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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Fair and Balanced at the Beeb

Here's a nice little story about a Canada-based Iranian blogger. The BBC describes him thusly:

Hossein Derakhshan is a 31-year-old Iranian internet activist, based in Canada, who writes the bilingual weblog Editor: Myself. Here he writes about his first visit to Israel, which he undertook to challenge the stereotypes of both Iran and Israel.

Challenging stereotypes! Way to be! Let's hear all about it.

I had a mission, though, which would make the risk worthwhile. I wanted to break the stereotypical images both governments use to advance their radical policies.

Ah, yes, the radical policies of both governments -- tit for tat, cycle of violence, faults on both sides, that sort of thing. Well, let's hear these stereotypes:

Having been born and raised in a religious, pro-revolution atmosphere in Tehran, like many others from my generation, I knew nothing about Israel except that they were "a declining group of Jews who constantly conspire to kill Muslim and forcefully capture their lands".

That's why for us Israel never existed except when Friday prayers would finish their "death to" chants with Israel. Everywhere else, even on maps, Tel Aviv was the capital of the "Zionist Regime" or "Occupied Palestine".

OK. And the Israelis?

On the other side, I could imagine how Israelis' perception of Iran was being formed by their own government, as a big country with millions of angry Muslims, all look-alikes of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, bent on destroying Israel with nuclear weapons.

Drat that Israeli government! I mean, you finish off your Friday prayers with "Death to Israel!" and those blackguards tell people that! Honestly, have you ever heard such perfidy? Stirring up people and frightening with absolutely true stories like that.

Now some people thought Robert Fisk was "relaxing" over lunch the other day when he gave a little Moebius strip of an interview to the Australian ABC. In this interview he says, in essence, that harmless bad man Zarqawi, who absolutely exists and really did issue a recent videotape, is completely a creation of American propaganda. That is to say, by broadcasting (or, rather, allowing news agencies to broadcast) Zarqawi's statements on how he wants to kill Americans and stuff, the US government has created a puppet for us to hate because he wants to, um, kill Americans and stuff.

Maybe Fisk wasn't drinking anything stronger than the water over there.

Anyhow, back to the Israelis who've been brainwashed by their government actually repeating Ahmadinejad's statements. Derakhshan is especially concerned for the young Israelis, who don't remember a time when Iran was not ruled by a vicious, repressive regime, but by the Shah[*].


Obviously, they couldn't understand the significant differences between competing political ideologies and rival sources of power inside the current Iranian system...I believed that Israelis saw no distinction between Mr Ahmadinejad and the former reformist president Mohammad Khatami of Iran, in the same way that Iranians could not differentiate Shimon Peres from Binyamin Netanyahu.

In other words, Israelis can't determine the difference between Ahmadinejad, who has famously called for Israel to be wiped off the map, and Khatami, who merely says that Israel is an "illegal state", and a "parasite in the heart of the Muslim world".

I'm probably being a little hard on Derakshan here, since the rest of this article details the surprises he found in Israel, especially the surprise that there were a heck of a lot Iranians there, including Israel's President and Defense Minister. He's now thinking about organizing a tour of Israel for young Iranian ex-pats. I'm really more amused at the BBC's lede, in which they reassure their readers that he's challenging the stereotypes of both sides, in total fairness.

(Although, I have to wonder about something. Young Iranians in Iran probably don't have a lot of choice in their news outlets, so it's not surprising that they might believe a lot of nonsense about what Israelis believe. So what's Derakhshan's excuse? He lives in Canada. Maybe he doesn't have internet access.)

UPDATE: And here's a late entry in the Ahmadinejad Apologetics Sweepstakes:
according to Christopher Hitchens, Juan Cole says that Ahmadinejad did not actually say that Israel must be wiped off the map (contrary to what some other pesky, war-mongering translators think). Cole responds to Hitchens here, mustering all the grace and dignity at the disposal of a cranky toddler with a messy didy. In particular, he says this:

What is really going on here is an old trick of the warmongers. Which is that you equate hurtful statements of your enemy with an actual military threat, and make a weak and vulnerable enemy look like a strong, menacing foe. Then no one can complain when you pounce on the enemy and reduce his country to flames and rubble.

It is obvious that powerful political forces in Washington are fishing for a pretext to launch a war on Iran, and that they are just delighted to have Ahmadinejad as cartoon villain and pretext.

This is virtually identical to Fisk's droolings. If your demonstrably-batshit neighbors utter hysterical pronouncements of DOOM, and you figure maybe they're serious, then you're just an old warmonger groping for a cartoon villain. Why, you probably said the same thing about Rafsanjani.

[*]The question of whether this is a joke is left as an exercise for the reader.

Fair and balanced Beeb article via Jeff Jarvis.