By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Much of the world’s media in its slavish devotion to endlessly presenting Iran as “moderating” and “reforming” has headlined the recent Iran elections as a victory for “reformers”.
From Al-Jazeera claiming that the vote was “confidence in President and his reformist partners”, to Swedish papers claiming the “reformists look to improve after election,” to the BBC claim that “Early results gave Mr Rafsanjani, a moderate Conservative, and Mr Rouhani respectively the most votes for the assembly, which is composed of mostly elder and senior clerics.By contrast, the leading candidate of Islamic hardliners, Ayatollah Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, was hovering near the bottom of the list.” You’d think that Bernie Sanders had been elected the President of Iran.
It’s been a long-term narrative. In 2014 Open Democracy noted: “Either the Islamic Republic wishes to remain in its fundamentalist cocoon and alienate more educated, westward-looking young Iranians, as well as be regarded as a pariah by the international community, or it wishes to join the modern world.” Media has decided that Iranian politics is divided between “hard liners” and “reformers” as part of a way to package Iran to make it’s totalitarian theocracy more palatable to the West. The same people who abhor Donald Trump applaud politics in Iran that makes Trump look like a raving liberal leftist.
Hidden in stories about the great victory of the “reformers” was some evidence to the contrary. At the CBC, “The country’s powerful Guardian Council, dominated by hardliners, barred thousands of reformist candidates from running in Friday’s elections for the Majlis, Iran’s parliament, and the Assembly of Experts, a powerful advisory body.”
What will the reformers be “reforming”? “Reformers see this election as a chance to build the movement and at the same time decrease the power of Iran’s hardliners, who oppose stronger relations with Western nations, particularly the United States.” Reform in Iran boils down not to any kind of internal reform but merely whether the country will accept more or less money from the West to shore up its weak economy and fill the coffers of its “Revolutionary Guards” to wage war throughout the region.
So why do we continue to deceive ourselves that a country that hangs whole villages of men, where women are detained for how they dress, is “reforming” and “moderating.” It’s amazing how every media contains the same exact wording on this issue. At the Guardian: “Reformists from all different parties have put aside their differences after many years to agree on a joint list of candidates in an unprecedented form of coalition aimed at blocking hardliners from entering the parliament.” There is no critical media, no one asks what does it mean “reform” or “moderate.” Only the UK Telegraph strayed a bit from the Pravda talking points, noting that in fact the election was taking place in the “Shia Vatican” and pitted “ultra-conservatives” against “pragmatic conservatives.” After all, around half the 12,000 people running in the election were banned from running.
How does this happen that the Iran regime is able to sell itself so well in the West to an uncritical media that fears speaking truth to power. None of the media involved asks what “reforms” are being done in Iran. What reforms for this theocratic, extreme-rightist, conservative, hate-filled, racist, sexist, homophobic, dress-code enforcing, hanging, stoning, author fatwa supporting, imperialist, anti-Baha’i, intolerant, narrow-minded, extremist, absolutist, fake democratic, religious run, totalitarian, Assad barrel-bomb supporting, murderous, anti-human, fascist, bigoted, blackmailing, abusive, arrogant regime are in the works?
Iran’s regime is one of the most extreme countries in the world. It denies basic rights on almost every level to its population. It violates human rights in a massive and blatant manner, even boasting it executed the entire male population of a village for drug offenses. The regime is an absolute blight on humanity, similar in its extremism only to places like Saudi Arabia. There is not one reform that it has acted upon. It is one of the few countries in the world where women’s dress is dictated by law, one of only a handful of countries where homosexuals can be executed.
It is unconscionable that the regime candidates who all support these policies receive a stamp of approval throughout the world as “reformers”. They are imbued with positive qualities. It is a classic betrayal of basic human rights, that those especially in the West turn the most extreme right wing fundamentalist intolerant conservatives, into “moderates.” In the time of Apartheid we used to also hear about the “moderates” in South Africa in the 1980s. But in the face of fundamental injustice, and the denying of basic rights, there are no “moderates.” There are not “moderate” fascists, no “moderate” Nazis, no “moderate” members of the KKK, no “moderate” Al-Qaeda, no “moderate” Stalinists. There is no such thing as “moderate” imperialism. You can’t have “moderate” genocide. There is not a “moderate” hanging.
Instead of constantly coddling the Iranian regime and singing the praises of the false “moderates,” it is the duty of the media to speak truth to the power of this objectionable regime. Judge the “reformers” on the reforms they make. Are there more women’s rights? Are Bahai granted more rights, and not being exterminated in the land of the religion’s birth? Are there reforms on women’s rights?
The support the Iranian regime enjoys in the West media is an example of the constant love affair that the West has for those abroad who hold diametric opposite views and values than the values in the home society. Support abortion rights in France But call those who deny abortion rights “reformer” in Iran. Support rights to free speech in Spain? But deny the same rights to those in Iran. The Western view is that the Iranian individual does not deserve the same rights as those in the West. It is an essentialist, racist, neo-orientalist view that posits that whereas “I” deserve certain rights, “they” do not.
Is it any wonder that Iranians make up many of the refugees fleeing to Europe. When a ski resort in Sweden that hosted refugees, among them was a Taekwondo instructor. In the photos in the article she is seen wearing what she wants, sweat pants and her hair flowing in the air. Not in Iran, under the European-supported “moderates” and “reformers”. If it’s so “moderate” and liberal in Iran, why do people risk life and death to flee the place?
Because it is not moderate, not reforming. It is growing more conservative, it’s extremist leadership is cemented. It is reinforced in its desire to control the people and spread its influence in the region. Iran doesn’t build universities and teach people new ideas. It only exports intolerance.