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Ali Ansari, Roger Cohen and Scott Peterson: Three professional idiots and Iran analysts

Reza A Esfandiari and Yousef E Bozorgmehr


esfandiarireza@ymail.com ybozorgmehr@msn.com

Ali Ansari

Roger Cohen

Scott Peterson

As of the time of writing, it is now 2 years since Iran was shaken by large protests following the re-election of President Ahmadinejad that marked one of the turbulent episodes in the history of the Islamic Republic. As predicted by Robert Tait of Radio Liberty (funded by the U.S Government) the second anniversary largely passed without so much as a whimper [1]. This was to the disappointment of many Western-based journalists, analysts and academics who have since become ardent and completely biased commentators on the so-called Green movement a broad coalition of forces both inside and outside of Iran opposed to the current leadership if not the system itself. This movement, spearheaded by former prime minister Mir Hussein Mousavi and former parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi (now incommunicado), is essentially all but finished.

It began as a campaign gimmick green being the traditional colour of Islam and also the symbol of growth/revival in Persian poetry but later metamorphosized when Mousavi unilaterally declared himself the definite winner of the election within one hour of the polls closing but with no preliminary results in [2]. When it became clear that he had actually lost, he cried foul and told his supporters to take to the streets and overturn the official outcome. Hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, did exactly this genuinely believing that their votes had been stolen. Some supporters in Tehran rioted, torching buses and buildings and throwing rocks and missiles at the police. Events turned bloody when a Baseej paramilitary compound was attacked and later set ablaze: 7 of the rioters were shot dead. A violent raid on a student dormitory by members of the Baseej militia only exacerbated matters. The role of armed opposition groups in the unrest was confirmed on June 20th when a bomb went off near to the shrine of Imam Khomeini [3]. The response by the authorities was swift and decisive. No tolerance of any rabblerousing and arm-wrestling in the streets, as Ayatollah Khamenei termed it, was to be allowed. After all, there was an important precedent: In 1953 the popular government of Dr. Mossadegh had been overthrown by rent-a-mob paid for by British and American intelligence. The green revolution, as it was designated by filmmakers Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Marjan Satrapi, who also insisted that Ahmadinejad had got as few as 5 million of the 40 million votes cast, was forged in a similar fashion to other colorcoded revolutions that used elections as an opportunity for regime removal. In the Ukraine, an orange revolution had been incited to install a pro-western regime, while in Georgia a rose revolution and in Kyrgyzstan a tulip revolution had been similarly brought about. The hand of the CIA and the NED in all this was both blatant and instrumental. This resulted in nothing but disaster to the respective countries. Two of these regimes later collapsed but not without bloodshed as when President Bakiyev, whose pro-U.S dictatorship was approved of by Washington, fell from power in Bishkek. In late 2006, it is widely believed that then President George Bush decided against using force against Irans nuclear ambitions. Instead, he opted for covert destabilization. This would involve using the CIA to wage a propaganda war to find a way to effect regime

change on the cheap by fomenting a revolt. The media was going to be co-opted for achieving this aim. Persons working for leading newspapers and specializing in Iranian affairs were to be enlisted. All of this was announced on ABC news in early 2007 [4]. It was as if the U.S government wanted the Iranians to know of this plan in advance. Among these journalists was Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor. He was one of the few western correspondents who had ventured into the hinterland of Iran and had promulgated the widespread belief that Ahmadinejad was extremely popular in rural and suburban Iran where half the population resides. Reporting from the relatively remote province of South Khorasan, he wrote that Ahmadinejad was greeted and feted like a rock star [5]. While the Iranian president was never the darling of liberals in the cosmopolitan upper middle-class, his support amongst the greater numbers of workers and farmers was solid. Indeed, a Wikileaks document provided an important insight. The U.S embassy in Baku reported a contact stating that most of the Qashqai tribe of south west Iran had voted for Ahmadinejad in 2009 and not Mehdi Karroubi who is viewed as sympathetic to their nomadic way of life being a tribal and ethnic Lor. The reason given was theirgratitude for improved health, education, and infrastructure services [6]. This is, unsurprisingly, what most ordinary people in both developed and developing countries expect of their government. It is in stark contrast to the depiction of economic malaise due to high inflation and unemployment portrayed by the numerous antiAhmadinejad critics based in the West and also within Iran. Indeed, the improvement in public services and utilities since 2005 has been remarkable, leading to considerably better living standards, particularly for those neglected by previous administrations. But Peterson is among those, including Roger Cohen of the New York Times, who would assert that the 2009 presidential election was fixed and that Mousavi was the real and clear winner. Both men would appear to be credible since prior to the election they had written almost sympathetically of the Islamic Republic and its unfair vilification abroad. They had no bone of contention like some who had made it their business to portray Iran as a Neo-Nazi state. Citing Farideh Farhi, a self-professed expert on Iranian politics

