OLYMPIA, Wash. – In the decades since the Iranian Revolution, immigrants from there have made it to the corner offices of corporate America, academia and Hollywood. But they’re largely absent from the political scene.
In the U.S., the highest ranking Iranian-American elected official is a freshman state representative from suburban Seattle. But his heritage is not the only thing worth noticing about Representative Cyrus Habib.
History was in the making last summer and fall in the suburbs east of Seattle. But voters didn’t know that when a vaguely Middle Eastern looking man came knocking. The first thing they probably noticed was that he is blind.
“I wear sunglasses as do many people who are blind and I use a cane,” explains Habib.
He says he door-belled 7,000 homes in his campaign for an open seat in the Washington legislature.
“It happened not infrequently that people seeing me walk up the front steps would assume that I was with community services for the blind. They’d be surprised when they answered the door and I’d say, ‘No, I’m running for office.’ Then they became much more guarded.”
Undaunted, Habib raised more money — $338,500 — to win election than any other Washington House candidate in state history. The first-time candidate appealed to Iranian-American donors far beyond Seattle, dozens of whom gave the maximum allowed.
“It was gratifying,” Habib says. “You know, I think we are at a critical moment as a community of Iranian-Americans, or Middle Eastern-Americans.”
“Once you start [an attack on Iran] … you’d better be prepared to find 100,000 troops, because it may take that,” Chuck Hagel warned in 2010. President Obama nominated Hagel to be Secretary of Defense on Jan. 7. (Olivier Douliery / Abaca Press / MCT)
Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement. In this excellent article, Avnery takes on the Israel Lobby’s campaign against Chuck Hagel with a combination of wit and astute analysis.
What does this have to do with Islamophobia? Senator John Cronyn, who allegedly represents the American people, has succinctly tied the whole campaign together for us on his website:
[The Iranian regime] is not a government that calculates self-interest the way America does. It is a messianic theocracy intent on exporting its violent Islamist revolution. And if Tehran gets the bomb, we might soon have a nuclear arms race in one of the world’s most volatile regions.
It is no exaggeration to say that a nuclear Iran represents an existential threat to Israel. And yet, while Hagel wants us to be softer on the Iranians, he thinks we should be tougher on the Israelis. In October 2000, at the beginning of the second Palestinian intifada, he was one of only four senators who refused to sign a letter to President Bill Clinton affirming U.S. solidarity with Israel. More recently, in January 2009, Hagel signed a letter advising Obama to spearhead direct, unconditional talks with Hamas, a terrorist group that had just fired hundreds of rockets into Israel.
Chuck Hagel raised some eyebrows when it was reported that, during an interview in 2006, he allegedly said:
The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here…. I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator.
Senator Cronyn is not an Israeli senator either, but perhaps he should be.
I FIND Chuck Hagel eminently likeable. I am not quite certain why.
Perhaps it’s his war record. He was decorated for valor in the Vietnam War (which I detested). He was a mere sergeant. Since I was a mere corporal in our 1948 war, I find it elating to see a non-commissioned officer become Minister of Defense.
Like so many veterans who have seen war from close up (myself included), he has become an enemy of war. Wonderful.
NOW Hagel is violently attacked by all the neocon warmongers, almost none of whom has ever heard a bullet whistle in the wars to which they sent others, and the combined political regiments of the American Jewish establishment.
His main sin seems to be that he objects to war against Iran. To be against an attack on Iran means to be anti-Israeli, anti-Semitic, indeed to wish for the destruction of Israel if not all Jews. Never mind that almost all present and past chiefs of the Israeli army and intelligence community object to an attack on Iran, too. But Binyamin Netanyahu knows better.
Last week, the former much-lauded chief of the Shin Bet painted a frightening picture of Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak at a security meeting to discuss the bombing of Iran some time ago. The two were in high spirits, puffing on cigars and drinking whiskey, much to the disgust of the assembled security chiefs. In Israel, cigars are considered an ostentatious luxury and drinking at work is taboo.
Netanyahu’s spin-doctors retorted that Winston Churchill, too, was a brandy drinker and smoked cigars. Seems that spirits and cigars are not enough to make a Churchill.
Actually, I think that the appointment of Hagel may come as a relief to Netanyahu. After years of depicting the Iranian nuclear bomb as the end of the world, or at least of Israel, the bomb is mysteriously absent from Netanyahu’s election campaign. Hagel’s appointment may allow Netanyahu to climb down from this tree altogether.
But the catalogue of Hagel’s crimes is much more extensive.
Many years ago he called the pro-Israeli lobby in Washington (would you believe it?) the “Jewish lobby”. Until then, it was understood that AIPAC is mainly composed of Buddhists and financed by Arab billionaires like Abu Sheldon and Abd-al-Adelson.
HOWEVER, HAGEL’S most heinous sin is not often mentioned. While serving as the Republican senator for Nebraska, he once uttered the unspeakable words: “I am an American senator, not an Israeli senator!”
That is really the crux of the matter.
US senators are nearly all Israeli senators. Ditto for US congressmen. Hardly any of them would dare to criticize the Israeli government on any issue, negligible as it may be. Criticizing Israel is political suicide. Not only does the Jewish lobby use its huge resources to get loyal pro-Israelis elected and re-elected, but it openly employs these resources to unseat the few elected officials who dare to criticize Israel. They almost always succeed.
In the present election campaign, the Likud is showing again and again (and again) the scene of Netanyahu addressing the US congress. The senators and congressmen are seen wildly applauding after every single sentence, jumping up and down like children in gymnastics class. The text of the clip says: “When Netanyahu speaks, the world listens!”
