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TIME's interview with Ahmadinejad

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posted on Sep, 19 2006 @ 01:00 AM
The US administration is currently moving towards yet another unprovoked attack on a sovreign nation, this time Iraq. In order to make this seem reasonable to its own citizens, the propaganda machine has to be cranked up. We have already seen that MEMRI has mistranslated Ahmadinejad's remarks about Israel and that the IAEA takes a sharply different view of Iran's uranium enrichment programme to that of the US, maintaining that it's only enriching to 3% - adequate for reactor fuel and no more - and not the kind of percentage required for weapons, which would be in the ninety percent range.

So I read the interview with Ahmadinejad in TIME with some interest, keeping a weather eye open for spin... and there was plenty to be seen. What follows is an attempt to deconstruct the interview and point out the subtle and not-so-subtle spin informing the article.

You can find the complete interview here.

Setting the scene

The very title - "A Date with a Dangerous Mind" is the epitome of spin. We immediately know what we're supposed to be thinking - that Ahmadinejad is a slippery customer who cannot be trusted. This is a theme that will recur throughout the piece.

The article begins innocuously enough, although in the first paragraph we are told that Ahmadinejad "jabs the back of my hand for emphasis", which seems a rather invasive piece of body language. Did this actually happen? I'm not sure. It's an unsettling detail, and there are other details in the preamble which are not supported by the interview itself.

There are a couple of pointed references to Ahmedinejad's height. He's clearly a small man and the interviewer seems unduly keen to emphasise the point.

For a moment, he seems irked by the chair, perhaps because it makes him seem even smaller than his 5 ft. 4 in., but soon he's smiling, prodding, leaning forward to make his points....

...Ahmadinejad was still a curiosity--a diminutive, plainly dressed man ...

This, plus repeated reference to his cockiness, hints at Napoleon complex - the excessive aggressiveness attributed to small people in positions of power.

The article then cites three instances of his "incendiary" rhetoric, which have been spun and/or mistranslated by rather biased sources such as MEMRI:

His incendiary statements--he has declared the Holocaust a "myth," has said Israel should be "wiped away" and has called the Jewish state "a stain of disgrace"

Israel's actions in Gaza are not the issue here, but it shoudl be at least possible to criticise their policies without being anti-Semitic. Closer inspection of his statements has shown that Ahmedinejad has said that the Holocaust was exaggerated in its death count, not that it was a myth; that he called for regime change in Israel, (the phrase "wiped off the map" was a complete invention and nowhere to be found in the original Arabic); and that he takes great care to distinguish between Zionism and Jewishness - a distinction the TIME journalist seems keen to blur.

There follow several blatantly contentious assertions which, if the author were a poster on this forum, he would be required to back up with some evidence: he is, it seems

...the most polarizing head of state in the Muslim world. Under Ahmadinejad, Iran has built up its influence in Lebanon and Iraq and made clear its intention to become the dominant power in the oil-rich Persian Gulf.

I'd personally like to see some evidence that Iran has indeed made such an intention clear. It is an oil-rich country in a region of oil-rich countries, and it has a military that is independent of Western suppliers; but then again, their government was subverted and replaced with a police state back in the fifties, and when they threw off that oppression in the seventies, the US did its best to ensure that it would suffer as a result, encouraging Iraq to wage war against it and even arming both sides in the conflict. Those of us with memories stretching back to Iran-Contra will recall that, ironically, Iran's arms (the sale of which financed a terrorist campaign in Nicaragua) were supplied through Israel.

We then come across a statement which is almost a blatant lie:

He has also accelerated work on Iran's civilian nuclear program, which the U.S. believes is geared toward producing a nuclear bomb

He has "accelerated" work? Those of us who've been keeping a close eye on what has actually been going on will know that he has actually recommenced uranium enrichment that Iran voluntarily suspended

The Wikipedia entry provides some useful information that is often elided or forgotten by the likes of the TIME journalist:

On November 14, 2004, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator announced a voluntary and temporary suspension of its uranium enrichment programme (enrichment is not a violation of the NPT) after pressure from the United Kingdom, France, and Germany acting on behalf of the European Union (EU) ... The measure was said at the time to be a confidence-building measure, to continue for some reasonable period of time, six months being mentioned as a reference...

On August 8 and August 10, 2005, the Iranian government resumed its conversion of uranium at the Isfahan facility, coming only five days after the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, allegedly with continued suspension of enrichment activities.

So, actually, they voluntarily stopped their enrichment activities for almost a year. Without getting too involved with the details of conversion and enrichment, what they are doing is consistent with a civil nuclear programme, not with weapons production.

