracy movement in Iran might imply that there is something deeply wrong with the regime in Tehran—as a previous regime in Washington understood. And that line of thought would upset the applecart of appeasement. As Iran approaches its Tiananmen moment, the righteous and politically correct are silent. The rights of people are sacrificed to the logic of diplomacy, in Iran as much as in Korea (as if they were part of an axis).

For some of this silence, we can thank the New York Times and its elegantly selective reporting. Here is its account of Khamenei’s Friday sermon. Pay attention to this excerpt from the article:

He added that foreign agents were behind the street unrests and that there were efforts to stage a “velvet revolution.”

“They thought Iran is Georgia,” he said, adding, “Their problem is that they don’t know this great nation yet.”

The passage comes near the end of the sermon, and it is worthwhile to compare what the New York Times provides with what it chose to omit. Who is the antecedent of “they”?

We get to the answer by consulting a translation of the speech provided by Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi:

What happened inside Iran made these people (the West) greedy. A few years ago some Zionist American investor said in the press that he spent $10 million in Georgia and started a Velvet Revolution, claiming: “I removed one regime and replaced it with another.” These utter morons think that we, the Islamic Republic, Iran. . . . I mean how dare you compare us? They think Iran is Georgia. (laughter) The problem with our enemies is that they know nothing about the “people” of Iran still. (CHANTING)

So Khamenei’s understanding of world politics, in Georgia and Iran, depends on the mythology of a Zionist conspiracy (which disappears in the white-washed quotation in the New York Times). What is striking here is not his anti-western stance, but that he embeds it in stereotypical and breathtakingly unintelligent language.

During the American presidential campaign, when Obama was challenged on his promise to “sit down” with Ahmadinejad, he at times suggested that Khamenei was the real power and would be more amenable to conversation. That sort of optimism is surely no longer warranted. Just look at how Khamenei continues with a weird rant that brings him back to, of all places, Waco, Texas, and the world of sects as a way to dodge any human rights criticism:

The thing that for me is the ugliest, is the comments that were made about human rights and the statement fearing for the safety of the people which was issued by these American statesmen . . . that if people are dealt with in this way or that way, that we worry about people! You worry about people?! Do you even accept anything resembling human rights? Who dragged Afghanistan into bloodshed and to this day continues the bloodshed over there? Who crushed Iraq under military boots? In Palestine, who gave so much financial and political support to the cruel Zionist regime?

Even inside the U.S., one is amazed, during the time of the administration of these very Democrats, the Democratic Party in America, the time of the presidency of the husband of this very . . . so-called “lady” who expresses her opinions . . . 80 something people who were a part of the Davoodi sect, were burnt alive; there’s no room for denying this. These “excellencies” did this deed; it was these very Democrats . . . the Davoodi sect which they themselves call DAVIDIANS. For some unknown reason, these people incurred the wrath of Americans and inside a house . . . they went over there and besieged the place and whatever they did, they didn’t come out and so they ended up setting the house on fire and 80 something men, women and children burned alive! You think you know something about human rights?!

In my opinion, these American and European statesman ought to take some responsibility and accept as a duty, a little bit of humility and contrition. The Islamic Republic is the standard bearer of human rights and our defense of the innocent in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, . . . wherever people are deemed innocent, it is signified. It signifies that human rights via the belief and faith in Islam and we certainly do not need anyone admonishing us on human rights.”

The extended commentary about Waco is simply weird. Even if one has qualms about the federal government’s handling of the Davidians, the notion that the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic selects this 1993 matter with which to cap his speech suggests a warped perspective and limited mind. The discourse is however revealing. It betrays a worldview that resists human rights by mobilizing its opposite: sects and conspiracies. It is a reduced quality of thinking, which probably accounts for the assault on the universities. Why this fascination with the fate of a sect? Should we ask if the Islamic Republic is Islamic? Or has it been hijacked by sectarian extremists?

Whatever the underlying theology, Khamenei’s outburst on human rights has to be read in the context of the repressive violence and the murders of protesters by government forces. Universities have been attacked and students killed. The killings at the universities are the realization of the declaration against human rights. This is the reality of the regime, a combination of brute violence and debilitated thought.

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