Thursday, October 15, 2015

Pinocchio in Tehran: A response to Tehran Bureau/The Guardian’s Propaganda

Virtually everyone is familiar with Pinocchio’s story __ a wooden puppet carved by Gepetto brought to life by a fairy that instructed him to be "brave, truthful, and unselfish" in order to remain a real boy.  What I remember the most about Pinocchio was his failure to heed the fairy, his nose growing longer with every lie.  This seems to be the case with Tehran Bureau’s unnamed correspondent who failed to heed the “canons of journalism” by making up tall stories about Iran in her article “How the hijab has made sexual harassment worse in Iran __ in effect turning herself into
Correspondent Pinocchio (CP).

CP writes a damning account of being sexually harassed in Iran, of being subjected to “ogling”, “whistling, hissing, smacking, licking, puffing” and “unhindered expressions of lust and profanity”.    She backs her personal account with remarks from a friend who told her that she felt “naked, and worthless.”  Not only is CP claiming that hijab has made the situation worse for women, but she also quotes someone as saying: “Basically, a woman shouldn’t walk in the street without male protection,”.   What nonsense.

Now as a scholar of US foreign policy I pay close attention to propaganda.  Misinformation is nothing new to me and I don’t like to spend my time and energy responding to all the lies. But this particular article by CP hit me hard because I happen to be in Iran at the moment and in the same exact location/neighborhood she mentions in her tall tale.  And had it not been for the fact that the evening prior to reading her story I had been talking to my husband in California telling him that never had I felt more safe and comfortable walking alone and eating alone in a restaurant than I did here, I would have dismissed CP’s propaganda.    But CP’s lies had a personal effect on me and I could not let it rest __especially in light of Tehran Bureau’s malicious history.

Tehran Bureau (TB) was established shorty prior to the 2009 elections in Iran.  It would seem the sole purpose at the time was to start false allegations about the 2009 elections in Iran (Foreign Policy Journal Editor Jeremy Hammond has a brilliant piece on this HERE).    TB’s ability to promote lies and with it, unrest, must have caught the attention of PBS. Tehran Bureau is now affiliated with PBS.  PBS receives funding from the Federal Government.   Hosting Tehran Bureau by “The Guardian” may have well given the paper a boost for its very continuity was questionable as admitted to in 2013 when its CEO warned that his paper might not survive.   

So given this colorful background of Tehran Bureau and PC’s blatant lies, I was prompted to set the record straight and share my experiences and observations which were the exact opposite of what PC wrote in her piece. What I saw and personally experienced was profound respect.  No glaring stares, no harassment. Simply the kind of courtesy that is offered to a woman and that is demanded by society.  It seems to me as if in Iran the hijab serves as a reminder of how men are expected to behave toward women.  (See article on hijab and status of women in Iran HERE). So what is CP on about?

Of course there is the possibility that CP is a budding beauty and Iranian men simply can’t handle her splendor (what an insult to Iranian men).  Were I to give her this benefit of the doubt and imagine her to be a radiant beauty, her (possible) beauty would be completely eclipsed in Iran.   As Mara wrote of the Iranian women in her 2012 article titled For the women of Iran, with Love “They are the most beautiful women I have ever seen”.    I concur__ as do many others.  Iranian men are accustomed to beauty.   So I tend to dismiss her claims of “harassment” based on her glamor.

On the other hand, it may be that she was completely ignored.   After all, in many countries around the world men do indeed harass women and make sexual overtures.   Some women are flattered while others are offended.   But being invisible is not easy to handle.   Being invisible may be likened to a blank piece of paper on which one can write anything and all things imaginary – depending on one’s inclination.  What is an undisputed fact is that contrary to CP’s report, many Iranian women go all out to become visible.  

I spent hours in a coffee shop in a beautiful park (Ab o Atash – literal translation water and fire) near where CP claims to have walked, and watched young women. Faces made up, dressed fashionably in their colorful hijab they paraded around like peacocks that opens their glorious tails in order to attract attention.    Sadly for them, I was doing the glaring while they were left mostly unnoticed.   And in their midst there were also women who did not venture out to make an impression with their hairdo and clothing.  They were beautiful in their simplicity and modesty.   I made a mental note of them too, of their ease and confidence.     

Now it would be a lie to claim that all women are ignored and all men here are well behaved.   With all the demonizing of Iranians, it may be hard to believe that Iranians are normal!    As with every other country in the world, there are men who harass women and who make unsolicited approaches.   This is more a personal upbringing than a norm.  In the pre-revolution years, when I visited Iran as a very young teenager, harassment and catcalling was prevalent.  As a shy girl, I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me up so that I would be spared the stares, the pestering.   But things have changed.  What was once common is truly rare these days.   Men would not dare disrespect women__and they don’t.

I would very much like to suggest that PC take her notebook or laptop, sit in the aforementioned park (or anywhere else in Tehran and elsewhere) and speak the truth.  Perhaps only then, as with Pinocchio, her courage and unselfishness to write  truthfully will turn her into a real bona fide correspondent.

Sanctioned Terrorism

Sanctioned Terrorism

Who is a terrorist? Undoubtedly, what comes to mind is Daesh (ISIL), al-Qaeda, MKO, Boko Haram, etc. What is terrorism? The events of 9/11 and the gruesome beheadings carried out by Daesh shape our visual perception of terrorism. What is left unmentioned and unrecognized in our collective psyche is the kind of terrorism that has been deliberately obfuscated: sanctioned terrorism or terrorism with a license—sanctions.

