Last night, someone posted a comment to a translation of an article I had posted about a month ago. The post read “Rubbish” and included a link to an article by one Jeremy R. Hammond. I replied that I would look into the matter. But I will deal with Hammond’s essay, “The Case of the ‘Fatwa’ to Rig Iran’s Election” rather than the one sent me in the “Rubbish” email.
Hammond’s essays belong to a genre of articles alleging that the resistance to Ahmadinejad is a CIA plot, that the millions of young people pouring into the streets resisting him were at best privileged youths angry at the mullahs for spoiling their fun and at worst supporters of neo-liberalism against the progressive/populist Ahmadinejad. Most of these authors know neither Persian nor Iran. Their main tool is reasoning by analogy: (Country name’s) government is making problems for America and America has poured millions of dollars into subverting it and a revolt breaks out which (threatens, topples) (country name’s) government; Iran’s government is making trouble for America and America has poured millions of dollars into subverting it and a revolt breaks out which threatens Iran’s government. Therefore America is responsible for the revolt in Iran.
This argument breaks down on a number of levels. As Mohammad Sahimi pointed out, the CIA has no real information about, not to mention working relationship with, any of Iran’s leadership, as opposed to the strong American presence on the ground in, say, Georgia or Venezuela.
Second, where did the regime-change crowd’s money go? Anyone who wants can consult the National Endowment for Democracy website. No bags of dollars stuffing Musavi’s pockets…
But, you can argue, this is chicken feed. The NED funding to Iran over the last eight years do not amount to much more than a million dollars, much of it spent cultivating Iranians already in the West with no apparent plans to return real soon. What about the $400 million allegedly planned to be used to take down the Tehran regime, as reported by Seymour Hersh? A reading of his article makes it clear that this money is not for buying leaders of the Islamic Republic or generating crowds of millions of people; on the contrary, it is for a campaign of assassinations, fomenting ethnic violence, and the like. To invoke this money is precisely to prove the Iranian opposition’s independence. Indeed, as I have demonstrated elsewhere, it was precisely the movements which would have received this largess which were the most apathetic this past month. Moreover, in the best of circumstances it is hard to imagine the CIA pulling millions of people into the streets, let along under the conditions it would have had to work with in Iran, as Reese Erlich points out.
But now, let’s get to Hammand’s writings.
“The propaganda campaign to paint the victory of the incumbent candidate in Iran’s June presidential election as having been a stolen one began early.”
One might better write, “The campaign to steal Iran’s June presidential election began early.” The opposition had valid concerns over the elections. The last presidential elections were won by Ahmadinejad after a suspicious last-minute surge snatched it away from the challenger, reformist cleric Hojjatoleslam Mehdi Karubi. The Ahmadinejad government put the electoral process in the hands of people who were members of ministries it had packed with its own men and excluded outside observers. SMS text messaging was shut down as the ballots were counted, making it impossible to get a running total.
The vote count was performed with super-human speed, after which Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei immediately declared his protege, Ahmanidnejad, the winner, flouting the Islamic Republic’s laws.
None of this finds its way into Hammond’s essay. Certainty is much easier to attain if you shield yourself from inconvenient facts. Instead, he trains his magnifying glass on a “mysterious” fatwa declaring electoral fraud obligatory upon a Muslim leader. He raises questions about the fatwa’s source, and from his point of view, they are reasonable. But it is now well-known that this fatwa had been issued by Ayatollah Mesbahi-Yazdi, rendering Hammond’s criticisms, indeed, his whole article, a dead letter.
In any case, Hammond finds the fatwa dubious, and so dubious must be its source. Therefore he turns his magnifying glass on its English-language source. The obvious answer to his question, “[I]f an ayatollah issued a ‘fatwa’ ordering the election to be rigged to result in a win for Ahmadinejad, why haven’t we heard about this elsewhere?” is: BECAUSE YOU DON’T READ PERSIAN!
But that question can be turned around. There was a time when Iranian politicians and activists could forge fatwas from leading Iranian mojtaheds and get away with it. By the time the forged fatwa had been published and the population suitably excited, it would be too late for the mojtahed to repudiate it. Thus it was, historians believe, with the alleged fatwa of the Mirza of Shiraz, the supreme Shiite authority of his age, to boycott tobacco, thus setting off the Tobacco Revolt. But we are living in different times, and this fatwa is of a different character. Delivering a fatwa calling for political chicanery in the name of Islam is not something one would hesitate to disown unless… it was genuine.
Now if the story is dubious, dubious must be its source, Tehran Bureau, which broke the story in English. He pours over the career of Kelly Golnoush Niknejad, pausing over its rather ordinary details, taking time out to mutter, “Just as I suspected!” He finds the statement, “A recurrent theme in Tehran Bureau’s coverage this year will be revolution and exile” (emphasis added) “interesting”. Um, or not. The reason Ms. Niknejad is in “exile” is because there was a “revolution”. He continues,
Curiously [?], the domain TehranBureau.com is owned not by Niknejad, but by Jason Rezaian. Even more curiously [??], that domain name was created on June 12, 2008 – exactly one year to the day before Iran’s presidential election, and months before Niknejad says she set up Tehran Bureau in 2008, which was several months before she actually announced the launch of Tehran Bureau on Blogspot, which was prior to its actual move to TehranBureau.com.
