Monday, December 12, 2005

New Media Trens Against Iran

The coverage of Iran over the past few days by the major international and domestic news and television media such as CNN and BBC, among others, seems to have provided the goal of Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He wanted to be in the spotlight and he got it. It does not seem to have mattered how he got to the front pages and the headlines.

In all of these films that quote Ahmadinejad at the UN General Assembly, or show him meeting ayatollah Javadi Amoli, it is stressed that the current Iranian government is rapidly turning Iranian society into one in which superstitions dominate while the president makes claims of directly representing the Shiite’s 12th Imam, considered to be in occultation, thus negating any need to provide plans and programs to address the pressing issues of the country and people.

In the film shown by BBC World Service, for example, the people of Ilam province were shown welcoming the Iranian president, and interviews in with Ilam residents expressed their hope and confidence in Ahmadinejad who they said would improve their lot and even bring them into money. In contrast to that, the same film showed young Tehrani residents, from the upper and wealthier sections of the city, who viewed Ahmadinejad’s remarks as jokes and baseless.

One may say that from the time the elections unexpectedly brought into office a hardline-conservative president in Iran, a new window has opened on the country, one with a common theme of hardening of views on Iran’s leaders and its programs, such as its nuclear projects and goals. This contrasts with the reporting of the very same media before the elections which was noticeably becoming more and more sympathetic towards Iran’s views on its quest for nuclear power and while remaining critical of the US for its assumptions and aggressive posture.

The new wave of negative reporting against Iran began with president Ahmadinejad’s UN General Assembly address in September 2005. The speech and other events since then have made it easier for government’s opposing Iran’s drive to acquire nuclear energy to criticize Iran. Under the current circumstances, governments that in the past were under pressure from their constituents to oppose US pressures on Iran’s nuclear programs will soon have a free hand in dealing with Iran. For example, the upcoming talks between Iran and the West (Europe directly, and the US indirectly) will take a different course and nature than they had during the last two years where Iran was inching forward in its drive to win the confidence of the international community.

At the same time, political reforms in Iran that were recognized by and welcomed by international thinkers to be moving the country towards pluralism, possibly making it a model for other Middle Eastern states, also collapsed. Iran is now viewed not too differently from Afghanistan’s Taliban. Former president Khatami’s eight-year achievements all went down the drain in a matter of weeks. The respected position that Iran was beginning to enjoy because of its civil experience all but disappeared. And things will be even direr in future, where the president may not even be able to travel to any country except handful ones with hungry populations in Africa and Asia. The most unfortunate aspect of this change is that the loss of respect, image, confidence etc is not in return for any gain in any sphere at all for Iran.

The ones who have benefited, however, are the likes of Bin Laden and his number two man Moqtada Sadr of Iraq. Soon, supporters of Afghanistan’s Taliban leader Mola Omar will look up to Ahmadinejad for inspiration. Iranian society too has become more polarized, in which one watches over the other. We are now a people distant from each other, and even inimical, leading to weakness and inefficiency. No matter what the slogans of officials may be.

If president Ahmadinejad is honest in his claim that world leaders have lined up for his advice (a claim that is synonym with a joke), then why does he denounce and reprove the hundreds of managers and technocrats who are responsible for the achievements he brags about.

At the very last banquet by the late Shah of Iran given in honor of the visiting Chinese leader, the latter held the monarch in the highest regard possible. Just a year before that, US president Carter was in Tehran calling Iran an island of stability in a turbulent region and calling its leader the center of Middle Eastern politics, adding that he was surprised at the depth of knowledge the monarch exhibited. Previously other world leaders bestowed the same respect on the Shah, but this did not lead him at any time to make a claim that world leaders were in line to benefit from his advice. If pro-government Kayhan newspaper these days reports – albeit the hundred so omissions and distortions - about some unknown American researcher who approves of Iran’s policies, then one should be directed to read the voluminous pages written earlier in praise of the pre-revolution governments. At the time the Shah finally left the country, there were 18 leaders waiting to travel to Iran to see him. But never did he brag about the world waiting to hear his advice, putting Ahmadinejad’s claims and bragging to shame.

In the words of a famous Iranian poet, “now that you are king, act like one.” Mr. President, if you really want to be respected by world leaders, then at least try to be a statesman. Appearing on the front pages of international newspapers – without looking at the contents - is not an accomplishment. If you really want to do something useful, take the opportunity that has been offered to you and mobilize the masses to deal with the pollution that shut down schools and offices just last week. There are hundreds of issues that need leadership to be tackled ranging from the agricultural problems, labor problems, the recent air crash and air industry safety, the escape of intellectuals and technocrats, etc. Nowadays the opportunity is there because petro-Dollars seem to be pouring in rapidly at rates greater than the plans and expectations, in with no change in sight.