(A curiosity: right after this shameful scene, the clip shows Netanyahu addressing the UN General Assembly. Since the applause there was sparse – hardly anyone, other than Avigdor Lieberman and the other members of the Israeli delegation in the half-empty hall did applaud – the editors of the clip used a little trick: they took the applause from the US Congress and transferred it to the UN Assembly hall.)
Somebody sent me a satirical piece saying that if Hagel’s appointment is not cancelled by the US Senate, Israel will have to use its veto power to block it. In such a case, the senate would have to muster a 90% majority to overcome the veto. If this fails, President Obama would have to choose another Defense Secretary from a list of three names provided by Netanyahu.
Jokes aside, the Israeli defense establishment is not worried by the Hagel appointment. They seem to know him as quite receptive to Israeli requests. Several Israeli generals have already come to his defense.
THIS WHOLE episode might be considered trivial, or even funny, were it not for the question: Why did President Obama put forward this controversial figure in the first place?
An obvious answer is: Revenge. Obama is a master of controlling his emotions. During all the months of Netanyahu supporting Mitt Romney, Obama did not react. But his anger must have been building up inside.
Now the time has come. Appointing Hagel and openly humiliating the pro-Israel lobby was one way. More of this can be expected to come. Any slight nudge from America is bound to be felt by Israel as a heavy blow.
By the way, this blow could be used by the opposition parties here to to expose Netanyahu’s rank incompetence. Supporting Romney was plain stupid. All the more so as Netanyahu, who was raised in the US, depicts himself as an expert on US affairs. But no party dares to raise this subject in our election campaign, for fear of being considered less than super-patriotic.
I don’t expect President Obama to change the US treatment of Israel in the near future, beyond some small punitive acts like this one. But when we raise our eyes towards the horizon, the picture looks different.
There is already a marked difference between Obama I and Obama II. When he was elected the first time, he chose Chas Freeman, a highly respected diplomat, to head the National Security Council. The pro-Israel lobby raised a storm, and the appointment was withdrawn. Obama then preferred public humiliation to a confrontation with the lobby. How different this time!
This change may well become more marked in Obama’s second term and far beyond. The lobby’s stranglehold on Washington DC is loosening, slightly, slowly, but significantly.
I believe that one of the reasons is that the perception of the American Jewish community is changing. American politicians are beginning to realize that Jewish voters are far from unanimously behind the lobby. American Jewish “leaders”, almost all of them self-appointed and representing nobody but a small clique of professional representatives, as well as the Israeli embassy and some right-wing billionaires, do not control the Jewish vote.
This became clear when Netanyahu supported Romney. The great majority of Jewish voters continued to support Obama and the Democratic Party.
This is not a sudden development. For years now, American Jews – especially young Jews – have distanced themselves from the Zionist establishment. Becoming more and more disillusioned with official Israeli policy, alienated by the occupation, disgusted with the pictures of Israeli soldiers beating up helpless Palestinians, they have quietly dropped away. Quietly, because they fear an anti-Semitic backlash. Jews are indoctrinated from early childhood that “we Jews have to stick together” in face of the anti-Semites.
Only a few brave American Jews are ready to openly – though ever so timidly – criticize Israel. But US politics are slowly adjusting to the fact that much of the lobby’s strength is bluff, and that most American Jews don’t let Israel determine their voting pattern.
AMERICANS MUST be a race of angels – how else to explain the incredible patience with which they suffer the fact that in a vital sphere of US interests, American policy is dictated by a foreign country?
For five decades, at least, US Middle East policy has been decided in Jerusalem. Almost all American officials dealing with this area are, well, Jewish. The Hebrew-speaking American ambassador in Tel Aviv could easily be the Israeli ambassador in Washington. Sometimes I wonder if in meetings of American and Israeli diplomats, they don’t sometimes drop into Yiddish.
I have warned many times that this can’t go on forever. Sooner or later real anti-Semites – a disgusting breed – will exploit this situation to gain legitimacy. The hubris of AIPAC bears poisonous fruit.
Since Israel is dependent on US support in almost every sphere – from the UN Security Council to the battlefields of future wars – this is a real existential danger.
Perhaps the lobby is becoming alert to this danger. In the present affair, their voice is remarkably subdued. They don’t want to stand out.
THE SADDEST part of the story is that all these false “friends of Israel” in the US Congress and media are not really embracing “Israel”. They are embracing the Israeli right-wing, including the extreme and even fascist right-wing. They are, thereby, helping the right-wing to tighten their control over our country.
American policy plays a major role in the agony of the Israeli peace camp, which is so manifest in the present election campaign. Just one example: the huge settlement effort now in process, which makes the two-state peace solution more and more difficult to implement, is financed by American Jews who funnel their donations through tax-free organizations. Thus the US government in practice finances the settlements, which it officially condemns as illegal.
Since the 19th century, newspapers have got used to abbreviating their reports by saying “France protests” and “Germany declares” when they mean “the French government protests” and “the German government declares”. Thus the media today write that “Israel” promotes the settlements, when in actual fact it is the Israeli government which does so. Several respected recent polls prove that most Israelis want peace based on the two-state solution, which is undermined by our government on a daily basis.
BACK TO Senator Hagel: the Israeli government and the “friends of Israel” will do anything to undermine his appointment.
Speaking for myself, I hope that his appointment will herald a new American policy – a policy of support for a sober, rational, liberal, secular, democratic Israel, striving for peace with the Palestinian people.
Young Turks: Breakdown of Netanyahu’s Appearance in US Congress
The answer to both questions is essentially the same. Hate on both sides is an outgrowth the foreign policies of Europe and America vis-à-vis the Middle East, South Asia, and beyond. That’s the perfectly obvious answer that is too often lost in a fog of sophisticated propaganda.