Boy, those spooks don’t miss a trick. “[E]xactly one year to the day before Iran’s presidential election.” Fiendishly clever!
Hammond’s tin ear for Iranian reality is illustrated in this paragraph, which we produce without comment:
NPR [National Public Radio] notes that “Niknejad also knows her site is big enough now to be noticed by the Iranian government. She publishes most reports without bylines.” As noted previously, the piece on the “open letter” was published without author attribution. So here, despite being characterized as “one of the most reliable sources for news” by the mainstream media, we have an acknowledgment that Tehran Bureau would simply “copy and paste” information about events in Iran without attribution or sourcing.
Niknejad, Hammond notes it says in her autobiography, lived in Dubai for a year as a journalist. The State Department has recognized that Dubai is a great place to recruit Iranians and gain intelligence. Hammond then spends several paragraphs insinuating that Niknejad is a spy. (Niknejad: “If Iranians are suspicious of journalists, it’s partly because our reporting jobs can seem like the perfect cover to gather intelligence” Hammond: “As they often are.”) He does whatever he can to twist her words into sounding sinister. The perfectly innocuous statement,
Things got worse the following year, when the Bush administration asked Congress for tens of millions of dollars to secretly fund NGOs and activists to destabilize the Iranian government. It stoked government paranoia and became an effective tool in the hands of officials who have used it to stifle dissent and spread fear.
To mean its opposite:
The objection, in this widely shared criticism of the Bush administration, generally isn’t that the U.S. is engaging in such activities, just that by doing so in such a blatant and open manner it actually undermined the efforts of Iranian dissident and opposition groups struggling to accomplish a change of government in Iran. In other words, the U.S. shouldn’t be perceived as interfering in Iranian affairs. The implied corollary is that if the U.S. is going to interfere, it should do so in a manner that allows it a measure of plausible deniability – something the U.S. didn’t have under Bush.
But she was not making a statement about the issue in general, only about the difficulties it was creating for her as a working journalist, and there is no clear reason not to take this simple observation at face value.
Here’s another brilliant example of the author’s paranoid style. At a conference on the situation in Iran after the elections, a speaker says,
“Various organizations were also involved, such as women’s organizations, journalist organizations, youth organizations, and others. The protests, he said, were an “outgrowth” of the campaigning in early June.”
One prominent organization campaigning for women’s rights in Iran [Hammond continues] is the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation (ABF) in Washington D.C., a recipient of funding from the National Endowment for Democracy, which in turn is mandated financing under U.S. law from the Congress, despite its pretense of being a “non-governmental organization”.
First, the grants for the Boroumond Foundation were for setting up a database on the history of human rights in Iran–and that is all. It had no relationship with what was going on in the streets. Second, Hammond’s reasoning would imply that any woman’s group (or labor group or minority organization) is ipso facto an agent of the Americans, since some woman’s group (or labor group or minority organization) has received money from the Americans. Organizations like the petition campaign for a million signatures to nullify anti-woman laws or the Feminist School have never taken a dime from the Americans, but could be charged under this particularly far-fetched form of guilt by association.
Continuing to dissect this speaker’s talk, he writes,
Interestingly, Keshavarzian [the above-mentioned speaker] also listed “election irregularities” included in the “fatwa”, including the charge that mobile polling stations the printing of a large number of extra ballots were suspicious activities. He also stated that Mousavi’s campaign headquarters had been attacked, and that all these things were evidence of fraud. Every one of these claims can be traced to Tehran Bureau.
Moving on, Hammond turns his magnifying glass on WashingtonTV. He notes that its website is hosted by GoDaddy.com, Inc. He neglects to note that GoDaddy.com, Inc. is (excuse me) the classic low-budget host. Hardly the recipient of millions of dollars in government aid. (Disclaimer: I was this page.
I have made light of Hammond’s essays, but the issues it deals with are serious. First, let us agree with Hammond that the American government would not be doing its job if it were not seeking leaders in the Iranian opposition to groom. I believe that this poses a real danger to the movement, which needs to maintain its independence from what Washington desires. The last thing Iran needs is another Chalabi.
Second, Hammond’s reckless and obsessive attempts to smear honest and patriotic Iranians who are appalled by the Ahmadinejad regime and the way it stole the elections in plain view as American agents puts them in danger. He absolutely refuses to accept clear evidence that, for example, the Mesbahi-Yazdi fatwa is real, yet twists every innocuous statement of theirs to attack them in this manner.
Tags: Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Mesbahi-Yazdi, Iran, Jason Rezaian, Jeremy R. Hammond, Kelly Golnoush Niknejad, Mehdi Karroubi, Mehdi Karubi, Seymour Hersh, Tehran BureauSubscribe in a reader