Time and again the mullahs have proved themselves to be masters of press manipulation. Khomeini’s success would have been unthinkable without the international media first surrendering its power to the political wizardry of the grand Ayatollah. In the early days of the revolution up and coming foreign journalists were scrambling over each other to lend an assisting hand to the Islamic fanatics in chastising and incriminating the ancien regime. The provocative and irresponsible comments of some of these journalists exacerbated the already perilous situation of political prisoners held by the revolutionaries.
Ironically the press freedom that played a decisive role in bringing the Ayatollah to power was amongst the first of the victims of the revolution. Aware of the enormous power of the media in shaping political events, the clerical dictatorship took measures to control it in such a way that it would not divert from serving the fundamentalist agenda. Radio and television soon became the monopoly of the state. Newspapers were shut down and the only political voice allowed an expression was that in praise of the regime. Today the Islamic Republic well deserves the title of 'the biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East' given to it by the international organization ‘Reporters Without Borders’.
After the collapse of Saddam Hussein, the mullahs found a new opportunity to put their disinformation machine to work and use it for waging a war they know so well how to win. They have employed the full force of their fundamentalist propaganda network to sabotage the consolidation of democracy in Iraq. They have recognized that there is a direct link between their own survival and the defeat of the allied mission in their neighboring country.
The chief instrument of their campaign is Al-Alam (The World) television channel, which broadcasts hourly bulletins in Arabic into Iraq from a station in Tehran. It portrays the Americans and the British as occupiers, and the Iraqis as the victims of their aggression. Pictures of dead or injured Iraqis are shown lying in the streets in such a manner to pique the pride and stir the national sentiment of the viewers. Together with the pro-fundamentalist Iraqi newspapers that get their cues from Tehran, Al-Alam injects a daily dose of hatred into the hearts and minds of citizens whose chronic lack of liberty and political experience has turned them into easy prey in the masterful hands of the brainwashers of the Islamic Republic. The mullahs are too clever to be seen shooting at the Americans themselves. Instead they preach to the Iraqis a kind of violent and xenophobic Islam that if not confronted will continue to cost allied lives and the eventual defeat of their political undertaking.
Another powerful front that the Islamic Republic uses to subvert the cause of peace and democracy in Iraq is the mosque. The underlying message of the pro-Iranian clergy mounting the pulpit of the Shiite mosques can be summed up in one sentence: It is the religious duty of every Iraqi Moslem to defeat 'the foreign aggressors'.
At the bottom of all this relentless propaganda war is the fact that the American presence in Iraq has put the Iranian dictators backs to the wall. The establishment of a moderate pro-Western democracy in a predominantly Shiite country next door is nothing short of a death sentence for an unpopular regime that has failed miserably to deliver on its promises of liberalization and reform.
We have to also remember that the city of Najaf in Iraq is the spiritual capital of the Shiites, being the site of one of the most prestigious religious seminaries and the burial place of the founder of the Shiite faith, Ali. Ayatollah Khomeini spent fifteen years in Najaf before coming to Iran to lead the Islamic revolution. With the removal of Saddam Hussein whose iron fist rule subordinated religious faith to the party loyalty, the spiritual borderline between the two Shiite countries has more or less evaporated. For the mullahs who disparage nationalism and instead emphasize the idea of Ommat (the oneness of the Islamic community) Najaf, Karbala and Baghdad are as much their territory as are Qom and Tehran. Article 11 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran states that "all Muslims are one Ommat and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran shall be under obligation to lay its general policy on the basis of coalition and unity of Muslim nations and strive perpetually to achieve political, economic and cultural unity of the Muslim world". What the idea of unity of the Muslim world means to the regime in Tehran is a solidarity against Israel and the rest of the Western civilization. To brook the formation of a government in Baghdad, which is friendly to Washington and Tel Aviv, will be an anathema to such an ideal.
Thomas L. Friedman in an article published in The Herald Tribune (23.06.2003) is quite right in saying that "to help build a progressive, pluralistic state in Iraq" is President Bush’s strongest card. Turning Iraq into a showcase for democracy, will demonstrate that Middle Eastern soil is not inimical to the cultivation of peace and freedom. Mr. Friedman errs however in suggesting that the mullahs are going to sit still and let this dream come true.
It is complete naiveté to think that we can isolate the Iraqi malady and cure it without moving at the same time to heal the larger political and religious anatomy it belongs to.
Under the present circumstances it is not a question of whether President Bush should go to war against the Islamic Republic or not. The war is on, and it has been on for a long time albeit unilaterally. The question is whether the United States can afford to continue not defending itself and its allies against a sly enemy who will soon acquire nuclear capability. Any policy of appeasement towards the clerical regime is totally senseless and suicidal. Like all accomplished terrorists the mullahs can smell fear from thousands of miles away. Nothing makes them bolder and adds to their aggression more than a feeling that the other side is short of resolve to take them on.
On Wednesday President Bush challenged the militants who kill and injure the American soldiers in Iraq by saying "There are some who feel like that conditions are such that they can attack us there," "My answer is 'bring them on'. We have the force necessary to deal with the situation." Although sounding tough, President Bush's words betray a perplexity about the origin and nature of the hostility directed towards the Americans. Is it not evident to everyone by now who is behind the attacks? At this point in time there is only one strong and courageous message that the United States President can send: 'The jig is up'. It should be dispatched to nowhere else but the clerical regime in Tehran.