This inconvenient truth must be obscured, and a PBS documentary that tries to tell it to the world, is of course, going to be watered down. It does, nevertheless, offer a refreshing glimpse into reality.
Note: Giraldi’s article makes the unfortunate mistake of describing Niall Ferguson, one of the individuals interviewed in the documentary as a “Middle East authority,” this is a serious lapse, Ferguson is a two-bit historian and Western supremacist who also happens to be married to Islamophobe Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
The answer to both questions is arguably the same. A new PBS film documents the way Western depiction of Arabs and Muslims is related to the West’s Why We Hate Them: Arabs in Western Eyes
Control of the preferred narrative is essential in today’s instant-news political culture. This has been particularly true since 9/11, as the United States government and the cooperative media have worked together to make sure that a series of enemies are identified and then attacked as a response to what has been shaped as a global terrorist threat. Narrative-shifting also protects against failure, by making it more difficult to advance any actual inquiry either to learn what motivates terrorists or to explore the apparent inability of the federal government to respond effectively. The best known attempt to shift the blame and thereby redirect the narrative was President George W. Bush’s famous assertion that “those evildoers” of 9/11 “hate us because of our freedom.” Other, more plausible motives need not apply.
Later this year PBS will release to its affiliates a documentary film that it co-produced called “Valentino’s Ghost.” I recently watched a preview copy. In its full version it is 95 minutes long, and it lays out a roughly chronological account of how Muslims, particularly Arabs, have been perceived in the West since the 1920s. Written and directed by Michael Singh, it includes interviews with a number of well-known authorities on the Middle East, including Robert Fisk, Niall Ferguson, John Mearsheimer, and the late Anthony Shadid, the New York Times journalist killed in Syria last February. The film explores the political and cultural forces behind the images, contending that the depiction of Arabs as “The Other” roughly parallels the foreign policies of Europe and America vis-à-vis the Middle East region. The title of the film is taken from the first great cinematic “Arab,” Italian Rudolph Valentino, who starred in the 1922 silent film “The Sheik.” When asked regarding the plausibility of the script, in which English aristocrat Lady Diana falls for the “savage” Sheik, Valentino responded “People are not savages because they have dark skins. The Arabian civilization is one of the oldest in the world…the Arabs are dignified and keen brained.”
Valentino’s cinematic triumph was followed by other films extolling Arabian exoticism, including 1924’s “The Thief of Baghdad,” starring Douglas Fairbanks. But the cinematic love affair with Arabia did not last long. The 1920s also witnessed Anglo-French moves to divide up the Arab provinces of the defunct Ottoman Empire and to gain control of Iran’s oil supply. The Arabs, not surprisingly, resisted, which forced a rethink of who they were and what they represented as reflected in Eurocentric movies made in the 1930s, including “Beau Geste,” “The Lost Patrol,” and “Under Two Flags.”
Arabs were increasingly depicted in the cinema as lawless savages who mindlessly opposed the advanced civilizations of Europe, not unlike the American Indians who had stood in the way of manifest destiny. The possible motives for their savagery were strictly off limits, as they were in the American historical narrative. The good Arabs were the ones who were “obedient” and sought accommodation with the French and British. The bad Arabs were the “disobedient” who sought to maintain their traditional ways of life.
The rise of the Zionist movement and the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, with its forced relocation of most Palestinians — which Mearsheimer describes as “ethnic cleansing” — made further shifts in the narrative essential, particularly to demonstrate that Jews had a historic right to the land of Palestine and that the creation of the Jewish state was humanely carried out in a land that did not exist politically and was largely empty and undeveloped. Movies like “Exodus” and “Lawrence of Arabia” appeared, with the former omitting the Zionist terrorism that had led to the creation of Israel while also emphasizing historic Jewish claims to the land. The latter film expressed some sympathy for Arab nationalism but also demonstrated that savage and undisciplined Arabs could only triumph militarily under European leadership. The two films together largely completed the process of defining the Arab in Western popular culture. In “Lawrence of Arabia,” Peter O’Toole, playing Lawrence, described Arabs as “a little people, a silly people. Greedy, barbarous and cruel.” Nothing more need be said.
The Six-Day War further added to the denigration of Arabs in general. Israel’s surprise-attack triumph over its neighbors, in which it was able to exploit superior military resources, was seen as a victory of good over evil in the U.S. media. Walter Cronkite announced on the evening news that “Jerusalem has been liberated.” Footage of long columns of Palestinian refugees appeared briefly on television but then disappeared completely. Mearsheimer describes the post-1967 unwillingness to discuss either the Palestinians’ plight or the nature of the Israeli relationship with Washington as “The Great Silence” fueled by “The Great Silencer,” namely the charge of anti-Semitism or Jewish self-hating inevitably leveled against any critic of Israel. The circle of immunity from scrutiny for Israel also extends to the principal Israel lobby AIPAC, which was last featured on an investigative report on U.S. television in 1977.
The Israeli occupation triggered a wave of terrorism, and the Palestinians sought to have their story told. Limited media attempts to understand the Arab point of view perhaps understandingly vanished completely in 1972 after 11 Israeli athletes were murdered in Munich. When Arabs subsequently sought to use an economic boycott to force the West to stop Israeli expansion on the West Bank, the U.S. media depicted the action as an affront engineered by greedy oil Sheiks.
The increasingly harsh political environment, soon to be framed as a clash of civilizations, corresponded with a rise to prominence of evangelicals in the U.S., together with the popularity of end-times narratives in books and other media, including Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth. Evangelical pastors such as John Hagee conflated the return of the Jews to Israel with the Second Coming of Christ, leading to unlimited political support for Israel and identification of its Arab neighbors as the enemy that would have to be confronted and destroyed at Armageddon.
