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That arrogant reporter
Response to "Those friendly Iranians" in the New York Times

May 7, 2004
Dear Mr. Kristof,

Happy Cinco de Mayo. Initially, I admit I was intrigued when I saw the title of your piece, "Those Friendly Iranians" in Wednesday's New York Times. You see, anything referring to Iran in a positive light even with such a voyeuristic title in the media is a strange occurrence, given the past monotonous coverage on Iran's nuclear program, dying reform movement, and opposition to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

That intrigue pretty much died after I read the first two sentences of your column.

Mr. Kristof, I think it is admirable, as a matter of principle, that you traveled to Iran and made the effort to show that the population of the country is largely opposed to the positions and actions of its government. The majority of Iranians are angry with the crushing social restrictions, the state interference in their affairs, visa restrictions, and the dire economic conditions that 25 years of clerical misrule has produced.

The policies of the IRI have led to a massive brain drain, and the active subversion of their imposed moral code (so enthusiastically documented by Western journalists in their numerous stories of debaucherous parties on Tehran's north side and Iranians' near universal love for the movie, "Titanic").

And yes Mr. Kristof, it is true that the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran vigorously suppresses dissent, has executed its writers and intellectuals, and spends vast sums of money on internal security and moral police squads. It has also been less than forthcoming in admitting the intent of its continuing nuclear program, which is widely believed to have the capability to produce a nuclear weapon in the immediate future.  Some of these subjects you briefly touch on in your article.

However  Mr. Kristof,  I find it decidedly unadmirable and even disingenuous of you to suggest that Iranians are lining up to embrace America, let alone George W. Bush. It seems supremely arrogant, if not naively stupid, for you claim that Iranians everywhere are pouring into the streets to sing praises of America and George W. Bush to anyone who will listen to them. In fact, I am not sure if your confidence is the basis of your Americentrism, or vice versa. Either way, it is unfortunately apparent in your writing.

You see Mr. Kristof, there is quite a bit of history missing from your column, the whole CIA organized coup de tat in 1953 in Iran? That was pretty important, and thereafter determined the course that US-Iran relations would take. That's when the US came to the Middle East, overthrew a regime to better access its oil... oh wait, that's what's happening now too. I don't think you quite capture that when you wrote "In the 1960's and 1970's, the U.S. spent millions backing a pro-Western modernizing shah ˜ and the result was an outpouring of venom that led to our diplomats' being held hostage."

Also, the flow of capital seems backwards in this statement as well. The billions poured into US BY IRAN in the 1960s and 1970s included training agents of the SAVAK (the Shah's secret police) at Langley, Virginia (home of the CIA) and almost $20 billion in armaments in the first half of the1970s alone. This, while inflation spiraled out of control, the Shah suppressed dissent with his American-trained forces, and imprisoned and tortured many Iranians who rightly equated his illegitimate rule with American support. It would have been nice if you detailed exactly how the US poured millions into Iran, other than the oil it bought which paid for American arms.

US hypocrisy is also hard for many Iranians to swallow, seeing that the basis to invade Iraq in 2003 was WMD, yet the US knew of Saddam's use of chemical weapons against Kurds and Iranian troops in the Iran-Iraq War, and still supported and armed Saddam's forces and ignored Iran's appeals for international condemnation of these acts. So understand if there will be many who read your column and cultural assertions with skepticism, it is due to a lot of crucial information that did not find its way into your article.

More importantly Mr. Kristof, I was motivated to write to you because I have noticed that you have the disturbing tendency in your columns to write as though you are a cultural expert, regardless of the context, and that somehow you understand the mentality of frustrated Iranian youth, or Southeast Asian sex workers in your other columns. It seems you tend to offer your judgments and "solutions" based on personal hunches rather than concrete data which make your cultural observations overbearing. Put simply, your writing is not humble.

I am Iranian, and for this reason I feel it is appropriate for you to be told how your message can be interpreted. Then again, as an opinion writer, perhaps your style is deliberate, and you are entirely aware of how you write and the cultural spaces you invade and appropriate.

Finally, Mr. Kristof, since you seem so fond of making sweeping generalizations about countries and peoples you have been exposed to for the duration of your assignment, I wish to offer you one that you astonishingly seemed to have missed in Iran: the concept of taarof is an extremely old social practice for Iranians. In its long history, Iran has encountered many guests and interlopers, most uninvited. Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Mongols, Turks, Afghans, Russians, British, and Americans have all left their footprints in Iranian history. As a result, Iranians learned the art of cultural seduction when their military prowess faded, and spoke with honeyed tongues to achieve their ends. In taarof, Iranians often make polite, but empty offers and statements to appease their guests in order not to offend them.

You Mr. Kristof, seem to have unwittingly indulged in taarof you received. So the next time you are offered paeans on America and especially George W. Bush by "those friendly Iranians" in the bazaars of Iran, it would be best to take the honeyed speech you hear with a bit of salt.

.................... Say goodbye to spam!

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Book of the day

Cultural Schizophrenia
Islamic Societies Confronting the West
By Darius Shayegan, et al

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