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Jewish World Review Sept. 4, 2002 / 27 Elul, 5762

Michael Ledeen

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Consumer Reports

Iran, according to the Times: All the nonsense that's fit to print | Having failed to report on the tumultuous events in Iran for nearly a year, the New York Times treated its readers last Thursday to an extensive description of a non-event. The day before, the country's nominal president, Mohammed Khatami, had given one of his usual rambling press conferences. As always, he ranted against America and Israel. And as usual, he whined about his powerlessness, commenting ruefully that a president without power is useless, which is about as accurate a short description of his own tenure as one could ask for. This time he introduced what the Times stringer took to be a new theme: Khatami vowed to introduce legislation that would require the country's real powers-that-be to permit him to exercise the (quite limited) powers given him by the constitution.

The Times gave Khatami star billing, complete with a headline announcing that he was proposing laws to limit the power of the religious leaders.

The Iranian people recognized this for the joke that it was. If you have no power - and Khatami admitted as much with his whining - you're not going to get it by telling those who actually have it that they have to share it with you. There have been plenty of good laws in the past six-seven years, but none of them has any force because they have been nullified by the various oversight bodies that are manned by the mullahs and ayatollahs who hold all the real power.

And why should anyone take seriously a threat from a man who is now 75 percent of the way through a two-term presidency, and has accomplished less than nothing? Iranians are certainly worse off, freedom has been restricted even more (some 86 publications have been shut down in the past two years - including one newspaper that hadn't even begun publishing - scores of journalists, editors, and publishers have been arrested, and hundreds of students and teachers have been beaten, incarcerated, tortured and killed), and Khatami is even weaker than he was at the start. Why should the Iranian people give a hoot about this man, who, in the very same remarks, fawningly praised the Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, the selfsame tyrant who has blocked even the most modest steps toward liberalization and freedom?

The Times clearly either doesn't know what's happening, or doesn't want its readers to understand the true import of events in Iran. On Sunday, the editorialists came out with an attack on American support for dictators, and belabored our alliance with the Shah of Iran in the 1970s. Nothing was said about the Clinton administration's shameful romance with the mullahs, or the current State Department's efforts - right up until George W. Bush's latest denunciation of the Islamic Republic - to cut a deal with the murderers who rule the country today.

Meanwhile, back in Tehran, things are getting even uglier. During the last few weeks, there has been a new wave of repression in Iran, sometimes taking surprising form. Ten days ago, for example, nearly 400 religious men were rounded up in the holy city of Qom, and sent to jail in Tehran. Their crime was that they were followers of the two clerics who have openly challenged Khamenei in recent months, the Ayatollahs Taheri and Montazeri. One of the country's most outspoken intellectuals, Professor Hashem Aghajari, was put on trial (as usual, in secret session) for allegedly blasphemous remarks (he advocated separation of mosque and state and called for open discussion of Islamic principles). He could be sentenced to death. A moderate political party was shut down, hundreds of students were arrested - some because they were listening to Western music on a beach - and the country's leading civil-rights lawyer, Dr. Zarafshan, was sentenced to 50 lashes and two years in jail.

The regime is so paranoid that it is even purging the military. A number of senior officers have been forced into early retirement, and the regime is restructuring the armed forces. This reinforces the popular belief that in the event of the anti-regime uprising for which everyone is waiting, the military commanders will join the insurrectionaries. This is probably correct; just last week, in demonstrations in working-class neighborhoods in the south of Tehran, a number of soldiers joined the ranks of the protesters. And why not? Most Iranian workers haven't been paid for months, and the military is no better off. You can get a sense of the enormity of the crisis by the recent announcement that the regime will transfer thousands of Iranian workers overseas, and has created a special section of the labor ministry to organize the exodus to Africa and Southeast Asia.

The repression has not silenced the opposition. The student organizations have called for two national demonstrations in coming days: the first to commemorate the mass slaughter of 1988, in which between 10,000 and 30,000 people were killed by the regime, the second to mark the attack against America on September 11. And the Ayatollah Taheri, who famously resigned as prayer leader of Isfahan this summer, has continued a steady drumbeat of criticism, underlining the misery of the people and the grotesque luxury of the regime.

Neither the ongoing protests nor the vicious crackdown has received comment from any Western government, perhaps because no major Western newspaper has described it in any detail. One wonders what work is being done by our "human rights" officials, whether the dozens of State Department employees in the Human Rights Bureau, or Elliott Abrams's office in the National Security Council. Whatever their excuse, the silence is both cowardly and embarrassing, as is that from the feisty bipartisan coalition that spoke out so eloquently against the religious repression in Sudan.