The Iranian Embassy hostage crisis further hardened views of Islam, with Ayatollah Khomeini lampooned on American television and ABC News featuring a one-hour block each night on “America Held Hostage,” more intensive coverage than the network had given to the Vietnam War. Ronald Reagan referred to the Iranians as “barbarians,” and there was little effort made to learn if there might be some legitimate grievances (there were, dating back to the ouster of Mohamed Mossadeq and the installation of the Shah in 1953).
In 1992 the Disney animated movie “Aladdin” featured a song during the opening credits that referred to Arabia as a land “where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face, it’s barbaric.” Other major Hollywood movies produced in the 1990s routinely depicting Arabs as terrorists, even if an “obedient” Arab frequently appears among the good guys, included “Rules of Engagement,” “True Lies,” and “The Siege.” 9/11 converted the disturbing or sometimes vaguely amusing Arab into the Arab as attacker, as an existential threat — witness the success of the recent television series “24″ and “Homeland.” The denigration of Arabs in the media has real-world consequences: it is unlikely that Madeleine Albright would have said the death of 500,000 Iraqi children was worth it or that Rush Limbaugh would have described Abu Ghraib as a “college fraternity prank” if one had been speaking of European or American victims.
Niall Ferguson notes that the justification provided through the hyping of a dark and fearful external threat in support of a burgeoning overseas empire inevitably leads to a suspension of the rule of law back at home. Robert Fisk observes that the shifts in language and metaphor make the entire Middle East unintelligible to most Americans, even to those who claim to be well informed. Colin Powell, while secretary of state, stopped referring to the West Bank as occupied by Israel – he instead referred to the area as “disputed,” a practice that continues to this day in the mainstream media. That went along with Jewish settlements being referred to in the media as “neighborhoods” and the border wall being called a “security fence.” Why would those disgruntled Arabs want to fight over something that is only disputed or object so strongly to a neighborhood or a fence?
One of the more interesting vignettes in the film takes place near the end, with Hillary Clinton saying in March 2011 that many Americans are viewing Qatar-owned television channel al-Jazeera for “real news” because U.S. news programs have become so devoid of content. Would that it were so. Al-Jazeera is only available in New York; Washington, D.C.; Burlington, Vermont; Toledo, Ohio; and Bristol, Rhode Island — and only intermittently in many of those locations, due to political objections over its “Arab” and “anti-American” point of view.
If I have a problem with “Valentino’s Ghost” it is that it tries to do too much. It takes on many issues too superficially given the film’s technical constraints and time limitations. I have been informed that over the objections of the producer the original 95-minute version has been edited down considerably for the version that will be released to PBS affiliates. PBS indicated that it would not use the film without considerable changes. Much of the excising relates to segments critical of Israel and its policies, as well as its U.S. lobby, AIPAC. The affiliates themselves can choose whether or not to air the film, so there will probably be pressure coming from donors and local programming boards not to show it. This would be a shame, as “Valentino’s Ghost” exposes widespread bigotry and the deliberate shaping of a narrative against Arabs while also providing considerable insights into why American foreign policy continues to fail in an important part of the world. One has to wonder what the reaction would be if the film were to be viewed in the White House.
Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.
Barack Obama signs the “Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act” and so we have the United States doing what it does best, interfering in the affairs of other nations. One would have thought that after years of overt and covert wars of aggression in Latin America, organized campaigns of terrorism for instance against Latin nations such as Cuba and an endless fear-mongering about phantom security threats we would have changed our approach to the region.
Now it seems we have another vivid reminder of the intersection between Islamophobia and imperialism:
During the four-and-a-half decade US-Soviet standoff known as the “cold war” despite the untold amount of blood spilt in international proxy conflicts and superpower support for various forms of repression, the US used the alleged threat of Soviet penetration of the western hemisphere to justify its own meddling throughout the Americas.
Contrary to the US establishment portrayal of Arbenz as a Kremlin agent, Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer’s acclaimed book Bitter Fruit: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala demonstrates that the man was a bourgeois capitalist whose activities merely included offering $627,572 to the United Fruit Company – the US corporation that had established a parasitic presence on Guatemalan territory – in compensation for unused acreage appropriated by the Guatemalan government.
This was precisely the value of the land in question as declared by the company itself for purposes of tax evasion. Upon appropriation it assumed a spontaneous worth of $16m and became proof of apocalyptic communist imperialism – a fabricated danger that would be dealt with via concrete forms of US imperialism in Latin America.
The green-and-red menace
Two decades after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a new expansionist enemy has been trotted out. According to certain policymakers in Washington, the Islamic Republic of Iran is now lurking along the southern fringes of the US – necessitating the “Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act” just signed by Barack Obama in order to “address Iran’s growing hostile presence and activity”.
This helps to ensure a negative reaction in an American public already conditioned to respond viscerally to the colour red – much as the labelling of Obama as a socialist has been known to trigger automatic revulsion in swathes of the population despite the man’s failure to pursue any policies that resemble socialism.
Neoconservatives have discovered numerous smoking guns indicating nefarious collaboration between the Islamic Republic and the Latin American left, such as the existence of regular commercial airline flights between Tehran and Caracas and the enrollment of more than two dozen offspring of Iranian diplomatic personnel at the international school in La Paz, Bolivia.
Norman A Bailey – the former Mission Manager for Cuba and Venezuela under Director of National Intelligence John D Negroponte, patron saint of Honduran death squads -announced in a February 2012 report for the US House Foreign Affairs Committee that Iran’s protégé Hezbollah “is known to have opened numerous military camps inside Venezuela… with the express purpose of training young Venezuelans to attack American targets”.
