For most Iranians who are tired of hearing the American neocon drums of war beat against Iran over and over again, right through the Bush, Obama and Trump eras, it is hard to know what to make of a recent interview that took place between Iran’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi and Bloomberg’s notorious anti-Iranian hawk Eli Lake.
If we are to take Lake’s publication at face value, entitled “Iran’s Nobel Laureate Is Done With Reform. She Wants Regime Change”, together with its subtitle which reads “[t]his activist says Iranians want to eliminate the position of supreme leader. The West can help” it would appear from this alone that Ebadi had completely endorsed the position of Donald Trump and his war cabinet on the issue of Iran. (One should also bear in mind that Americans are predominantly headline readers only; in other words, the damage is done at the outset).
“This was a very sad piece – can’t call it an interview,” prominent Iran scholar Prof. Farideh Farhi told The Iranian by email. “Through Eli Lake’s selection of her words and framing, Ms. Ebadi is shown both clueless regarding what is possible in Iranian and international politics in general and naive enough about American politics and foreign policy not to detect leading questions by a right-wing opinion columnist who has repeatedly advocated regime change in Iran and wars of aggression in the Middle East for the past two decades.”
Though debating the merits or lack thereof of seeking change in Iran through internal reform is fully legitimate, it’s a different matter to suggest that the United States should be involved in the process. US regime change efforts in the Middle East has an exceptionally poor track record, often leading to full scale war and leaving the states fractured and destabilized.
Despite the many issues presented in Lake’s report, most curious and seemingly unusual, however, was her verbal attack on the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), who played a strong role in the formation of the JCPOA in 2015. Ebadi allegedly said she regretted working with the NIAC at an event in 2011, before stating that “[w]hen I analyzed what they say and do…I realize what they say is closer to what the government says than what the people want.”
This attack on the NIAC – the largest Iranian-American grassroots organization in the US – has not been taken lightly, including by some of America’s most prominent intellectuals.
“I don’t know on what basis Shirin Ebadi is confident that she knows better what Iranians want than NIAC, to take one of her examples,” Professor Noam Chomsky of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) told The Iranian via email.
Furthermore, Farideh Farhi actually suggested that the attack on the NIAC was one of those moments in which Lake may have possibly reworked the interview to suit his personal agenda, stating that “the gratuitous dig at NIAC of all the Iranian-American organizations that are around sounds more like her defending herself against a question posed by Lake regarding her past connection to NIAC; an organization Lake has spent good effort, rather unsuccessfully, trying to defame and delegitimize.”
This would also be an appropriate time to note that Lake, who has previously written against the Iranian nuclear accord formed in 2015 known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has reportedly refused to release the transcript of the interview in full.
“As to the random suggestions she has regarding the specific actions the US government should take, they are suspiciously close to Eli Lake’s views and the talking points of other Washington regime change crowd,” Farhi also told The Iranian.
Farhi also believed Ebadi’s suggestions regarding achieving proper regime change to be misguided and completely unrealistic.
“After all, no government in the world is going to invite the United Nations in to administer a referendum on its own abolition,” Farhi added. “And certainly a UN move to compel Iran is a precedent that will not be accepted not only by the likes of Russia and China, but also almost all sovereign governments of the world.”
Ebadi, who in many instances has supported sanctions on Iran, repeated those calls in her interview with Lake. Given the context, in which Donald Trump is about to kill the Iran nuclear deal and reimpose crippling sanctions on Iran, Ebadi’s choice of timing was again seriously criticized by Professor Chomsky as well, who stated:
“For what it’s worth, I suspect that further sanctions, in additional violation of the JPCOA (which the US has already been violating), are likely to strengthen hardliners in Iran rather than improving conditions that will open more space for those who are struggling for freedom and justice in Iran. But that is for Iranians to determine, not me, and despite the difficulties we should do what we can to explore their opinions and preferences.”
To put it bluntly, Lake’s interview and the narrative in which it pursues had not been too well received. Iranian political analyst Adnan Tabatabai took to Twitter to cleverly decry:
About a year ago, a good friend and super bold civil rights activist INSIDE #Iran told me: “When the world won its first female Muslim Nobel Peace Prize laureate, we in #Iran lost a strong voice fighting for civil rights!“ – I can now tell what this friend was talking about. https://t.co/LSBeSBjw3W
— Adnan Tabatabai (@A_Tabatabai) April 6, 2018
So, did Ebadi knowingly take the interview with Lake in order to push Trump to escalate tensions further with Iran at a time when the war drums are banging louder and louder? Or did she naively stumble into the interview and was cleverly manipulated by one of the best in corporate propaganda business? While we may not know the answer to this any time soon, the words of Farideh Farhi may provide us with some guidance and wisdom at this confusing juncture in time:
“As to her motivations and intentions, I really don’t know why and how she ended up announcing a half-baked idea in English to a person who has long promoted regime change for other purposes than the ones which motivate her and to do so within a highly charged Washington environment into which aggressive regime changers are about to take charge of US foreign policy and a decision regarding the JCPOA is about to be made. Only she can answer.”