Thursday, June 29, 2006

Frontline Club Debate

Went to what turned out to be a lively debate at the Frontline Club last night. The speakers were Simon Tisdall of the Guardian, whom I have been commenting on in my last post, and Ali Ansari, from St. Andrews University. Jon Snow, the Channel4 News presenter, was supposed to be chairing the meeting only; but he turned out to defend the Islamic Republic with more vigour than anyone else on the panel or in the audience.

My purpose for being there was to tell these journalists to stop justifying the Islamic Republic and to show the audience that what these journalists write and say is not the gospel truth at all.

It was a casual style event, all panel members talked briefly first before questions were asked. Simon Tisdall repeated the sort of things he has been writing about Ahmadi-Nejad's popularity and said how much fun he had in the 10 days he spent in Iran recently; his first visit since the revolution.

Ali Ansari, talked about the nature of Iran's economy. He described it as a trading economy and how sanctions so far have affected Iran, and of course he tried to plug his latest book, which was also on display for sale next to the panel.

The first question from the floor was about Iranian people's feelings towards the Russians and how they ranked next to the Brits and Americans in the wrongs they had done to Iran.

The next question was more in tune with what my purpose for being there was. It was posed by a good friend of mine, Arash. He asked Tisdall about the validity of his conclusion on popularity of Ahmadi-Nejad, given that one of Tisdall's sources was Nasser Hadian, a childhood friend of Ahmadi-Nejad. Arash finished his question by asking "do you not think such reporting legitimises the Islamic government and weakens the opposition?"

Jon Snow thought he can score a point against Arash, and asked Arash when he was last in Iran. I think Snow was sure that because of Arash's good command of English, the answer would be "never" or " a long time ago". In fact, Arash, was in Iran only last December, making a documentary on the execution of the underage Iranian girl, Atefeh Rajabi who was abused by the officials in Neka, North Iran. The documentary will be shown on 27th July, on BBC2. Snow was taken back a bit, he didn't expect Arash to have been to Iran so recently and let Tisdall answer Arash's question.

Tisdall answered "Yes, I hear Hadian and Ahamdi-Nejad used to play football together" and rather than answering the question, he went on to say that apparently Ahmadi-Nejad was a good footballer and from what he hears had Ahmadi-Nejad played for the Iranian team in the World Cup, Iran may not have done so bad. He then mentioned how in the 10 days he was in Iran, he spoke to many other "ordinary" Iranians too. I couldn't stay silent and interrupted him "Hardly a scientific poll!". Tisdall said "Yes I had no access to any polls"
I was amazed at the audacity of this guy and the way he answered Arash's question. In my amazement and anger, I lost the thread of what was said next, but somehow Jon Snow brought up what he claimed to have witnessed when he was in Sanandaj, just before or after the revolution, about buckets of blood with bits of fingers and nails, allegedly from victims of torture under the Shah.

Next as sheer bad luck would have it, Jon Snow passed the microphone to Lida Sheybani. I know this girl and I know what a liability her and her father can be. She knows very little about Iran and simply lives in the past and on another planet. I cringed waiting for her to speak, and my gut feelings were right. As usual she started promoting her father,
"This is my father [pointing to her father sitting next to her], Mr. Sheybani, he was the managing director of Iran's Steel plant before the revolution, he is the most honest man I have ever known, he would not even park on a single yellow line on a Saturday....."

Oh my God! how embarassing! Most of all I felt sorry for Reza Pahlavi, probably the most level headed and sensible opposition member I know with his focus on the future, and yet he has to suffer by having the likes of Sheybani who claim to support him but in reality portray such a negative image of him every where they go. Lida Sheybani went on and on taking up valuable time. This was no place for a historic argument, it was futile and would never get us anywhere, but we had something on Tisdall and his warped reporting, thats what we should have concentrated on, the present, not get involved in never ending historic arguments.

I kept waving my hand until Snow noticed me, I had to bring back the focus on the Islamic Republic. We were not there to discuss the Shah, it was the present that mattered, so I let go of my original more polished question, took the gloves off and said "You can try your best to justify the Islamic Republic by quoting your dubious sources but at the end of the day, the Islamic Republic is a religious apartheid, where the rights of a citizen is determined by his religion, why are you Western journalists so hell bent on legitimising this religious apartheid. You would not have dared to do the same with the racial apartheid in South Africa". Then I pointed my question to Jon Snow, "You mention what you saw in Sanandaj, what about the massacre of Iranian political prisoners in 1988, when 18000 political prisoners were massacred including pregnant women, teenagers and even children. Why didn't you report that? and now that those responsible for that massacre are in Ahmadi-Nejad's cabinet you are trying to legitimise him?"

Jon Snow replied, "well how long are we going to go back in history about who the Islamic regime has killed? "

What a cheeck I thought! "You talk about who the Shah has killed and go back in history and I cant talk about the murders committed by the Islamic Republic, when the murderers are in the present government?" I snapped back at Snow.

Ansari came to Jon Snow's help, and tried to plug his book again "I wrote about it in one of my books".

I can't remember what Tisdall said or didn't say, but Snow then went on talking slowly "...and we will also talk about the Iranian opposition based in Paris, a nasty cult that has been responsible for the murder of many Iranians..." and as he was saying all this, he kept giving me a dirty glance. I think he wanted to check if I was an MKO supporter. But I looked straight at him while he was describing the MKO and nodded my head in agreement with him. He saw me nodding and realised another exit avenue for him was closed. Infact the MKO was never mentioned again.