Readers unaware that this factoid is indeed “known” can pursue its citation in the report’s endnotes. These direct us to a working paper by the Israeli International Institute for Counter-Terrorism’s Dr Ely Karmon, who - as I have previously noted - is also an expert in the art of plagiarism.
True to form, Karmon has reproduced almost exactly word for word a paragraph from a 2008 FrontPage Magazine article called “Hugo’s Hezbollah”. Without properly signalling the paragraph’s appropriation, he writes:
“It was reported… that the Venezuelan Minister of the Interior, Tarek El Aissami, was working directly with [Venezuelan diplomat] Ghazi Nasr al-Din to recruit young Venezuelans of Arab descent that were supportive of the Chavez regime to train in Lebanon with Hezbollah. Reportedly, the purpose was to prepare these youths for asymmetric warfare against the US in the event of a confrontation. According to this report, Hezbollah also established training camps inside Venezuela, complete with ammunition and explosives, courtesy of El Aissami.”
The FrontPage article itself includes a hyperlink directing us to the apparent source of the training camp reports – a2008 column in Spanish by a Venezuelan exile in Miami who happens to be tied to the perpetrators of the 2002 coup against Chavez – and throws in the additional ludicrous claim that “Hezbollah has been responsible for converting a number of indigenous tribes in Latin America to their radical version of Islam”.
“We always have a concern about, in particular, the [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps] and efforts by the IRGC to expand their influence, not only throughout the Middle East but also into this region… In my book, that relates to expanding terrorism”.
Of course, the title of the article – “Panetta: Violent Extremism Threatens Latin America” – seems somewhat misdirected given that it is the US and not the Islamic Republic that is known for things like massive financial support for a Colombian military that wantonly slaughters civilians. The participation of the US Drug Enforcement Agency in the massacre of peasants in Hondurasmight also qualify as a level of violent extremism to which Iran has not aspired.
Crusaders against the green-and-red menace, however, are committed to their hallucinated reality, capitalising on cold war precedents to underscore the urgency of the situation. A 2011 dispatch from Vanessa Neumann, Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, defines one of Iran’s “principal motivations” in Latin America as “a quest for a base of operations that is close to the US territory, in order to position itself to resist diplomatic and possible military pressure, possibly by setting up a missile base within striking distance of the mainland US, as the Soviets did in the Cuban Missile Crisis”.
In this same vein, ex-presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann incoherently warned audiences on the campaign trail of Hezbollah’s possible “missile sites or weapons sites” in Cuba, while other scholars have moved slightly further afield, inventing Iranian intermediate-range missile launch pads on the Paraguana Peninsula in Venezuela. Never mind the un-invented ubiquity of US, NATO and Israeli weapons sites in the vicinity of Iran.
Former diplomat Roger Noriega, whose claims to fame include assisting in the overthrow of the democratically elected president of Haiti, has displaced the blame for continental meddling with his confirmation of the presence of “two Iranian terrorist trainers” on Venezuela’s Margarita Island and of an Iranian-Palestinian-Lebanese-Venezuelan plot to “cultivate a terror network on America’s doorstep”.
These calculations appeared in the Washington Post in 2011 despite the fact that Noriega should have ostensibly been banned from news outlets after his alarmist 2010 headline in Foreign Policy - “Chavez’s Secret Nuclear Programme” – came with the self-discrediting qualifier: “It’s not clear what Venezuela’s hiding, but it’s definitely hiding something -and the fact that Iran is involved suggests that it’s up to no good.”
As for cold war-era US propaganda according to which a Soviet-infiltrated Guatemalan regime was scheming to appropriate the Panama Canal, a potential modern-day equivalent of such a threat turned up in late 2010 in a Haaretzarticle about the “ambitious plan by Venezuela, Iran and Nicaragua to create a ‘Nicaragua Canal’ linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans that would rival the existing Panama Canal”.
To be sure, the resuscitation of fearmongering rhetoric about hemispheric penetration is a source of endless entertainment – until one remembers that the aim of some of these fearmongers is not a cold war but a hot one.
It is not every day that an Iranian makes it into the Western mainstream media and pop culture with a positive story that leads to near-universal admiration among Iranians and non-Iranians alike. Bobak Ferdowsi, aka “NASA Mohawk Guy,” flight director of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity mission, became an Internet sensation as a result of his unconventional hairdo, launching hundreds of memes, marriage proposals, and even a mention from President Barack Obama. Iranians in the diaspora are used to seeing less than flattering images of Iran and Iranians in the media. It was thus a welcome surprise, especially in these tense days with the threat of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities looming, to find stories of Ferdowsi’s aerospace accomplishments — and his handsome face — all over the Internet.
Kate Miltner has written a superb piece for the Guardian that explores why “NASA Mohawk Guy” memes took off on social media. I would like to build on her examination by unpacking a theme regarding Ferdowsi that I found circulated by friends in the Iranian diaspora on Facebook. These two comments are indicative:
“Babak Ferdowsi [sic] is the flight captain who landed the most high-tech robot on Mars this week. Can a name and look be more Persian than his? Go Babak [sic]; we are so proud of you.”
“:))) and he could not have a more iranian name!”
What I found troubling was how Ferdowsi was praised by some in the Iranian diaspora for having a traditional Persian, rather than Muslim, first and last name. It got me thinking: Would his accomplishment have been seen as lesser if he had a Muslim name such as Mohammed Ali Fathi, Hamid Najafi, Seyyed Mir Hosseini, or Reza Sharifi? Why are Iranians abroad obsessed with the notion of an Iran devoid of its Islamic heritage? Perhaps this obsession is related to how we have constructed our historical vision in the years since the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
For a long time now, some members of the Iranian diaspora have edited Iranian history and culture by disproportionately exalting pre-Islamic Persian dynastic history, art, and literature to counter what they view as the “bastardized” Islamic heritage forced upon Iranians by the Arab invasions in the seventh century (Naficy 1993, Spellman 2004, Sullivan 2001). At the same time, some have looked down on and shamefully sought to hide the Islamic element within the diaspora. As indicated by Kelly (1993) and Mostofi (2003), the majority of Iranians who emigrated after 1979 left their homeland with pro-Western ideals, including the virtue of secularization and modernization, along with anti-Islamic ones.