based in distant Hawaii, Peterson claimed that the votes were not even counted and that the results were simply pulled out of thin air [7]. Therefore, unlike rigged elections like in the case of Afghanistan where ballot boxes were stuffed or destroyed, the verdict of the 85% of Iranians who voted was completely voided to keep the incumbent in power. However, he singularly failed to produce any evidence for this whatsoever. This belief in such a diabolical and outrageous conspiracy theory was echoed by Dr. Ali Ansari a consultant for the U.K government and fellow of Chatham House, the leading foreign policy mouthpiece of the British Establishment. Like Peterson, he was quick to proclaim that the result was nonsense, as were other leading experts such as Karim Sadjadpour of the CEIP who declared on CNN [8] that the election was stolen within a few hours of the announcement by the Interior ministry of the first preliminary results (that showed an unassailable lead for the incumbent). The reasons he offered were nothing other than arguments from personal incredulity and ignorance. Others could only do the same. This rapid, coordinated and concerted response from the media and academia was truly astonishing. The main western newspapers and TV channels, which had hitherto shown a key interest in the prospect of Ahmadinejad being voted out of office, all came out against the election outcome regarding it as a farce and preposterous sham while declaring their full support for those protesting the result. The Green movement was hailed as a pro-democracy front which had the support of the great majority of Iranians, especially the youth, and which deserved the full backing of the international community. This was probably the most prominent example in the history of mass media where the basic truth of an important news story has been so egregiously and wilfully distorted for political purposes. It was nothing short of an outright rejection of the manifest reality. What the likes of Peterson and Ansari refused to even countenance was the possibility that the counting of the votes was authentic just as it had been in every election held since the founding of the Islamic Republic. After all, when reformist President Mohammad Khatami was re-elected in 2001, with a landslide much greater than that of Ahmadinejad, nobody disputed the result. There was indeed an attempt to cast aspersions on the election of Ahmadinejad back in 2005 both Karroubi and Rafsanjani in the first and second 4

rounds, respectively, crying fraud. However, it was widely acknowledged at the time that neither was popular and that the people wanted a non-cleric and fresh face in power. Unfortunately, only a superficial analysis of the results was ever undertaken by the experts. Showing a complete ignorance of politics in Iran, Ali Ansari hurriedly published a preliminary report on the election results where he divided the population into conservative and reformist voters based on the first but not the second round of the 2005 election. His own breathtaking numerical illiteracy was exposed with misunderstandings of even basic statistics. But the western media lapped it up. We later showed just how misleading it was in our own comprehensive rejoinder to it [9]. But Dr. Ansari simply ignored this and also failed to produce a final version as he had promised. Recently, he asserted the government did little to address accusations of fraud [10]. But it actually went out of its way: it released the full provincial and district results within 24 hours together with the tallies of all 45,692 ballot boxes used several days later [11]. Roger Cohen, quite spitefully, called this the reverse engineering of a fixed election. He thus insulted the 600,000 poll workers who worked hard through the night counting all of the ballots before sending the final figures to the Interior Ministry. Not one of the candidate monitors, whose signatures and fingerprints were on the forms certifying results [12], raised any objections to the ballot box tallies. The electoral authorities also published a comprehensive report refuting the various and spurious claims of fraud [13]. Indeed, there has never been a more transparent account of an election in recent history. Moreover, no less than 5 post-election surveys [14-16] of the Iranian public have been conducted (all ignored by the media) by the likes of World Public Opinion, Globescan, the International Peace Institute, the University of Tehran and the RAND group. All of them provide responses from a scientific sample of the Iranian public that are not only consistent with each other but also entirely congruent with the official outcome namely that Ahmadinejad won with around 60% of the vote. They show that the Green movement does draw some support from around 25% of the population but that it does not represent anything close to a majority or even that of a substantial minority with widespread appeal beyond Tehran and its affluent northern suburb of Shemiran. 5