The IAEA has protested US distortions on Iran's nuclear programme, effectively saying "liar, liar, pants on fire".

VIENNA (Reuters) - U.N. inspectors have protested to the U.S. government and a Congressional committee about a report on Iran's nuclear work, calling parts of it "outrageous and dishonest", according to a letter obtained by Reuters.

The letter recalled clashes between the IAEA and the Bush administration before the 2003 Iraq war over findings cited by Washington about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that proved false, and underlined continued tensions over Iran's dossier.

It's kind of funny the way the US is trying to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, though... back to the Wiki article:

In January 2006, James Risen, a New York Times reporter, alleged in his book State of War that in February 2000, a U.S. covert operation - code-named Operation Merlin - had backfired. It originally aimed to provide Iran with a flawed design for building a nuclear weapon, in order to delay the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons programme. Instead, the plan may have accelerated Iran's nuclear programme by providing useful information, once the flaws were identified.

So, the way we're going to stop Iran developing a nuclear bomb is by... giving them plans for a nuclear bomb.


Anyway, back to the TIME article. Where were we?

He has also accelerated work on Iran's civilian nuclear program, which the U.S. believes is geared toward producing a nuclear bomb

Note that "which the US believes". A more objective, spin-free approach would be to substitute "alleges" for "believes". This uncritical acceptance of anything the US administration claims as fact is at the heart of the rottenness infecting the US media, and drives its efficacy as a propaganda tool.

The paragraph (we're only down to the end of the second paragraph, sorry about that but there does seem to be a lot to say) finishes with

Though pictures of the Iranian President often show him flashing a peace sign, his actions could well be leading the world closer to war.

Well... at least GWB never flashes peace signs, and his actions have definitely plunged the world into war. The wilful blindness required to write the sentence quoted above is, to me, staggering. The US trumps up enrichment charges (and has a proven record of lying in this area) but it's Ahmedinejad who's leading the world to war.

The next paragraph is a masterclass of economical spin. There are two tiny phrases that subtly set the tone: the first phrase is "For all his bluster". No evidence of bluster is appended, and none needed. It is clear that this diminuitive leader of a puny nation is given to bluster. The second pivotal phrase is towards the middle of the paragraph:

The regime has threatened to retaliate against American interests "in every part of the world" if the U.S. were ever to launch a military strike against Iran. But Ahmadinejad has also made rhetorical gestures of conciliation, sending an open letter to George W. Bush and inviting the U.S. President to a televised discussion about "the ways of solving the problems of the international community." (Bush ruled it out last week. "I'm not going to meet with him," he said at a White House news conference.)

That phrase "rhetorical gestures of conciliation" fulfils several functions. It firstly makes it clear that gestures of conciliation are not to be taken seriously, they are merely rhetorical, allowing us to disregard them without a second thought. It is also a subtle contrast to the previous sentence in which Iran's regime dared to threaten retaliation if attacked. I mean, how dare they? A careful reader will note that this threat of retaliation is simultaneously intended as "bluster" and yet as a genuine, real threat - as the opposite of "rhetorical". Logically, it cannot be both. But here we are not dealing with logic.

posted on Sep, 19 2006 @ 02:18 AM
These "rhetorical gestures" are to be brushed aside by an Imperial White House - yet it is Ahmedinejad who is "cocky" and "arrogant" according to the article. The next paragraph begins with

Ahmadinejad is a skilled, if slippery, debater. In his press conferences, he has shown himself to be a natural politician, gifted in the art of spin and misdirection.

Again, we have no evidence for this, and again, none is needed. But we get an idea of why the hapless GWB, who is not exactly comfortable with debate, would say "I'm not going to meet with him." And in the same paragraph his name is linked with "such irritants to the West" as Chavez and Mugabe. I think it's a little unfair to describe Chavez as an irritant to the West. To the US, perhaps, but then he's pursuing an agenda that makes his country less than subservient to the US and its economic interests. But the propaganda machine has done its work on Chavez too, and linking Ahmedinejad with two such emotive names ensures more guilt by association, and forms a picture of America's enemies uniting. The interview is of course taking place in Cuba, that enormous threat to the well-being of the US.

In the next paragraph, we get more hints at a Napoleon complex:

Over the course of the 45-minute interview, he was serious, smiling and cocky--evidence of a self-assurance that borders on arrogance.

And more arrogance...

He waved a hand dismissively when I couldn't grasp his logic in questioning the Holocaust. Asked to defend his claim that the Holocaust was a myth, he went on a rambling rant, claiming that those who try to do "independent research" on the Holocaust have been imprisoned. "About historical events," he says, "there are different views."