The anti-Islamic ideals prevalent in the Iranian diaspora, what I call an internalized Islamophobia, have their roots in the large-scale Westernization project that started in 19th-century Iran and continued until the end of the Pahlavi dynasty in 1979. The Pahlavi shahs’ brute Westernization, which reached an apex with the outlawing of hejab and forced unveiling of women in 1935, produced a class of Iranians who looked with disdain at those who were religious and eschewed the modernization push. Today, internalized Islamophobia is used by Iranians abroad as a means of controlling the diaspora’s public image by enforcing a demarcation between those who are deemed to be civilized, progressive, and therefore “authentic” Iranians versus those deemed religiously devout and thus cultural embarrassments.
It is understandable that many in the diaspora have a complicated relationship with Islam. After all, we’ve seen the Islamic Republic employ a very narrow interpretation of the faith to further many questionable social and political ideologies that affect our compatriots both in Iran and abroad. Nevertheless, the Iranian diaspora’s fraught relationship with the Islamic Republic and its version of Islam should not deter us from recognizing the contribution that Islam has made to Iranian culture and, likewise, the contribution that Iranians have made to Islam. There are many Iranians abroad who privately practice Islam that are neither agents of the Islamic Republic nor fundamentalists. Rather they are sincere believers, many of whom do not agree with how Islam has been hijacked by the Islamic Republic. We should embrace the diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds within our Iranian culture without continuing to rehash controversies over what is more “truly” Persian, hence, more authentic.
Ultimately, it should not matter what sort of name an Iranian in the diaspora has. An important question we need to address as a diasporic community is, Are we truly inclusive to all Iranians, or to just a select few whom we deem to embody a very restricted notion of Iranianness?
Kelley, Ron (1993). “Ethnic and Religious Communities From Iran In Los Angeles,” in Irangeles: Iranians in Los Angeles, ed. Ron Kelley, Jonathan Friedlander, and Anita Colby. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Mostofi, Nilou (2003). “Who We Are: The Perplexity of Iranian-American Identity,” The Sociological Quarterly. 44:4, 681-703.
Naficy, Hamid. (1993). The Making of Exile Cultures: Iranian Television in Los Angeles. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Spellman, Kathryn. (2004). Religion and Nation: Iranian Local and Transnational Networks in Britain. New York: Berghahn Books.
Sullivan, Zohreh T. (2001). Exiled Memories: Stories of Iranian Diaspora. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Sanaz Raji is a Ph.D. scholar at the Institute of Communication Studies, University of Leeds, and associate lecturer of postcolonial media culture at Sheffield Hallam University. She recently coauthored an essay, “‘Israelis and Iranians, Get a Room!’: Love, Hate and Transnational Politics from the ‘Israel loves Iran’ and ‘Iran loves Israel’ Facebook Campaigns,” for the fall issue of the Journal of Middle Eastern Women’s Studies. Opinions expressed are her own.
This is the headline to an article in the Daily Mail reporting claims that Israel has destroyed a Sudanese weapons factory in a bombing raid. The article itself suggests that “the raid acted as a ‘dry run’ for a forthcoming strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities”. The subeditor’s substitution of “Islam” for “Iran” in the headline tells us a lot about the general mindset at the Mail.
Update: The headline has now been amended.
Earlier this year the Mailreported that the existence of the Freudian slip had been confirmed by scientific research: “A new study has revealed how the theory, which forms part of the basis of psychoanalysis, is linked to the conscious symptoms of people with anxiety disorders such as phobias.”
The season in which studios begin to roll out their Oscar contenders is upon us. Ben Affleck’s third and probably most important directorial feat, Argo, will certainly receive due attention from the Academy. The film, however, should not receive acclaim for its untimely and unbalanced depiction of Iran and Iranians. Indeed, by revisiting the Iran Hostage Crisis at a critical moment when political hawks are ceaselessly demonizing Iran in their bid for another U.S.-led military conflict in the Middle East, Affleck, giving him the benefit of the doubt, unintentionally aids that effort.
Affleck’s Argo is based on the true story of how six Americans were entangled in the revolutionary storm that gripped Iran in 1979 and managed to flee the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Holed up in the Canadian ambassador’s residence for months, Ben Affleck’s real-life character Tony Mendez, a CIA operative, concocts an elaborate plan to fly to Tehran and facilitate their escape. In doing so, he pretends to be part of a Canadian film crew making a B-level science-fiction film called Argo, which is based in the Middle East, and explains why they are in Iran scouting for locations for a movie that never actually existed.
It’s a gripping political thriller that will keep moviegoers on the edge of their seats and holding their breaths. The problem, however, is the unintended political consequence of the film and its deeply troubling portrayals of Iranians.
In his book Confronting Iran: The Failure of American Foreign Policy and the Next Great Conflict in the Middle East, Ali Ansari writes, “For the U.S., the traumatic scene of Americans being paraded in front of cameras blindfolded, marked the beginning of a U.S. obsession with Iran.” That obsession has led many Americans to view Iran strictly through the narrow scope of the Hostage Crisis, an event that transpired over 30 years ago. So ubiquitous is this trend that when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005, mainstream American media outlets mistook him for one of the hostage takers! The frenzy dissipated only when one of the actual American hostages, Thomas E. Schaefer, came out and dispelled the accusation.”
