Iran News ...


9/16/06

Amir Taheri's Khatami-Bashing Exposed

By Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

 

Intolerance and discursive violence, two favorite targets of Mr. Mohammad Khatami in his recent speech on "ethics of tolerance in the age of violence," manifest themselves in a variety of shapes and forms and, sadly, the chorus of Khatami-bashers in the US media have shown us the depth to which they have sunk in this malady.

 

This past week, the right-wing politicians and media pundits led one of the most vicious campaigns of character assassination against an international public personality ever witnessed.  Comparing Khatami to Hitler, Bin Laden, and the KKK leader David Duke,  the formidable army of Khatami-bashers filled opinion columns, air time on TV news and talk shows, and lined up behind the microphones during the answer and question wherever Khatami spoke in his US tour.  This was, in a word, a sad spectacle of politics of hatred ran amuck, with so many politicians, including the Governor of Massachusetts, some members of US Congress, and journalists failing the test of tolerance.

 

Thankfully, the upper hand belonged to the people who treated Mr. Khatami with respect and showed tolerance for his point of view, even if they disagreed with some of what he said, such as the ABC "Nightline" anchorman, George Stephanopolous, who showed a great deal of deference toward Mr. Khatami in the interview aired on September 14.  Another example is Helena Cobban, who in her article in Christian Science Monitor, dated September 14, emphasized Khatami's message of peace, quoting Khatami's message to both Iran and the US, to "move less toward enmity and more toward peace."  Yet another example is the editorial of Boston Globe, which took issue with Governor Mitt Romeny's politics of labeling (Khatami as a "terrorist") and admonished him for his mischaracterization and distortion of Khatami's record, as a moderate Islamic figure.

 

Without doubt, as I pointed out in my OpEd article in Boston Globe, titled "Governor's got it wrong on Khatami," Khatami's legacy of pioneering the idea of Dialogue Among Civilizations, promoting non-violent resolution of conflicts, mutual respect and cross-cultural dialogue, alone vindicated the decision of Harvard University to invite him for a lecture.  Subsequently, I had occasion to debate this issue with the right-wing CNN talk host, Glen Beck, as well as on a number of radio stations, relying on my own memory of Khatami's warm reception by, among others, prominent theologians in Europe, and the parliamentarians in various European capitals. 

 

But, if there is a lesson to be taken from Khatami's trip to the US is the politics of intolerance permeating the Khatami-bashers among the Iranian expatriates, who preach democracy for Iran and yet are incapable of exercising it here in the US!  Their false pretense to democratic values can be unveiled once we peel beneath their facade of objectivity and discover the ugly face of discursive violence deeply embedded within them. 

 

Amir Taheri is a vivid example of this unsavory clan, penning "Khatami's discourse of deception" in New York Post, deserving close reading for the wealth of factual errors, misstatements and mischaracterizations packed in one article.  Consider the following:

 

(1) Taheri claims that Khatami's English interpreter had a hidden agenda, to mistranslate what Khatami said in Farsi. One example Taheri gives is the word khoshunat, which he claims means "roughness" and yet was interpreted as "violence."  Wrong Mr. Taheri. Any imbecile familiar with Farsi disagrees with you and knows too well that it is you who has distorted the meaning of khoshunat, universally used in our texts and every day language as none other than violence.

 

(2) Taheri claims that Khatami is a member of the Assembly of Experts. False. Khatami is not.

 

(3) Taheri claims that Khatami introduced himself as the president of Iran, and not the Islamic Republic of Iran. Wrong again. First, Khatami never introduced himself and those who did, such as Kennedy School's professor Graham Allison, introduced him properly as the former president of Islamic Republic of Iran.

 

(4) Taheri claims that Khatami "altered his identity" by deleting reference to his religious title. Not so, as Khatami wore the same robe and ammameh on his head, which was a clear signal as any about his religious credential, which he is rightly proud of, and if certain media chose to limit themselves to his first and last name, why should Khatami be blamed?

 

(5) Taheri claims that  'Khatami also forgot to mention that there was no dialogue among Iranians inside Iran itself while he was in power."   False again. Khatami contributed a great deal to the evolution of Iran's civil society, by promoting the non-government organizations, including dozens of women's and environmental groups, and to the best of his ability tried, in a difficult environment, to protect free press and free speech. 

 

To open a caveat here, in Fall, 2004, I was a visiting professor of political science at Tehran University and was present at the university's auditorium when Khatami held a free, and fierce, debate with the students, most of whom were critical of him, which was aired by the national television.  For several hours, I saw Khatami engaged in an unfettered conversation, answering all questions patiently, defending his record without, however, trying to remain above criticisms and deflect the right criticisms. 

 

Now, Mr. Taheri, a noted editor under the ancient regime, which never tolerated the slightest public criticisms, has some explaining to do why such clear examples of political openness on Khatami's part while he was a president should evade his radar?

 

(6) Taheri writes: "He spoke a great deal about the need for dialogue, tolerance and understanding. But he made no mention of the fact that he had closed down 150 Iranian newspapers, imprisoned scores of journalists and unleashed his Hezbollah hounds to crush the student revolts against his regime."  But, really Mr. Taheri, whoever in Iran, even among the most ardent dissidents, has ever blamed Khatami for these?  Your politics of indistinction leaves so much to be desired, and you conveniently ignore that several pro-Khatami papers were shut down during his presidency, including the daily Bahar, which was owned by Khatami's press secretary, and that not once did Khatami took a step to imprisoning any journalist, let alone unleashing vigilante violence against his opponents?  Nor do you mention that some of the closed papers (have) resurfaced under new names, the paper Etemad being one such example.

 

(7) Taheri disingenuously misrepresents Khatami's facial expression of sadness regarding the murder of Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi as "broad smile," and then goes on to say that he said he wasn't sure "how the poor woman died in one of his prisons." In fact, as the text of Khatami's speech reflected in the Boston Globe, not to mention his other earlier statements, regarding this tragic case shows, Khatami expressed his serious regret and conveyed that he did his best to push for investigation of the murder -- under suspicious and yet to be determined circumstances. 

 

And what about Khatami's self-defense, during his US tour, that to his credit he put a stop to the serial murder of dissidents during his era, and managed to purge the "rogue" elements from the intelligence agencies responsible for those crimes? Of course, it would be too much to expect Taheri, sold on demonization of Khatami, to bother with such things rattling his carefully-constructed evil image of Khatami.

 

Alas, I could go on listing a half dozen other factual distortions in Taheri's article, but that would be a disservice to the readers and giving importance to this discredited, sensationalist journalist with a proven record of systematic distortions -- as his recent pieces falsely accusing Iran's UN ambassador of being a former hostage-taker and falsely claiming that Iran has made Nazi-like dress codes on Iranian Jews, both of which have been soundly exposed in the pages of Nation Magazine and by the Canadian Government.  What a pity, in spite of such atrocious record, Taheri is still taken seriously by some aspects of the US media.

 

 

Related Articles:

 

Governor's got it wrong on Khatami - Boston Globe

Bunkum From Benador - The Nation

Khatami's Discourse of Deception - By Amir Taheri, New York Post

IRAN OKS 'NAZI' SOCIAL FABRIC - By Amir Taheri, New York Post

 

 

 

... Payvand News - 9/16/06 ... --



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