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Media mirage
American journalists and Iranian elections

March 5, 2004

A recent Harvard book (1) reminds the public about the controversy provoked by New York Times' Walter Duranty reports from the Soviet Union and the Pulitzer prize he won in 1932 . Like many other journalists and intellectuals he was soft on Stalin's terrible suppression of peasants opposed to the forced "collectivization" of agriculture . Duranty and other Western reporters found many excuses for the bloodshed and repression accompanying the so-called Communist "experiment".

Reading about Iran in the past seven years in the New York Times , the Washington Post, the Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, Le Monde and many other Western papers, reminded me of the Soviet "enthusiasts" of the 1930s and 1940s in the West.

Indeed a majority of the Middle East reporters and specialists saluted the "landslide" election of Mr Khatami as president of the Iranian Khomeinist theocracy as a sign of democratization. They created their own out of whole cloth analysis of Iranian politics in presenting Khatami and his minions as "reformists" if not totally "liberals".

According to Western journalists these so-called "moderates" opposed the "conservatives" harsh liners and the supreme leader ayatollah Khamenei who had to compromise with them because of the popular support they enjoyed . This fictious explanation of Iranian politics perdured for seven years even in Western governmental circles .

The British, French and German officials, in turn, invented the so-called "constructive dialogue" with Tehran. They even boasted recently that they had persuaded Tehran's mullahs to make a clean breast of their nuclear programs and ambitions.

Not only did Khatami and his group of so-called reformists produce no reforms and were consequently rebuffed often by the hardliners, but it appears now that the mullahs, including Khatami and his ministers, deceived the UN atomic agency.

In that context, last month's elections, came as a clarifying "nostrum". Tired by the inefficiency and inaction of Khatami and his group, a majority of Iranians shunned the ballot box despite pressures and even menaces. The limited turnout of voters deprieves the theocratic regime of the few shreds of legitimacy it claimed. The conservatives impeached Khatami's parliamentary supporters before the vote and are therefore assured of a legislature at their entire devotion.

During the past seven years they had already muzzled the press and the media without facing any real reaction from Khatami. They also had unleashed their organized thugs against the students and other opponents. It seems that the general population, living in hardship, has lost hope for any peaceful reform and even turned its back to politics altogether. Only the students and a few liberal, democratic or leftist minded small groups pursue their opposition inside and outside the country.

Will finally journalists and other observers in the West come to a realistic assessment of Iranian politics? It took the so-called Soviet "enthusiasts" of the thirties and fourties almost half a century to revise their opinion. I don't think that Iranians can wait that long.

A quarter of century has already passed since the so-called Islamic revolution. Iranians seem totally disappointed by the attitude of the West. Some official declarations by the president about Iran and the Middle East in the past two and a half years kindled some hope. But they were quelled by contradictory actions and comments by cabinet members.

One can understand governmental fickleness: Indeed, Iran's Shiite theocratic regime can indirectly manipulate Iraq's 60% Shiite population and create problems for the Bush administration, especially in an electoral year.

But what about the press and the media? What about the Pulitzer Prize comittee? Are they going to help the mullahs gain another lease on life, as they did with the Soviet leaders in the thirties and fourties?

(1) Modernization From the Other Shore, by Daniel C. Egerman.

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Fereydoun Hoveyda was Iran's ambassador to the United Nations from 1971 to 1978. To learn more about the Hoveydas, visit their web site >>> Features

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