Last night the question about the United States’ use of drone warfare was first directed to Mitt Romney, his response was Machiavellian in nature,
Well, I believe that we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world.
For Romney, the end justifies the means. Sadly but unsurprisingly Obama responded in a similar Machiavellian spirit, articulating his response by skirting the issue while retaining the veneer of tough rhetoric and bravado,
We’re always also going to have to maintain vigilance when it comes to terrorist activities.
Yes, “maintain vigilance” especially when drone strikes in Pakistan kill one terrorist for every 50 deaths, according to a recent article from Policymic. The same article makes mention of who is to blame for all these innocent deaths,
The New York Times and Associated Press have both reported that President Obama acts as “the final decision maker” in drone strikes targeting individuals, placing the burden for answers squarely on the Commander-in-Chief.
Yet, the Commander-in-Chief had very little to say last night regarding this topic. He avoided it at every cost.
This debate was indeed, as Salon.com points out, something to be ashamed of. Most of the time it was simply Romney making points that Obama would articulate better; what better way to display that than both candidates obsessing over who loves Israel more and who supports the most “crippling” sanctions on Iran. Even though Obama’s delivery was stronger, unfortunately, the debate did not imbue us with the promise of a better four years to come — no matter who wins the election.
The Salon article below by Andrew Leonard explains how Romney and the Far-Right’s endorsement of Obama’s unconstitutional and inhumane tactics — such as assassination of American citizens, drone warfare and detention without trial – allows for a type of quid pro quo between the “Right” and the “Left” to the detriment of Human Rights and peace.
It was the moment progressives had been waiting for. Bob Schieffer turned to Mitt Romney and said, “What is your position on the use of drones?”
Twitter gasped. Up to that point, Schieffer had thrown one softball after another, but here was the high hard one down the middle. For many liberals, President Obama’s aggressive deployment of drones to kill suspected terrorists in northwestern Pakistan is a stain on the current administration that cannot be washed away, a profound betrayal of civilized values. A campaign of murder from the skies in a country that is supposedly our ally — how is this remotely conscionable?
But liberals are also accustomed to Obama getting a free pass on the topic from the mainstream media and political elite. So just hearing the word “drones” spoken was shocking — here it was, finally, a chance to address this ongoing national shame before an audience of millions and millions of Americans.
And then came Romney’s response, which basically boiled down to drones are awesome!
Well, I believe that we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world. And it’s widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes, and I support that entirely and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology and believe that we should continue to use it to continue to go after the people who represent a threat to this nation and to our friends.
End of discussion. Obama did not even mention the word “drones” in his followup to Romney’s comments, aside from a vague “we’re always also going to have to maintain vigilance when it comes to terrorist activities.” And all those progressives whose ears had perked up when Schieffer raised the issue returned to their default position: Soul-killing despair.
There were numerous other instances during the debate when the two candidates vied with each other to express hardline positions on issues that drive progressives crazy. The fight to see who could declare himself the greater friend to Israel, and the (closely related) struggle to establish who supports the most “crippling” sanctions on Iran come immediately to mind.
OBAMA: Israel is a true friend. It is our greatest ally in the region. And if Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel. I’ve made that clear throughout my presidency.
ROMNEY: I want to underscore the same point the president made, which is that if I’m president of the United States, when I’m president of the United States, we will stand with Israel. And — and if Israel is attacked, we have their back, not just diplomatically, not just culturally, but militarily.
OBAMA: We then organized the strongest coalition and the strongest sanctions against Iran in history, and it is crippling their economy. Their currency has dropped 80 percent. Their oil production has plunged to the lowest level since they were fighting a war with Iraq 20 years ago. So their economy is in a shambles.
ROMNEY: Crippling sanctions are something I’d called for five years ago… And they do work. You’re seeing it right now in the economy. It’s absolutely the right thing to do to have crippling sanctions. I’d have put them in place earlier, but it’s good that we have them.
And so on. I’m not sure if there’s ever been a debate in which the two candidates expressed so much fundamental agreement on major foreign policy issues. But nothing underscores the dilemma that progressives face on the lack of a meaningful foreign policy choice more than the exchange on drones. Romney’s endorsement of drone warfare laid out with perfect clarity why President Obama has been free to pursue policies — extrajudicial assassination of American citizens, drone warfare, detention without trial — that appear to clearly violate basic human rights, not to mention the U.S. Constitution.
He can do so because he is never going to be questioned from the right on such tactics.
Quite the contrary — the main line of attack is to berate Obama for being too soft. Ponder this: In the same debate in which Romney applauded the president for using “any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us,” he also slammed Obama for his “apology tour” throughout the Arab world. If you’re perplexed at how to reconcile Obama’s drone war of terror in Waziristan with the idea that he’s been wandering the globe saying “I’m sorry” to our enemies, well, join the crowd. It’s not easy.
It was probably always true that a president whose middle name was Hussein would be required to protect his flank from the right more than the left on foreign policy issues related to the Mideast. It’s also true that when voters are asked to rank what issues they think are most important, the moral ambiguity of drone warfare doesn’t register anywhere close to the top ten. One can also make a realpolitik argument that targeting Al Qaeda networks with drone bombs in Pakistan is amuch smarter and more efficient use of resources than invading an entire country that had no connection whatsoever to the 9/11 attacks.
But the stain remains. And no matter how sincerely Obama touts his record supporting democracy during the Arab Spring in countries such as Egypt and Tunisia; no matter how strong a case can be made that intervening in Libya to prevent a likely horrendous massacre of civilians by Gadhafi was justifiable; the net effect of Obama’s foreign policy, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in Israel and Iran, is to breed more resentment and hatred of the U.S. in the Islamic world.