The debate became more lively when another member of the audience stood up to ask a question. She was from the American embassy. I forget what her exact job title was, but you can imagine what happened next. All the anti-American feelings of the European intellectuals in the room poured out on her with the support of the panel. One Iranian guy in the audience, sitting in front of her, was ever so concerned as to who will actually get the $75 Million US promised aid to the Iranian opposition.

During the discussion on the nuclear power, I asked the panel, if the Iranian people were able to freely debate the pros and cons of having nuclear power. Jon Snow, who was originally supposed to only chair the panel, quickly said "Yes they can. "
"I spoke to many Iranians when I was there, who were against nuclear power. One interesting old guy at Mossadigh's house told me Ahmadi-Nejad was right to stand up to the Americans but he also told me he was against nuclear power" Snow went on to say.

"So what? thats just another anecdote! Can the Iranian people have a meeting like this or march in the street against nuclear power?" I confronted his claim again.

"There has been articles in Iranian newspapers against Iran having nuclear power." Jon Snow replied.

"Which one for example?" I asked again.
"Shargh for instance." Snow said.
"How do you know, you cant read Persian" I told him. Bit of a weak reply from me here I must say and that let him off the hook.
"I am not an idiot, I have people translate it for me" Snow said and moved on to another question.

Another Iranian university lecturer in the audience described why it makes no economic sense for Iran to invest in Nuclear power.

A Muslim Arab woman in the audience with Islamic headscarf took the microphone next. She said, "I don't have a question as such but want to make a comment" Nevertheless she still asked a question from the panel "Why America don't want Iran to have nuclear power? why, because it is a Muslim country?"
No one said anything, so I jumped in. "Do you feel comfortable about a non-accountable government having nuclear power?"
"What?" she asked.
So I repeated again slowly. "Islamic Republic is not an accountible government. Do you not feel uncomfortable about nuclear power in the hands of a non-accountable government?"
She stood still again, looking dazed and confused. Poor woman, I don't think she knew what accountable government was. Jon Snow came to her aid though, and asked me "What about Pakistan which has nuclear weapons, does Pakistan have an accountable government?"
"I am most certainly against Pakistan having nuclear weapons" I said.

Snow then took a couple of more questions from the floor but perhaps the best question came right at the end from Shahran Tabari.
"Perhaps you don't mean it but I am telling you how your reports give the impression that you are justifying the Islamic regime. You talk about how kind and hospitable Iranians are towards you when you go to Iran, yet you seem to think that a 5% democracy is good enough for us. By doing so you are degrading and humiliating the Iranian people. Why isn't what is good for you not good for us?"
I had to clap for her as many others did too. She spoke out exactly how I felt about all this.

Both Tisdall and Snow tried to forget Shahran Tabari's question and instead answer the other ones, but the audience reminded them that Shahran Tabari's question was not answered.

Jon Snow said he did not mean to justify the Iranian regime in any way, shape or form. Tisdall instead tried to use the old argument "Compared to the neighbouring countries..."
I have had enough of this silly argument, so again I interrupted him "why should we be compared with the neighbouring countries, we have had three revolutions in the last 100 years for democracy, we deserve democracy..."
Arash sitting next to me, also asked "what about Turkey and Armenia, they are neighbouring countries too, they have more democracy don't they?"
Shahran's question was never really answered though. It is still unclear to me if Snow and Tisdall thought a 5% democracy is good enough for us Iranians.

After the meeting was over, I tried to talk to the panel on a one to one basis but there were people before me in my way. One old Iranian guy was asking Ansari to sign his book and as the book was being autographed, he asked Ansari "Are you related to Mr. Hooshang Ansari?"

"no he is the brother of the Ansari who cheated Reza Pahlavi out of millions." I answered instead.
Ansari laughed and said "I wish my family had benefitted from such a sum you talk about". I had to laugh at the expression on the old guy's face though, it was too late, he had bought the book and had it autographed already.

I finally managed to ask Jon Snow face to face, "Is it possible to have an equivalent of CND in Iran?"

"of course not!" He said shaking his head.

And with that he left me with more contempt than I first had for him. Privately, he admits to me that the nuclear issue can not be debated freely in Iran, yet publicly in front of the audience he sings another tune.

I remembered when Jane Kokan told me how Snow had got drunk in a Channel4 party after the documentary "Iran under Cover" was shown. He had shouted at her saying "because of your program we might never be able to travel to Iran again!"
Jane Kokan had replied "Well whose fault would that be Jon, me or a repressive regime?"
To which Snow in his drunkard state could only reply "F**k off!"


Aryamehr said...

Yet another first hand and excellent reporting! More power to you Potkin!

Anonymous said...

A very big thank you mate. well done. I shall send this piece to all my contacts. I am sure they would appreciate it as much as I have.

Winston said...

Added you to my blogrolling list!

Anonymous said...

I think you and your views are crap !!


Anonymous said...

Potkin strikes again - take it to those weak minded apologists!

Winston said...

Good job!

These morons have no clue about how life can be under the rule of the dictators. They should LIVE in Iran or Cuba to exprience it first hand

Anonymous said...

why would iran have a CND movement? They dont have and are 10 years away from a nuclear bomb. CND is for DIS-ARMING nuclear powers.