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Iran’s Propaganda Game By: Matt Gurney
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, September 02, 2009

President Obama, eager to turn the page with the Muslim World, is doing all he can to reach out to moderates and liberals in the Middle East. After seven years of war with Muslim states under President George W. Bush, Obama and many leading Democrats seek accommodation, compromise and, as the President himself said in his much-heralded Cairo speech, an outright “new beginning.” New beginnings, of course, require both partners to set aside past grievances, and work together to move forward. The President can hope for change all he wants, but until the governments of the Muslim world, and particularly those of the Middle East, are equally interested in moving forward, new beginnings will only lead to the same old problems.


This could not be clearer than in the President’s hopes for a fresh start with the brutal Iranian theocratic regime. Seemingly to the President’s surprise, the American-Iranian relationship has problems that run deeper than the issue of so-called American arrogance. It is certainly true that Tehran has no love for America, but consider the facts. This is a regime that exports terror, oppresses women, whose state security apparatuses terrorize pro-democracy reformers at home while operating bomb-making factories abroad. Does the President truly wish to be liked by such people?


It may not matter. Even should the entire U.S. budget – massive deficit and all – be spent on sending Tehran flowers and candies, it seems that no one in a position of power is willing to take the President’s calls. On August 23rd, a huge majority in Iran’s parliament passed a bill authorizing $20 million to fund an investigation into American human rights abuses. Iran claims the move is in response to a recent American bill providing $50 million to fund efforts to defeat Iran’s censoring of Western new broadcasts. A further $5 million was set aside to document Iran’s human rights abuses.


This is not a new strategy for Iran. In 2007, Tehran produced a 79-page pamphlet attacking Canada’s human rights record. This was in response to a blistering Canadian statement in the United Nations calling out Tehran for the death of a Canadian citizen under detention in Iran. Zhara Kazemi, an Iranian-born Canadian journalist, was detained in Iran in 2003, and died less than three weeks later of a “stroke.” The next year, the doctor who had treated her fled Iran under the guise of receiving medical treatment, and defected to Canada, bringing with him credible reports that Kazemi had not died of natural causes at all, but of injuries sustained during her imprisonment, including obvious signs of rape and torture.


While Iran put on a token trial for two guards – who were of course acquitted – it decided that rather than apologize to Canada and accede to requests to return the body for an autopsy and burial, it would go on the offensive. The pamphlet produced by Iran accused Canada of various human rights abuses, such as mistreatment of immigrants and refugees, the oppression of women, and abuses of power by Canadian police. This ludicrous Iranian propaganda drive found unexpected support amongst varied Third World regimes tired of being lectured by the West on human rights, and Iran almost gathered enough support to overturn a vote of support passed by the United Nations for Canada’s stance against Iran on the murder of Kazemi.


No doubt Iran hopes that trying this stunt again, this time targeting the Great Satan itself instead of merely its gentler ally, might gather even more support amongst various anti-American and Third World regimes. It is easy to predict their strategy. Darker, tragic periods in America’s history will be exploited to produce a glossy press package that bemoans slavery, the internment of Japanese, the plight of illegal immigrants, and anything else Iran feels might be used to embarrass the United States and President Obama personally. No doubt Iran’s propaganda writers will take particular delight in rubbing the controversial history of blacks in America in the face of America’s first African-American commander-in-chief.


Though it is of course insane to dare compare the human rights record of Iran and the United States, it does not take much of leap of imagination to foresee any such propaganda rag becoming quite successful. Hugo Chavez could mandate its inclusion in every Venezuelan child’s school curriculum. The Castro Brothers could spread it far and wide across their island. In the Middle East, it could rival the Protocols in brisk sales.


Even amongst Western liberals, it might come to be regarded with grudging respect. How difficult is it to envision liberals discussing it, and after a few token comments deploring Iran’s human rights record, the conversation then veering into statements like, “But you know, it does raise very fair points about American society…” For those in the West determined to hate everything that America stands for, it might become a popular reference book, a one-stop-shopping guide for everything that America has ever done wrong. Michael Moore might soon be facing some competition in the anti-American media market, but sadly, there’s almost certainly more than enough demand even inside America to sop up all that’s printed.


The absurdity of this is laid bare by the increasingly frequent reports of absolutely deplorable conduct by agents of the Iranian state. Iranian reformer and Ahmadinejad foe Mehdi Karroubi has given a platform to an Iranian man detained during the recent post-election demonstrations. The man, who remains understandably anonymous, tells a sickening story. Arrested during the recent post-election protests, he was chained, beaten, and raped by prison guards, officers in the employ of the Iranian state. Was this brutal violation a state-sanctioned act? It is impossible to say, but certainly, rape and torture of political prisoners while in custody and especially during interrogations is nothing new in Iran.


Even while his guards rape and torture their way through Iran’s large and growing supply of political prisoners, Ahmadinejad seeks to deflect attention from these and other crimes by rallying the world around the cause of American injustice. While the exact form the Iranian effort will take remains unclear, two things are certain. It will be more successful around the world than it has any right to be, and President Obama’s seemingly earnest efforts to open a new dialogue with Tehran will lead nowhere so long as the Iranians find it easier to condemn America than reform themselves.

Matt Gurney is an assistant editor for comment at Canada’s National Post, and writes and speaks on issues of military and geopolitical concern. He can be reached at mgurney.responses@gmail.com

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