It should not be necessary to remind our leaders, in government and in the media, that Iran is the mother of modern terrorism, the creator of Hezbollah, the protector of al Qaeda, the engine of Islamic Jihad, and the supporter of Hamas. The president has given three magnificent statements about the evil of the Iranian regime and the bravery of the Iranian people. Both as a matter of national strategy and as a question of national honor, we should be helping the Iranians battle their oppressors, just as we supported the Yugoslavs against Milosevic and the Poles against the Kremlin.

Failure to do so will cost us heavily in the coming war. In the past few days, an additional 200 al Qaeda terrorists entered Iran via Zabol. The Iranians are providing them with false passports, with which they will travel to Lebanon to join their comrades. Their intentions are not known, but they will swell the growing ranks of a terrorist army in Lebanon that can be deployed against American armed forces, or against Israel. The Iranians have provided their new ally, Saddam Hussein, with a substantial number of missiles, and they have recently opened a new front company in Dubai to lease about two dozen Bell helicopters which, when cannibalized, will provide spare parts for more than a hundred Iranian helicopters that have been grounded for years.

Yet the American government contents itself with occasional speeches from the president, and the New York Times regales us with fairy tales about a make-believe Iranian pol.

Faster, please.

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JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of, most recently, The War Against the Terror Masters. Comment by clicking here.


08/21/02: Life and death of Abu Nidal tells us a great deal about our enemies
08/08/02: Can You Keep a Secret?: The media silence on Iran
08/06/02: Fantasy Reporting: The latest disinformation from the Washington Post
08/02/02: Propping Up the Terror Masters: Europe's Solana on tour
07/16/02: Bush vs. the Mullahs: Getting on the side of the Iranian freedom fighters
07/12/02: The State Department Goes Mute: It's official: State has no message
07/09/02: History being made, but the West appears clueless
06/05/02: Is George Tenet endangering peace in Israel?
06/03/02: Ridiculous, even for a journalist
05/20/02: So how come nobody's been fired yet?
05/14/02: Open doors for thugs
04/20/02: Iran on the Brink … and the U.S. does nothing
04/16/02: It’s the war, stupid … someone remind Colin Powell
04/08/02: Gulled: In the Middle East, Arafat doesn't matter
04/02/02: Faster, Please: The war falters
03/26/02: The Revolution Continues: What's brewing in Iran
03/18/02: Iran simmers still: Where's the press?
03/05/02: We can't lose any more ground in Iran
02/14/02: The Great Iranian Hoax
02/12/02: Unnoticed Bombshell: Key information in a new book
01/31/02: The truth behind the Powell play
01/29/02: My past with "Johnny Jihad's" lawyer
01/21/02: It's Munich, all over again
01/08/02: What's the Holdup?: It's time for the next battles in the war against terrorism
12/11/01: We must be imperious, ruthless, and relentless
12/06/01: Remembering my family friend, Walt Disney
11/28/01: The Barbara Olson Bomb: Understanding the war
11/13/01: How We're Doing: The Angleton Files, IV
11/06/01: A great revolutionary war is coming
10/25/01: How to talk to a terrorist
10/23/01: Creative Reporting: Learning to appreciate press briefings
10/19/01: Not the Emmys: A Beltway award presentation
10/15/01: Rediscovering American character
10/11/01: Somehow, I've missed Arafat's praise of the first stage of our war on terrorism
10/04/01: What do we not know?
09/28/01: Machiavelli On Our War: Some advice for our leaders
09/25/01: No Room for the U.N.: Keeping Annan & co. out of the picture
09/21/01: Creative destruction
09/14/01: Who Killed Barbara Olson?
08/22/01: How Israel will win this war
08/15/01: Bracing for war
08/09/01: More Dithering Democrats
08/02/01: Delirious Dems
07/31/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit, cont'd
07/19/01: Be careful what you wish for
07/17/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit
07/05/01: Let Slobo Go
05/30/01: Anybody out there afraid of the Republicans?
05/09/01: The bad guys to the rescue
05/07/01: Bye-bye, Blumenthal
04/20/01: Handling China
04/11/01: EXAM TIME!
04/05/01: Chinese over-water torture
03/27/01: Fighting AIDS in Africa is a losing proposition
03/14/01: Big Bird, Oscar, and other threats
03/09/01: Time for a good, old-fashioned purge
03/06/01: Powell’s great (mis)adventure
02/26/01: The Clinton Sopranos
02/20/01: Unity Schmoonity: Sharon is defying the will of the people
01/30/01: The Rest of the Rich Story
01/22/01: Ashcroft the Jew
01/11/01: A fitting close to the Clinton years
12/26/00: Continuing Clinton's shameful legacy
12/21/00: Clinton’s gift for Bush

© 2001, Michael Ledeen