We could use a real debate on how to resolve that paradox. But we’re not going to get one.
For quite some time now we have been covering and following the close relationship prominent US politicians have forged with an organization that was one of the first groups designated a foreign terrorist organization by the US State Department. Both Democrats and Republicans have lobbied on behalf of the MeK, the US intelligence has even trained the MeK, provided funds to it to attack and kill Iranians. All of this in violation of US laws, revealing and boldly highlighting the fact that the rule of law is not applied equally.
Richard Silverstein writes on this topic for the Guardian.:
Historically, the group joined together with Islamists to topple the Shah in 1979. But after it assassinated an Iranian president, prime minister and supreme court justice, Ayatollah Khomeini turned on its members and approved the massacre of hundreds of them.
At that point, the MEK set itself the mission of overthrowing the Iranian Islamist regime. It went into exile to France and Saddam Hussein also offered it refuge in Iraq. It is also known for assassinating US diplomats, military personnel and others.
It now claims it has renounced terror and devotes itself to establishing an Iranian democratic form of government that would replace the rule of the Ayatollahs. But former leaders and members of the MEK have noted the ruthlessness and duplicity of the group. They believe that the Iran it envisions would be a dictatorship rather than a democracy. These dissident former members decry the MEK’s slavish worship of its leader Maryam Rajavi in a cult of personality not unlike that of North Korea and other Communist regimes.
Among those who joined the group’s gravy train are former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, Rudy Giuliani, Alan Dershowitz, andformer FBI director Louis Freeh. Many of them profess to have little interest in the money they have collected. Instead, they claim they are sincerely moved by the group’s suffering in Iraq and wish to correct an injustice. I’m sure the money doesn’t hurt.
Analysts writing about the MEK and alienated members reject the group’s claim that it has renounced terror. Seymour Hersh recently published an expose reporting that as late as 2007, US special forces had offered Iranians training at a secret Nevada facility in covert operations. It provided them arms and communications equipment and black ops training for their anti-regime terror activities inside Iran.
A confidential Israeli source who is a former senior minister and IDF officer reported to me that the Mossad has used the MEK over many years, both to leak purported Iranian government documents of questionable provenance and engage in acts of sabotage against key figures in the Iranian regime. My source and other journalists have reported the MEK assassinated four nuclear scientists and caused an explosion that obliterated an Iranian Revolutionary Guard missile base.
Last week, the director of Iran’s nuclear program reported an August explosion disrupted the power lines to the new Fordo uranium enrichment facility. My source says this sabotage was also a product of the Mossad-MEK collaboration.
The US delisting of the group is a sham. The Obama administration isn’t even claiming the MEK has renounced terrorism. If it did, it knows that it’s likely such a statement would rebound should the MEK’s activities become exposed. The chief argument offered in defense of the change of heart is that the group has agreed to relocate from Camp Ashraf, where it’s been a thorn in the side of the Iraqi Shi’ite led government, to a US facility, from which the residents would be relocated to foreign countries.
So, we’re removing a terror group from the list not because it’s stopped being a terror group, but because it’s agreed to leave Iraq, where it had been a destabilizing influence. That’s not a principled position. It’s a position based on pure political calculation.
The MEK is useful in the covert war the US and Israel are waging against Iran’s nuclear program. It is our proxy, much as the Cuban rebels involved in the Bay of Pigs operation served our interests in the fight against Fidel Castro; and the Afghan mujahideen fought a dirty war for us against the Soviets.
In fact, Alan Dershowitz has argued that the MEK should be removed from the treasury list not because it has stopped being terrorist, but because it collaborated with US covert activities inside Iran, meaning that it was serving US interests. Or put more simply: the MEK may be terrorists, but they’re our terrorists.
“MUSLIM RAGE,” screams Newsweek‘s new cover story about last week’s violent anti-American protests. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the well-known anti-Islam activist, is here to tell “us” (The_West) how to “end it.” And it’s true, isn’t it? All Muslims are constantly raging about everything. So to pay tribute to Ali’s article — which describes the protesters as “the mainstream of contemporary Islam” — and the subtle, smart cover that accompanies it, we’ve collected 13 striking, powerful images of MUSLIM RAGE.
What are Muslims so mad about? Twitter (“Want to discuss our latest cover? Let’s hear it with the hashtag: #MuslimRage,” Newsweek begs us) has some answers:
Indeed, as everyone knows, Muslims, and especially Arab Muslims, have no lives, feelings or thoughts external to constant, violent rage, directed at old white people living in the Midwest (due to their freedoms). Sure, only a few thousand people out of populations of millions turned out to protest this goofy anti-Muhammad movie from YouTube, and sure, there was loud outcry against the violence across the Muslim world. But have you seen this photo? Those guys are mad.
It’s hard to find a better image than the one on the Newsweek cover to really communicate how rage-filled Muslims constantly are, but we’ve found a few that will strike a chill into your heart:
#1 Check out these violent, angry Egyptians:
#2 Two furious Iraqis:
#3 Iranian Muslims #snowrage:
#4 This Egyptian guy is filled to the brim with #MuslimRage:
#5 A group of Egyptians gather in Cairo to vent their rage:
#6 A wrathful Jordanian girl:
#7 Insane #MuslimRage:
#8 Terrifying image of violent, rampaging Iraqis:
#9 How can we stop #MuslimRage like this, from Iran?
#10 Look at this enraged Iraqi and tell me you’re not scared:
#11 Irate Egyptians taking a break from their #MuslimRage:
#12 An Egyptian family, foaming at the mouth:
Loonwatchers share their own “very, very scary” photos of Muslim rage.
At a vigil to remember Ambassador Stevens last Friday in Cincinnati: