By Frud Bezhan, RFE/RL
A video that appears to show Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad insulting the country's lawmakers has provoked a harsh response from Tehran and questions about the clip's authenticity.
"I Love NY" - cartoon by Touka Neyestani
The video in question shows a BBC Persian service reporter, Bahman Kalbasi, questioning Ahmadinejad about the size of the delegation he brought to this week's opening of the UN General Assembly.
"They are full of s**t," Ahmadinejad is seen saying when told that Iran's parliament was questioning the need to send 160 people to New York.
After the video went viral, the fecal matter really hit the fan.
In a statement published on September 25 by the semiofficial Fars news agency, the president's office "strongly" denied that Ahmadinejad had uttered the insult, and described the video as "ridiculous."
Almost on cue, the validity of the video came into question in the world of social media.
Many who viewed the video engaged in online debates about what Ahmadinejad actually said. Some argued it was too garbled to tell, while others offered other interpretations of the meaning of the Persian word "goh khordan." Others suggested it had been overdubbed.
Additional videos of the incident emerged on YouTube, showing Ahmadinejad mumbling a response that is impossible to decipher. Even the BBC reporter in the video, Kalbasi, has since come out saying the president did not utter the insult being attributed to him.
Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani, in comments made on September 26 warned that the whole story was rubbish. "I do not think that he has said this and we should not fall into such a trap," he was quoted as telling Iran's semiofficial ILNA news agency.
And the BBC itself came under criticism from the president's office for "the spreading lies and use of unprofessional and immoral methods" in an effort to smear the Iranian government and cause unrest in Iran.
A S**tstorm In Iran
Questions over the authenticity of the video, the veracity of media reports on the incident, and the reasons behind any possible skewing of events did not prevent it from being a big topic of conversation on the web.
Some commenters ridiculed the president.
Payman Beigi, commenting on Facebook about Ahmadinejad's well-documented antics in New York, wrote that it was the Iranian president who was "eating s**t."
Shahrom Segarchi, in comments also posted on Facebook, said: "The president is full of s**t, not the parliamentarians."
Others were sympathetic.
Maryam Gudarzi, writing on Facebook, defended the president and questioned the BBC. "Do they believe they can lie to the faces of 70 million Iranians?" she wrote.
With most of Ahmadinejad's delegation reportedly staying at the luxurious Warwick New York Hotel, the controversy is likely to continue.
As Iran struggles with economic hardship, in part because of crippling sanctions imposed by the West over Tehran's nuclear program, the idea of a huge presidential delegation living in luxury does not sit well with many.
One Iranian lawmaker, Mansour Haghighatpour, the deputy chairman of parliament's National Security Committee, was quoted as saying on September 25 that many in Ahmadinejad's entourage "have only travelled there for a picnic."
And meanwhile, Ahmadinejad's fiery rhetoric upon arriving in the Big Apple continued to attract attention.
Touka Neyestani, a well-known Iranian cartoonist, penned a cartoon depicting Ahmadinejad in a T-shirt reading, "I Love NY." The cartoon, first published on the website of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran on September 24, has been reposted across the Internet.
Copyright (c) 2012 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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