Rhetoric as Thinking

Akbar Ganji, “someone who spent six years in Tehran’s Evin Prison on a bogus charge of endangering national security,” has in the Washington Post (translated from Farsi) to clarify “why Iranian pro- democracy forces oppose the $75 million the U.S. government provides to aid civil society in their country.”

But even the very title and the starting point is presumptuous. First, why should Ganji think he can represent such a vast group of people as “Iranian pro-democracy forces”? Second, why is being an Iranian democrat taken to be synonymous with “shuning foreign aid”? What, then, are Akbar Atri, Ali Afshari, and countless other activists? Ganji also claims that in any Middle Eastern country other than Iran people would choose fundamentalists in a free and fair election. Why? This is pseudo-intellectual nonesense! In fact, this statement has already been proven wrong in Iraq. But the problems with Ganji’s piece are much deeper than this.

After a string of incongruous expressions of facts and opinions-dressed-as-facts about the situation in Iran and the Middle East and what people want or don’t wan’t, he reaches the following culminating point:

So here is our request to Congress: To do away with any misunderstanding, we hope lawmakers will approve a bill that bans payment to individuals or groups opposing the Iranian government.

This rhetorical request has a deeply sensational tone. But it is a foolish thing to say, void of any logic. Why should anyone hoping to help a group of people (Iranian pro-democracy forces here) ban transactions with them? How could such outright blocking of aid possibly help? But it gets even worse.

Ganji charges the (collective) West of helping Iran’s government to restrict and filter the Web. (This, of course, confounds private companies with governments, but that’s a minor offense.) Then, he proceeds to say that all Iranians really need is free media and TV,

The support we need at this point has nothing to do with funding the regime’s opposition but with aiding Iranians in the quest for independent media and accurate information.

Mr. Ganji’s piece is apparently in response to an by Michael Rubin. But he seems not to have read it:

The congressional appropriation has grown from $1.4 million in 2004 to $66 million this year. Of this, $36 million disappears into the coffers of Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. The State Department applies an additional $5 million each to visitor exchange programs and to translation of its Web sites into Persian.

VOA Persian and Radio Free Europe (Radio Farda in Persian) are perhaps the closest things accessible in Iran to free media with wide coverage through their radio and TV programs. Mr. Ganji has used VOA’s platform several times already to reach his fellow Iranians. Now, he wouldn’t want them off, or would he?

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