Sunday, September 15, 2013

BBC Persian's Version of What Happened at Manchester University

I attended a two day seminar and workshop at Manchester university last week. The scholarly seminar was organised by Drs. Oliver Bast and Siavush Ranjbar-Daemi and examined the fall of the Iranian Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadeq, in 1953.

The seminar included academics from around the world, who had researched and studied the documentary evidence of the 1953 events in Iran. It was both enjoyable and illuminating as the experts on the subject presented their arguments and conjectures based on the different aspects of the evidence and archived documents they had studied.

Siavush Ranjbar-Daemi gave a brief presentation of what the various newspapers at the time had reported and in particular which political groups had called for a Republic in the two day aftermath of the initial failed attempt to bring down Mossadeq on 16th August, 1953.

Shahram Kholdi, from Western University in Canada, gave a presentation of the Iranian legal constitution at the time, its origins and what the legal authority of the Shah and the Prime Minister were. An important study to determine whether the toppling of Mossadeq was a coup or a legal constitutional move.

The American scholar, Mark Gasiorowsky, talked about the evidence he had gathered from the people he had interviewed, which included CIA operatives at the time.

Darioush Bayandor criticised Gasiorowsky for not having taken into consideration the declassified information that has been available since 2000 and that what most bothered him was an attempt by Gasiorowsky and his co-author, Malcolm Byrne at splashing some sensational headlines that new evidence proved the role of a CIA coup on 19th August as undeniable and argued that they were much sensationalism about nothing. A point that Gasiorowsky himself later admitted.

Regarding the mystery of who brought out the crowds on 19th August that toppled Mossadeq, Bayandor offered his theory and the reasons as to why in his view, it was actually the influential Ayatollah Boroujerdi.

Oliver Bast, on the second day of the seminar, listed the popular myths propagated into the public consciousness by the media and the role of academics in this. Some of these myths were:
Mossadeq nationalised the Iranian oil industry - it was nationalised before Mossadeq became PM
Mossadeq was democratically elected by popular vote - He was appointed by the Shah
The Shah was reinstated after a CIA backed coup - He never abdicated
The 1953 was a huge national trauma for Iranians- there have been many more events that can be described as a national trauma in recent Iranian history
That Mossadeq was brutally dealt with - Bast compared what happened to Hoveyda after 1979 revolution and the trial he got with that of Mossadeq
and finally the East German born scholar ridiculed Madeline Albright for having apologised to the Islamic Republic of the 1953 coup, describing her as ill informed and badly advised on the subject.

I was very much in agreement with Oliver Bast as to what he had to say about the media myths about Mossadeq. A recent report by CNN on Malcolm Byrne's sensational headlines for example, mentioned how Iran had gained its independence from Britain and Mossadeq had been sentenced to death for nationalising the Iranian oil!

Oliver Bast also mentioned that in terms of tangible results, Mossadeq's success was almost zero and that there were other Iranian Prime Ministers, before and after Mossadeq, who were far more successful in achieving real results.

There was also an interesting glimpse into the few Russian documents that are available on the subject. Next to nothing has been declassified by the KGB as this is not the norm in Russia but some diplomatic correspondence that were made available to one Russian born academic, showed contacts were established between Ayatollah Kashani and the Soviets who regarded Ayatollah Kashani as the only player able to bring the crowds into the streets.

It was a lively debate and perhaps, there were only two points that all sides agreed on:
a) There was nothing new in Malcolm Byrne's sensation headlines
b) Until more documents are released and declassified, what actually happened on 19th August, 1953 will remain debatable.

I hope in writing the above notes, I have given a flavour of what happened during the two day seminar at Manchester University, which is in far contrast to the simplistic and biased report aired by BBC Persian television. See below:

Fariba Sahraei, the BBC Persian reporter narrating the above footage, reduced the seminar into a much simpler event. According to her, there is no doubt that Mossadeq was toppled by a CIA coup on 19th August, 1953 and almost all academics and experts agree on this except one man, Darioush Bayandor, who is single handedly trying to give a different version, and Bayandor's statements were strongly challenged by other academics who attended the seminar!

A vivid example of lazy journalism and biased reporting that is becoming predominant on BBC Persian television.

Monday, September 09, 2013

The “Result" of Khomeini

The word for great grandchild in Persian is “Natijeh” which also means result. Last week the great granddaughter of Ayatollah Khomeini, or the “Result” of Ayatollah Khomeini, Naima Taheri, became the subject of much discussion throughout the Iranian cyberspace.

Ayatollah Khomeini’s granddaughter, Naimeh Eshraghi, posted this on her Facebook:
“A young Iranian girl, has won the first prize in OCE student competition, held in Ontario, Canada. Guess, who this young talented student is? My own daughter, Naima Taheri, studying international relations” and she finished her Facebook status by saying:
“Naima, my beloved daughter, I congratulate you for having won the first prize of the Ontario state’s competition for the elite”.

The competition that Naimeh Eshraghi referred to, was in fact a student video competition, not so much  a competition for the creme-de-la-creme or the elite of the Ontario state, as she had implied on her Facebook page. Khomeini’s great grand daughter also did not win the competition single handedly, but was part of a team who were awarded the first prize in 'Discovery Video Competition'.

Exaggerating the eliteness of the competition and the role of her daughter in winning the prize is not untypical of most Iranian parents. Most typical Iranian mothers exaggerate and boast the successes of their children, especially in education. I remember a colleague of my father who was once boasting his son’s educational achievements in studying nuclear physics and later receiving a slap on the back of my head from my father, who chided me by saying “why can’t you concentrate in your studies like him so we can have pleasure in telling others about your achievements?”. Of course, most of the boasting for which I had the misfortune of receiving my father’s wrath, turned out to be wishful thinking and in the same league as Naimeh Eshraghi’s exaggeration of her daughter’s achievement.

The controversy however, was not just over the typical maternal instinct to show off the achievements of one’s child, Khomeini’s granddaughter also photoshopped her daughter’s attire. The skin tight trousers,  the close fitting top and the high heels from the original picture were replaced by a knee length manteau and the picture was cropped so as not to show her “provocative" high heels.

Since then, more pictures of Ayatollah Khomeini’s great grand-daughter have been released. This is the “Result of Khomeini” were the typical headlines in Persian. Pictures that will make Khomeini turn in his grave but also remind us that the Islamic Republic will be just a blip in Iran’s history.
Naturally I wish Naeema Taheri all the success in fulfilling her potentials for the future, as I always do for everyone else.