Hosein Taeb’s Bouquet to the Waters
The Persians have an expression for it: Throwing a bouquet on the water. It means trying to do someone a favor, but making such a mess in the process that it completely backfires. The folk-etymology of this expression illustrates this well: A man wants to give a bouquet of flowers to the bride at a wedding. Unable to get in, he has them floated downstream. The bride, seeing the flowers, jumps into the water after them and drowns.
This is what the Islamic Republic did with its videos about the Taraneh Mousavi affair.
The Mordad 19 (August 10) edition of the television program 20-30, famous for being a propaganda outlet for the government, showed this video. It is a common belief among the reformists that the government is deliberately planting rumors which the opposition would then pick up. The regime would then discredit the rumors and thus discredit the opposition. It is easy to see that the government was going by this playbook. By hanging the Taraneh Mousavi story around the opposition’s neck, even in cases where opposition members did <i>not</i> endorse the story, it could then discredit the opposition by discrediting the story. For those who don’t know Persian, the program begins with a survey of a number of websites which carried this story. They include the Persian-language Wikipedia, NoRuz, Facebook, the Center for the Defense of Human Rights in Iran (Kanun Defa az Hoquq Bashar dar Iran), and the Committee of Human Rights Reporters ( Gozaresh Gozaran-e Hoquq Bashar). NoRuz belongs to the Participation Front of Islamic Iran, closely associated with Sayyed Mohammad Khatami. The Wikipedia article, the television program neglected to point out, introduced the possibility that the story was a hoax. The presence of a story on Facebook proves nothing–every conceivable idea appears there. The Center for the Defense of Human Rights is a set of websites posted, apparently, in Germany, each devoted to women, children, and other issues or from various disrepair and degrees of usefulness. And, indeed, I was able to find coverage of this story as news on one of the Center’s websites, although not the one indicated in the video. More seriously, the Committee of Human Rights Reporters carried two articles supporting the story.
The video falsely accuses Mr. Katuzian, the chair of the Majlis’ Rights Committee, of endorsing the story. As the conservative site Jam-e Jam Online reported,
Katuzian … , having stated that he had not expressed himself at all on the rumors about Ms. Taraneh Mousavi’s death, said, “Showing a picture of Your Servant in a program which has absolutely no relation with him seems very odd and unusual.”
He added, “Your Servant has some time ago been associated with that current which holds that these reports and rumors are a lie, but had been advised not to say so until there be more complete information. But apparently their idea of providing more complete information is to organize a scenario to ruin and take revenge on the nation’s representatives.”
He added, “It will definitely be interesting for the people to know who has made the suggestion that Your Servant and our colleagues no declare this mater a lie.”
The Taraneh Mousavi Show
The video then shows an alleged official saying that he was able to find three Taraneh Mousavis. One was too young, one was too old, but one was… just the right age. The picture of the just the right age Taraneh does not bear a convincing resemblance to the picture of the alleged victim Taraneh, so, again, it is unclear what the producers thought they were accomplishing. Here, it should be said that it is extremely unlikely that there are only three Taraneh Mousavis in the world. Mousavi is a very common name, as is Taraneh.
Several men paid a visit to the family of this Taraneh. From within their apartment we see an older woman answering the door. Unless we believe that this footage of this woman opening the door was stock footage, the producers had placed the camera there before they paid their visit. It is hard to imagine what they meant to convey by including this footage; it ruined any sense of spontaneity in its scenario.
After the older woman, who we learn is Taraneh’s mother, lets them in, the interview with her and a younger woman, whom we are introduced to as Taraneh’s sister, begins. The picture of the girl from the government’s files is shown to the older woman, and she recognizes it as her daughter. But her daughter had been in Canada for several years and had last been in Iran no earlier than about a year and a half ago. They had in fact just spoken to her that morning and heard no such story from her. Thus, the producers want us to believe, the story of Taraneh the rape and murder victim is discredited.