Of course, Mousavi won convincingly in the capital and in 45 other cities and districts across Iran, including in the Azeri regions where he hails from. Roger Cohen yet again lied when he declared that the results showed Ahmadinejad winning everywhere. But in parts of the restive Sunni province of Sistan va Baluchestan, Mousavi won over 90% of the vote according to the ballot box figures, with Ahmadinejad coming in third place. But none of this information really matters to Ansari, Cohen or Peterson. Their job was to sell a story of a people shamelessly disenfranchised at the ballot box and a government that has lost any remaining legitimacy as a consequence. The Islamic Republic is neither Islamic nor a republic but is rather an authoritarian regime that can only stay in power through mass suppression of its citizens. Many will no doubt buy into this lie, and it certainly gives comfort to those who think promoting regime change is the only apt policy towards Iran. It also serves to try and undermine the prestige and reputation that the Iranian government has attained over the past decade, especially in the Third World. The Arab Spring of 2011 would appear to represent the belated aftershock of the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Egyptians and Tunisians managed to overthrow their despotic leaders through peaceful mass protests just as Iranians had done against the Shah. The regimes of both Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Hosni Mubarak collapsed on the very same day of February 11th. The Egyptian Labour party has praised Irans Revolution as an inspiration [17]. Despite this, both Cohen and Peterson have done their utmost to spin the events to portray the uprisings as undermining Irans regional standing. Faithfully parroting the State Departments line, Peterson claims that Iran is viewed as a repressive regime by Arabs just like the ones ruling them and, without providing any evidence whatsoever, has reported Iran is actively helping to crush dissent in Syria [18]. Likewise, Cohen has written that Iran is weak now, its ideology as tired as Osama Bin Ladens, as marginal to peoples questing to reconcile their Muslim faith and modernity in new ways.[19] However, non-Arab Irans prestige in the Arab world has never been greater. A 2010 scientific survey of opinion by the Brookings Institute showed strong support for Irans nuclear program and its regional policies [20]. Angered by 6

Washingtons callous disregard for their plight, protesting Shias in Bahrain and Yemen, who are battling for freedom, are increasingly turning to Iran as a source of support. Self-exiled Iranians like Ansari have never come to terms with the reality of postrevolutionary Iran, preferring to think that the majority of Iranians think the way only they and their families do. While a minority of Iranians probably do still bemoan the reelection of Ahmadinejad, the great majority of those inside the country do not regard their government as illegitimate. For all his talk of 50 years of social change turning Iran into a liberal and western-oriented country, the fact is that the ancient country, especially beyond the capital, is a conservative, traditional and Muslim society containing enclaves of liberal, secular culture. Social change in Turkey and Egypt has probably been even more profound, but the populations there still support religious political parties. While sophisticated urbanites in Istanbul and Cairo may lament it, the wider populace believes in the need for a government that reflects their Islamic values and principles. It is deeply troubling that Western intellectuals, and those sponsoring them, refuse to accept that democratic verdicts contrary to their own tastes are legitimate. The 24 million who voted for Ahmadinejad, in the cities, towns and villages right across Iran, apparently dont matter. Democracy is only OK to them so long as the right results are obtained. That is the obvious inference one can draw from the outcome of the Iranian presidential election of 2009. When the government moved against what it regarded as unlawful sedition (which is indeed illegal in most civilized countries) it was called brutal repression. In the end, around 50 or so people were killed: about the same number as those killed in the Los Angeles riots of 1992. There, the National Guard was called in and martial law was imposed. This didnt happen in Iran. Tanks did not roll onto the streets as witnessed in the recent Arab protests or in the bloody Thai crackdown of spring 2010. Unlike in the United States, Iran does not have laws allowing the government to intrusively spy on its own people and to arbitrarily arrest and detain citizens indefinitely, naming them Patriot Acts. 1 in every 100 Americans languishes in jails where many of them also end up dying. Are we so nave to believe they are all common criminals and that their incarceration is justified? Anti-war and anti-capitalist protests are regularly 7