Well this rambling rant appears to have been completely edited out by the reporter, because there's no evidence for it in the body of the interview. Let's look at what we actually get on the subject in the body of the interview:

TIME: Have you considered that Iranian Jews are hurt by your comments denying that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust?

AHMADINEJAD: As to the Holocaust, I just raised a few questions. And I didn't receive any answers to my questions. I said that during World War II, around 60 million were killed. All were human beings and had their own dignities. Why only 6 million? And if it had happened, then it is a historical event. Then why do they not allow independent research?

TIME: But massive research has been done.

AHMADINEJAD: They put in prison those who try to do research. About historical events everybody should be free to conduct research. Let's assume that it has taken place. Where did it take place? So what is the fault of the Palestinian people? These questions are quite clear. We are waiting for answers.

Now it is a fact that people have been imprisoned for "denying the Holocaust". Ahmedinejad characterises them as "researchers" rather than Holocaust deniers. I personally think it's an unhealthy situation when people can be arrested for stating their opinion, no matter how unpopular or offensive. And, let's face it, there are plenty of people who are prepared to deny US involvement in millions of deaths across the world. Should they be arrested and imprisoned?

On the subject of Israel, Ahmadinejad has this to say:

TIME: Do you believe the Jewish people have a right to their own state?

AHMADINEJAD: We do not oppose it. In any country in which the people are ready to vote for the Jews to come to power, it is up to them. In our country, the Jews are living and they are represented in our Parliament. But Zionists are different from Jews.

Here is the distinction I mentioned in my first post, a distinction that TIME seems to want to blur. "Zionists" are a subset of the group "Jews" (in fact, to be strictly accurate, there are non-Jewish Zionists too) and their beliefs, in extreme form, can be every bit as supremacist as those of the Nazis, a strange and ironic parallel.

There is one final piece of spin before we hit the interview proper:

But until then, he seems likely to keep challenging the West, stirring things up. He aspires to unite Muslim opinion and make Iran the dominant player in the Middle East, restoring the country to its ancient imperial glory.

What imperial glory is this? Let's just remember, one more time, that Iran was a democracy until the US and UK stepped in to stop it nationalising its oil industry, at which point, they imposed a vicious police state with one of the nastiest (US-equipped and trained) secret police forces on the planet. Before that, it was barely a country. The Persian Empire fell over 2,300 years ago. There is no evidence adduced for these grandiose claims, but then, there doesn't need to be for the purposes of propaganda.

The Interview

After a soft question about the impressions he had of the US and its people, the TIME interviewer slips in "Did you visit the site of the World Trade Center?" Now this is kind of a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" question, and I've noticed that there are at least some Americans posting here who took exception to him even being in NY, just a few blocks from the WTC site. Then there's the interesting exchange:

TIME: Do you feel any connection with President Bush, since he is also a religious man, a strong Christian?

AHMADINEJAD: I've heard about that. But there are many things which take place and are inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ in this world.

I thought that was a good reply. And he's conspicuously even-handed. Asked why Iranians shout "death to America", he replies that it's because of US behaviour in the world. When asked how he would feel if American citizens were shoulting something similar about Iran, he says that if Iran acted the way the US does in the world, American citizens would have that right.

There is a fascinating exchange on nuclear weapons. Asked if Iran has the right to nuclear weapons, Ahmadinejad says that nukes are bad and unnecessary. The TIME interviewer then actually tries to argue him into why Iran should be developing nukes:

TIME: But you were attacked with weapons of mass destruction by Iraq. You say the U.S. threatens you, and you are surrounded by countries that have nuclear weapons.

AHMADINEJAD: Today nuclear weapons are a blunt instrument... Problems cannot be solved through bombs. Bombs are of little use today. We need logic.

I think what I've learned from this interview is that he's right. We DO nned logic, But it's in short supply.

[edit on 19-9-2006 by rich23]

posted on Sep, 19 2006 @ 05:02 AM
My personal favourite.

TIME: Why won't you agree to suspend enrichment of uranium as a confidence-building measure?

AHMADINEJAD: Whose confidence should be built?

Good job rich23.

The author of this interview is quite subjective. In his introduction words he goes the distance to describe his personal feelings toward Ahmedinejad which are obviouslly negative and disdain. Whith these attitude, he prepares the undecided reader to have a negative aproach before he reads the first question in this interview. The questions and their sequence is quite interesting to. The carefull reader gets a feeling that this author wants to entrap and even force Ahmedinejad in saying somethig imflamatory or stupid.


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