Then more anomalies appear. The two women had never heard the story swirling around the internet for a month that their Taraneh Mousavi had died a horrible death at the hands of government agents. They both gave what seem to me very natural and sweet laughs at the very thought. This was the first they had heard about it. They call their Taraneh, waking her up, and tell them about the story. Taraneh’s sister can hardly contain her laughter. The scene is appropriately awkward. They have just woken up this young student across the world with a preposterous story. The line is cut. This is a deft touch. One can almost hear how annoyed their Taraneh was at being woken up to hear such nonsense from her sister. No matter. It is very hard to believe that a Taraneh Mousavi with access to an unfiltered internet connection could have remained ignorant of such a dramatic story about her alleged namesake.
There is something else odd about the speech of the two women, which otherwise struck me as unforced. They both use the expression “sar-e kar“, the sort of slang used by rowdies and hooligans, not by such refined ladies.
There are other peculiarities.
• If the story is a hoax, as the Islamic Republic’s propagandists claim, why would the hoaxsters use a real Taraneh Musavi? If I were making up a story about a drug dealer, say, would I use the name of someone I actually know?
• The Taraneh in the original story was an only child. This in itself would have gone far to discredit the story about the victim-Taraneh. But the government seemed blithely unaware of it.
• Do the parents have no photographs of their daughter whom they had sent to Canada? This would have clinched the argument and would have been very easy to provide, but the interviewer does not even make this minimal effort to prove his case.
• The government could easily have arranged an interview with the Taraneh Mousavi in Canada, but chose not to.
The regime’s story quickly unraveled. Iranians greeted the video with scorn, as can be seen in the comments which can on You Tube and Google, where the regime’s opponents quickly posted them, raising some of the same questions which appeared here. More enterprising researchers went on a hunt for other Taraneh Mousavis, of whom, you will recall, the government claimed that there were only three. One was identified, namely, an oboe player in an all-female musical ensemble. Another was identified in Gorgon, in northern Iran.
This video only made matters worse for the regime. It revived a particularly horrifying story of government cruelty which was on its way out. Imagining that they could discredit the opposition by discrediting the story, they only leant credence to a story which many Iranians treated with skepticism. The people spontaneously assumed that, since the regime was denying it, it must be true. Moreover, as luck would have it, it came at a time when stories of real rapes were emerging from the Islamic Republic’s dungeons. Amineh Amini of Feminist School posted an article saying that, whereas before, there was a lack of evidence about the case and the matter was unclear, Karroubi’s letter to Hashemi-Rafsanjani of 17 Mordad (August 8) revealed the reality of rape in the Islamic Republic’s prisons. Moreover, the regime’s campaign of denials, she argued, had no credibility. This line of argument was accepted by the Human Rights Activists News Agency (Khabargozariye Majmueye Faalan-e Hoquq-e Bashar dar Iran), which took the position in a posting that it had originally been skeptical of the story, but felt that it prefigured what is now being learned about the use of rape as a terror tactic in the Islamic Republic’s prisons.
On 9 Mordad, Hojjatoleslam Mehdi Karroubi sent a secret letter to Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani . According to an article published in Iran, a pro-Ahmadinejad daily, after Rafsanjani refrained from answering him for ten days, Karroubi decided to go public with the letter. (In fact, according to Mehdi Karroubi’s son, Hosein, Karroubi’s intention–as reflected in the text of the letter–was to have Rafsanjani send letter to Ayatollah Khamenei (with whom, he implausibly claims, he had a good relationship), but Rafsanjani instead sent it to Ayatollah Shahrudi, the chief of the Judiciary, who was even then on his way out of office.) This article used the line of argument pursued in the second set of frame-up tries and tried to relate his charges with those of the Peoples Mojahedin in 1981 and used the charges raised there about Mojahed infiltration into the protest movement to support his case. The attacks on Karroubi intensified in mid-August, as if by a signal. The pro-government Fars News carried more and more articles on this theme. Leader Ali Khamenei’s representative in Semnan labeled Karroubi’s letter “disgusting” and “a tasty morsel for the system’s enemies.” “Publishing this letter,” he added,” is to gamble with Iran’s honor.” The judiciary should investigate the charges and, should they be proven true, the culprit should be publicly executed, but if not, the false accuser should be tried and punished. The people responsible for this story should stop making mischief and return to the Leader. (Of course, this is precisely what Karroubi had been trying to accomplish all along…) The Friday Imam of Rasht was less charitable. “Karroubi,” he said, “has brought the country’s character under question with his lying charges and attributes to the Islamic system the crimes committed by the Americans in Abu Ghraib and Guantanemo. He must be tried for this.” He was, in addition, accused of unspecified improprieties as head of the Martyr’s Foundation.