disrupted by police or even denied permission in the United States, while student and anti-royalist demonstrations have been forcefully put down in Britain with an iron fist. The simple fact is that any country that assumes an independent domestic and foreign policy that snubs the West is the subject of scorn and disdain by its free media. The merchants of doom and gloom keep claiming that the Islamic Republic is in a state of despair and political and economic disarray whilst ignoring its many successes. Iran, particularly under Ahmadinejad, has come a long way. It is showing the worlds leading growth rate in science [21]. It continues to climb the U.Ns human development index and is 13 places higher up than Turkey. It is now a major world economy whose non-oil exports, including motor vehicles, steel and chemicals, continue to expand. Although beset by drought, Iran expects to export more than 4 million tons of wheat this year [22]. Despite sanctions, Irans oil production has remained stable according to BPs recent assessment [22]. The IMF has recently praised the ambitious subsidy reform program of the Iranian government and has predicted the economy, unburdened by debt, is expected to be strong in the years to come [24]. The Bushehr nuclear plant has been activated, and the energy program is advancing steadily. Therefore, for all the negativity expressed by the likes of Ansari, Cohen and Peterson, Iran is resurgent, making substantial progress and increasing both its regional and global clout. A changing Middle East, with a West in relative decline, is yet another opportunity for Iran having already benefited from the demise of the Soviet Union, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein (thanks largely to the U.S). Ansari, Cohen and Peterson are just part of a massive disinformation and propaganda machine manipulated by more powerful elements in western society. They have sullied the esteemed profession, standards and ethics of journalism/intellectualism with their arrogant and deliberate misrepresentations of the situations they observe. The worrying thing is that, if they think they can get away with so brazenly lying about Iran to the general public, they can also do the same much closer to home. The free media, owned largely by the corporations, may not have an absolute monopoly on the truth but for all intents and purposes it has claimed it. It can effectively present whatever it wants to provided there are people who are liable to be duped. It is time for people to wake up. 8

References

[1] http://www.rferl.org/content/iran_green_movement_election_second_anniversary/24231771.html [2] http://uk.reuters.com/article/2009/06/12/iran-election-mousavi-idUKLC35694920090612 [3] http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/06/20/us-iran-election-bomb-sb-idUSTRE55J1DY20090620 [4] http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2007/05/bush_authorizes.html [5] http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/1207/p01s07-wome.html [6] http://wikileaks.ch/cable/2009/09/09BAKU744.html [7] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/deathintehran/interviews/peterson.html [8] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TaLxOWqokzg [9] http://www.raceforiran.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Iranian-election.pdf [10] http://www.chathamhouse.org.uk/publications/twt/archive/view/-/id/2154/ [11] http://moi.ir/Portal/Home/ShowPage.aspx?Object=News&ID=3a120d23-ac85-4ce8-931274f62edc27e4&LayoutID=b05ef124-0db1-4d33-b0b6-90f50139044b&CategoryID=832a711b-95fe-45058aa3-38f5e17309c9 [12] http://www.docstoc.com/docs/58135190/Iran-2009-election-forms [13] http://www.iranaffairs.com/files/document.pdf [14] http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/articles/brmiddleeastnafricara/652.php?lb=brme&pnt=652&nid=&id= [15] http://www.ipinst.org/images/pdfs/cr_iran_2010_survey_frequency_questionnaire.pdf [16] http://www.rand.org/pubs/technical_reports/TR910.html [17] http://rssmasr.com/en/islamist-activist-egypt-uprising-inspired-by-iranian-revolution/ [18] http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2011/0531/Iran-sees-threat-to-its-clout-amid-Arab-Spring [19] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/14/opinion/14iht-edcohen14.html?_r=1 [20] http://www.brookings.edu/reports/2010/0805_arab_opinion_poll_telhami.aspx [21] http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20291-iran-is-top-of-the-world-in-science-growth.html [22] http://www.payvand.com/news/11/may/1211.html [23] http://www.presstv.com/detail/184283.html [24] http://payvand.com/news/11/jun/1128.html