The fact that scholars have identified over 100 definitions of the term terrorism demonstrates that there is no universally accepted definition. There is general consensus that terrorism is “viewed as a method of violence in which civilians are targeted with the objective of forcing a perceived enemy into submission by creating fear, demoralization, and political friction in the population under attack.”[i]
In 1937, the League of Nations Convention defined terrorism as: “All criminal acts directed against a State and intended or calculated to create a state of terror in the minds of particular persons or a group of persons or the general public.”
Article 1.2 of The Arab Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism signed in Cairo in 1998 describes terrorism as: “Any act or threat of violence, whatever its motives or purposes, that occurs for the advancement of an individual or collective criminal agenda, causing terror among people, causing fear by harming them, or placing their lives, liberty or security in danger, or aiming to cause damage to the environment or to public or private installations or property or to occupy or to seize them, or aiming to jeopardize a national resource”.
In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1373, licensing the United States to wage war against terrorism without first defining terrorism. However, Section 1.B of 18 U.S. Code § 2331 on international terrorism includes the following: (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping. In spite of these clear definitions, sanctions—sanctioned terrorism is dubbed as “diplomacy”, “an alternate to war”, etc.
The reality of sanctioned terrorism is denied even by the UN from whence the most important definition terrorism was delivered in a seminal speech by Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations. Annan conveyed the findings of a high level UN panel “A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility”(2004)[ii] as having defined terrorism to be: “[A]ny action intended to kill or seriously harm civilians or non-combatants, with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling action by a government or international organization”.
Shamelessly, even after sanctioned terrorism took the life of one million Iraqis, the UNSC licensed terrorism against Iran—sanctions, without any remorse for the lost lives of one million Iraqi victims of sanctioned terrorism and untold numbers or other victims across the globe.
The terror inflicted by way of sanctions could not have been made more clear than what Kofi Annan reported of the 2004 UN panel’s findings stating that prevention was a vital part of any strategy to protect people against terrorism adding that “in today’s world, any threat to one is truly a threat to all” and that “any event or process that leads to deaths on a large scale or the lessening of life chances, and which undermines states as the basic unit of the international system, should be viewed as a threat to international peace and security. Such threats included “economic and social threats”.[iii]
“Security” in terms of international relations is understood to be human security. There are six sectors to security: physical, military, economic, ecological, societal and political. Any change from “secure” to “insecure” or a general deterioration in any one or more of these sectors, increases the potential for violence (Buzan 2009). In spite of it all, the UNSC licensed terrorism.
The overall failure to identify and deliberately obfuscate this act of terrorism has enabled this premeditated act of terrorism to continue with impunity. The success of this deception is owed to controlling the narrative with complicity from the media. This has been so effective that even the victims of sanctioned terrorism fail to grasp that they are being subjected to terrorism. As Walter Laquer famously wrote in his 1977 piece “Terrorism”: “The success of a terrorist operation depends almost entirely on the amount of publicity it receives.” Sanctioned terrorism has received no publicity.
Our present day understanding of terrorism was initially introduced by Hollywood that often borrows its story ideas from the U.S. foreign policy agenda and has at times reinforced these policies. Hollywood rarely touched the topic of terrorism in the late 1960s and 1970s when the phenomenon was not high on the U.S. foreign policy agenda, in news headlines or in the American public consciousness. In the 1980s, in the footsteps of the Reagan administration, the commercial film industry brought terrorist villains to the big screen, making terrorism a blockbuster film product in the 1990s, painting Arabs (and now Moslems) as terrorists.[iv] Thus the movie industry defined and projected terrorism to the world at large in a manner consistent with US foreign policy. The news media continues to play an even bigger role.

News media has consistently framed terrorism by presenting sudden, shocking scenes of carnage and blood in order to shock the viewer and drive home the narrative of what terrorism should entail—by implication, ruling out all other terrorist acts. So while the imagery creates fear and loathing, and a total rejection of terrorism as identified by the media, a parallel loathing of unidentified terrorism—of sanctioned terrorism has been deliberately precluded. This is propaganda at its finest.

It goes without saying that the aim of propaganda is to change people’s opinion and attempt to influence their future actions and decisions. What is common about propaganda is that it seldom shows the situation from different points of view and seldom gives the full picture. Images of sanctioned terrorism are sorely missing from the picture as the culprits make every effort to present sanctions as diplomacy, a tool of statecraft, and have even convinced the general public that it is a better alternative to war. In fact, sanctioned terrorism is the cowardly alternate to war for the victim is deprived of an unidentifiable enemy to fight. Sanctions, like other terrorists, don’t wear military uniforms.

It is incumbent upon every individual opposed to terrorism to take ownership of the falsely presented narrative about sanctions and refer to sanctions as sanctioned terrorism at all times. Terrorism, like pollution, does not recognize boundaries. Russia has learnt this the hard way. By Hillary Clinton’s own admission, the terrorists America is fighting today were created by the US. We cannot send our uniformed men and women to fight unidentified terrorism, sanctions. We must be the champions of this war on terror. Whether we want to speak for yesterday’s victims, or defend today’s victims of sanctioned terrorism, or whether we want to prevent future victims, we must fight sanctioned terrorism today.

[i] Alex P. Schmid, Albert J. Jongman, et al., Political Terrorism: A New Guide to Actors, Authors, Concepts, Data Bases, Theories, and Literature, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1988, pp. 5-6.
[iii] Kofi Annan, “Special Report: Courage to fulfill our responsibilities”, The Economist Intelligence Unit, December 4, 2004.
[iv] Helena Vanhala – “Hollywood portrayal of modern international terrorism in blockbuster action-adventure films: From the Iran hostage crisis to September 11, 2001”. Dissertations and theses. University of Oregon; 2005.