These attacks reached a crescendo in mid-August.
Karroubi thereupon launched a blistering counter-attack, which was translated and posted by Tehran Bureau. This counter-attack happened to take place about five days after the government’s Taraneh Mousavi video was shown on television. Karroubi looked into the government’s dubious video. Elsewhere, I have translated what Karroubi had to say there about the Taraneh Mousavi affair. In this essay, he shows himself as someone who was inclined to believe the original Taraneh Mousavi story, but hazy on the details. In any case, he found himself at first convinced by the government’s video, but swung back to believing the story when a young activist dismissed the video as a fake. According to his version of the story, he had been informed about the truth of the story by an acquaintance of his who also knew Hojjatoleslam Shahmoradi, the brother-in-law of the video Taraneh Mousavi, and he went public after checking the details with Shahmoradi himself.1 Whatever his source, he exposed the video as a transparent fraud. His most interesting revelation was that Hojjatoleslam Hosein Taeb, the newly-appointed head of the Tehran Basij, had a hand in this production.
This launched some fevered speculation that Taeb had actually been Taraneh Musavi’s rapist. One blogger, reasoned that Taeb had made the film in a panicked reaction to Karroubi’s letter to Rafsanjani. If that was his calculation, the least that can be said is that it backfired very badly; the letter only mentioned as unconfirmed reports the occurrence of rape in Iranian prisons, and it was only after the Taraneh Mousavi video that he mentioned Taeb’s role in the process, and that in a speech which lent credence to the internet rumors about the other Taraneh Mousavi. More seriously, no witnesses have placed Taeb at the scene of the crime, although there were plenty of witnesses who could have. (The author also confuses Hosein Taeb with Mehdi Taeb, as the one who called for 80 lashes for Karroubi for calling for an investigation into allegations of the rape of prisoners.) Of course, this sort of behavior on Taeb’s part cannot in general be ruled out; Taeb had practiced in the Islamic Republic’s interrogation techniques since 1981.
One measure of the new life given the Taraneh Mousavi story is that Morteza Alviri, a leading pro-Rafsanjani politician and a friend of Ayatollah Montazeri, declared that she was one of seven people who had vanished in the aftermath of the elections of whom there is neither a record of imprisonment or execution or contact with a family member. These names will be presented to a special Majlis commission.
Bring in the Clowns
With the approaching of the fortieth day after the alleged Taraneh Mousavi’s death, the sponsors of the Taraneh Mousavi hoax found a new opportunity to raise their story. Let’s visit Cherik Online (Online Guerilla) and see what they came up with.
A post dated August 3, 2009, says,
Taraneh Mousavi’s father, who was a dentist and and was laid up in bed at home because of a heart ailment and a heart operation for a month, died.
According to a report by the Online Guerrilla, the date of Taraneh Mousavi’s father, according to a knowledgeable source, was the fourth or fifth of Mordad, i.e., a week ago.
At present, the only person remaining in Taraneh’s family is her mother, a relatively tall and slightly chubby woman with short white hair, white skin, and a growth like a double chin resulting from goiters on the right side of her neck.
I was going to comment on this story, but the blog’s readers beat me to the punch.
