That arrogant reporter
Response to "Those friendly Iranians" in the New York
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
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
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
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
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.
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
tongues to achieve their ends. In taarof, Iranians often make
polite, but empty offers and statements to appease their guests
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
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.
goodbye to spam!