Sunday, June 11, 2006

Dangers of Canalized information

The European package proposal – or better put the proposal of the UN Security Council – which was brought to Tehran 2 days ago by EU’s Javier Solana, had meandered through a diplomatic path, not common to such events. About two months ago the Europeans and the Americans had publicly announced some of the contents of the ‘package’, and without taking any official responsibility for the ‘incentives’ in fact assess Iran’s response to the idea, while also engaging international public opinion on the issue.

Since that time, Iranian officials have sent only one repeated message to the world: Iran will not forego nuclear enrichment. While having the effect of barring the expression or publication of any dissenting views in Iran, this policy aimed at forcing the West to make the maximum concessions to Iran on the nuclear issue. In fact this package seems to be a beefed up version of earlier package that was turned down by Iran and went into history. But during this period the concerns of peace activists and supporters have grown as well war and retaliation were the words of the conflicting sides. And as if intending to stay at par with all Western threats, on the even of Solana’s trip to Tehran, Iran’s supreme leader threatened to cut off oil supplies if Iran were attacked. This sounded much like US President George Bush’s declaration that ‘all options remained on the table.’

The silence that now has been imposed on Iran’s media, also raises the fear among peace-seekers in Iran and the world that the media picture that is presented may lead Iranian decision makers to wrong conclusion. Something that has numerous historic precedence in Iran. What augment such concerns - despite the global information revolution - are occasional leaks that surface. One became apparent during Khamenei’s recent speech.

On Monday, during the speech that Khamenei gave in which he threatened to cut off Iran’s energy supplies to the world if attacked by the US - which in itself was a first by the supreme leader – he called the claims of an international consensus against Iran a lie. By itself the comment may not be inaccurate. But the examples he gave certainly were. For example he said, ‘116 non-aligned countries have bravely expressed their support for Iran’s nuclear activities. In addition, the Islamic Conference Organization and even countries under US influence support our actions.’

It should be mentioned that the non-aligned movement, like other regional or even global organizations, does not determine the policies of the governments that make up that organization. Governments chose their policies based on their interests and not on group resolutions. We saw that India as the most important and influential non-aligned country supported two international resolutions against Iran on the nuclear issue. In general, the view that the support of the non-aligned movement or any international organization is the determining factor in international affairs is incorrect. One should not forget that even one of the most practical and coherent oldest international organizations with a 300-year history, i.e. the European Union, has not succeeded in dictating a single policy for all issues to its members, despite having a single currency and a common Parliament. Had it been otherwise, there would not have been a single European soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan today.

The second reference is to the Islamic Conference Organization (ICO). This grouping which has members ranging from Iran, to Iraq, Libya and Egypt, has no unanimity on any single international issue. None of its threats scare anybody, while none of its solidarity proclamations create hope for anyone. If for no other reason than that Iran’s rivals and friends all belong to the ICO. Iran lost eight years of its life and resources to one of its members during its war with Iraq. And Qatar another of its members which happens to be its only current rotating member at the UN Security Council, and which opposes the policies of the Tehran, while it in turn opposes Qatar for having relations with Israel, asked Tehran for the impossible in return for not voting against Iran, and whose Emir left Tehran only after using the term ‘Arabian Gulf’ in reference to the Persian Gulf.

These are all the problems of selective journalism and information dissemination that some of Iran’s rulers have decided to impose on the country’s media. So when political realities in Iran result in decision-makers basing the policies of the country on the announcements of 116 members of the non-aligned movement, it is time to worry about the fate of Iran.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Conservatives and the Slogan “Death to American “

A few days ago Iran’s Mehr news agency carried this news item: “Iran and Iraq have a common feature in both having a majority of Shiites in their population and both have a deep culture and history.”

Paul Ingram who is a Senior Analyst at the British American Security Information Council, has said that “Iran now has the kind of relations with Iraq that it has not had before. Iraqi fighters have mostly seen their training in Iran and have not received any instructions till today.” He further says that if the West attacks Iran, one should expect the para-military groups that have deeply infiltrated in Iraq’s forces to received instructions from Tehran.

Following this news, Keyhan has quoted an Egyptian political analyst that even though it may appear that the ideology of the “Great Satan” may have become inactive, but it has not completely disappeared. “If an attack occurs, it will certainly be revived,” he says adding that Iraqi Shiites will not pass by this issue very lightly and would not remain mere spectators. Both the Mahdi brigade linked to Muqtada Sadr the anti-American Iraqi cleric and the Badr brigade which is the armed group of Iraq’s Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq enjoy deep relations with Iran.

Whether what Ingram says is what Keyhan claims requires some research, but even if we assume the quote to be accurate – which is normally not the case – it is clear why Ingram says these things and who his target audience is. But the reasons why a hardline newspaper such as Keyhan would publish the news are questionable.

Somebody should ask have we forgotten how the seventy million Iranian Shiites acted when the forces led by the US attacked Iraq that now some believe that the 5 or 6 million Shiites of Iraq who are so completely engaged with their own problems would react to an attack on Iran. When the US attacked Iraq, Iranian Shiites had been in power for a quarter century and controlled the country’s oil and other instruments of power. None of that is true for Iraqi Shiites today.

It is clear that by exaggerating such issues, Iranian hardliners intend to portray that Iran with a population of 75 million people is the regional superpower and so the US should be afraid of attacking Iran because of Iraq’s Muqtada Sadr and Al-Mahdi. One should remind these hardliners that they really do not need to take the trouble of making their point. The US knows very well what the cost of attacking Iran may be and says it openly in many ways. But if the US is really waiting for a moment to attack Iran, it will when local discontent is at its height while the country’s leaders are unable to address them.

The Americans have witnessed and learned during the last nine months when the new administration came to power in Tehran that this government is not capable of doing anything for people other than mere distributing the oil income which is also its Achilles hill so that as soon as oil exports and the imports of everything slacken, the rug will be pulled from under the feet of these people who have no plans. If the US did not know in the past, it does know now that the current leaders of Iran have only one policy towards the Iranian people and the height of their knowledge is to exaggerate everything. Iran’s Azeri-speaking people are the most influential group in the country, but even there whenever they have taken a step, they have been suppressed and crushed, and accused of being connected to foreigners. And this is the same way the regime deals with students, workers, women or the youth. The US knows very well that any small incident in the country can turn into a major crisis. And this large army of propagandists and vote-buyers who have been recruited will soon disappear when the fruit basket disappears.

Those in Iran who are least aware of the conditions in the world know only one thing to do which to spread illusions and how not to think. They spread the culture of obedience and never questioning anything. They are told to only listen and accept, and a week later to listen and accept exactly the opposite of what they heard the previous week. One day talks with the US were deemed to be against the interests of Islam and the regime and deserving the death penalty, while the next the same loudspeakers begged for talks and considered the idea most rational with punishments for whoever opposed them!

The same goal lies behind the exaggerations: prevent people from thinking, comparing, questioning and concluding. They demand that everyone only says, “Death to America.”