Anonymous, August 3, 2009:
“You always have good news on your blog, but this time, no matter how much I thought about it, I could not figure out why you are presenting Taraneh Mousavi’s visible personal characteristics, and in such detail???!!!!!”
Anonymous, August 11, 2009:
Why have you shown no response to the 20:30 show which denied the report about Taraneh Mousavi? If you have firm sources of information on this, you really should be able to present more important sources for Taraneh Mousavi to improve your blog’s credibility.
Anonymous, August 11, 2009:
Dear Guerilla, this report about Taraneh Mousavi stank from the start. In my opinion, it is absolutely unimportant if this case is true or not, since they have done thousands of other filthy deeds which cause this story (whether it is true or false) to appear true. In any case, most places refer to you as the prime source of this report. I, too, as I recall, saw this news for the first time on Balatarin. I don’t know if this is true or false, but if you can indirectly confirm the report you have given, it would increase your blog’s credibility among the people.
A post dated August 17, 2009 announces Online Guerilla’s calculation of Taraneh Mousavi’s Fortieth. The fortieth day of a person’s death is an important one in Shiite Islam, observed with great solemnity. Here is the post:
The first of Shahrivar marks the fortieth day after Taraneh Mousavi’s death. News of her arrest at the meeting at Qoba Mosque was announced by her family on 24 Tir.
According to Cherik Online’s report, Taraneh Mousavi disappeared for eighteen days after her arrest and then her family was faced with her burnt body. On 24 Tir, her family reported the discovery of her body around Qazvin, but the exact date of her death was not specified. Therefore, the date of her death has been calculated from 24 Tir. By this calculation, the fortieth day after her death is on Shahrivar 1.
The Green Movement has held meetings for the passing of many of its martyrs. If there is any inclination towards holding a meeting for the fortieth day after Taraneh Mousavi’s passing and this meeting is officially announced by the media controlled by the Greens, Online Guerilla will publish Taraneh Mousavi’s address.
The place of Mousavi’s interment has been announced as the village Vazivar, near Chamestan in Mazandaran.
It is astonishing that after all this time of honoring the Mousavi family’s privacy and keeping its whereabouts a secret, the Online Guerilla is taking it upon himself to unilaterally publish this address to lure the Green Movement into recognizing a story it has been keeping at arm’s length.
No stories have since appeared on Online Guerilla, although it had published five stories the first half of August.
I have mentioned the hoax perpetrated by Online Guerilla about the Revolutionary Guard commander who refused to order his men into action. When this was exposed by said commander, the Online Guerilla blamed the Islamic Republic for deceiving him. If and when the truth comes out about who started the Taraneh Mousavi hoax and why, we can look forward to a similar act of cowardice and irresponsibility from this Online Che Guevara!
Then there is Online Guerilla’s comrade website, Iranian Leftists, run by Omid Habibinia out of Switzerland. He has also been depressed and frustrated about the skepticism the hoax he helped launch has received in the independent Iranian blogosphere. Radio Zamaneh “has taken its place next to the [Iranian] judiciary, police, and Voice and Vision” in denying the existence of Taraneh Mousavi.” This should cheer the Islamic Republic’s conspiracy mongers, who consider Radio Zamaneh to be part of the international media assault on the Ahmadinejad government. Links to the “interview” with an alleged friend of Taraneh Mousavi were also removed from many reformist websites. Here, it must be said that this interview was even more ridiculous than the Taraneh Mousavi Show orchestrated by the Islamic Republic’s security forces. Let the reader decide.
But Iranian Leftists consoles himself that Taraneh Mousavi’s case was introduced into the American Congress. Of course, he does not report that this was done by a right-wing congressman to suit his own political agenda. Any port in a storm…
1 This mysterious source who had tipped Karroubi off could not have been Taeb, who was a mortal enemy of Karroubi’s and only appears on his radar screen late in the day. It is conceivable that this mysterious character is a pious fiction to shield Karroubi from Shahmoradi’s charges of oath-breaking, but this would leave him open to an a ngry rejoinder by Shahmoradi.