Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Insanity of Anti-Iran Propaganda

"In order to find the truth, we have to get as close to the source as possible. The farther we get from the source, the more likely it is that the truth has been twisted through manipulation or error, a process gleefully reproduced in the child's game of telephone."

- Chris Hayes, Twilight of the Elites
A new ad released by the Mitt Romney campaign takes a quote from Barack Obama about the collectivism of progress and success so out of context as to be laughable. This morning's Up With Chris does an excellent job setting the record straight (watch here):

Apologies for the advertisement that plays before the clip

The same out-of-context, demonization propaganda is now in full swing with regard to the recent tragic terrorist bombing in the coastal Bulgarian town of Burgas that targeted Israeli tourists. The difference is that such propaganda, unlike that of U.S. presidential campaign mudslinging, is a matter of life and death and establishes disgusting falsehoods as facts that race around the internet and the world, forever defining the narrative, obscuring the truth, and perpetuating pervasive mythologies that permeate our already skewed discourse on the issues of Iran, Israel, U.S. foreign policy and, now, the Burgas bus bombing.

The Times of Israel, the same "news" outfit that was quick to identify former Guantanamo detainee Mehdi Ghezali as the bomber based on half-baked Bulgarian media reports (a claim immediately denied by all intelligence agencies involved in the case) is back at it, this time with a report declaring that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has revealed (and reveled in) Iran's culpability for the attack in Bulgaria.

The Times opens its piece with what could not be mistaken for anything other than what it presents as a clear statement of fact: "Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gloated publicly on Thursday over the deaths of Israelis in a terror bombing in Bulgaria, and hinted that Iran was responsible for the attack." Claiming that, just hours after the attack itself, "Ahmadinejad described the attack as 'a response' to Israeli 'blows against Iran,'" the report continues:
"The bitter enemies of the Iranian people and the Islamic Revolution have recruited most of their forces in order to harm us," he said in a speech reported by Israel’s Channel 2 TV. "They have indeed succeeded in inflicting blows upon us more than once, but have been rewarded with a far stronger response." He added: "The enemy believes it can achieve its aims in a long, persistent struggle against the Iranian people, but in the end it will not. We are working to ensure that." Ahmadinejad's speech was interpreted in Israel as asserting that the Burgas bombing was a revenge attack for the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists, for which Iran has repeatedly blamed Israel.
This report spread like wildfire around the internet, from right-wing sites like The Blaze and Commentary to progressive outlets like Paul Woodward's War in Context.

But it's a lie.

Ahmadinejad's speech, delivered in commemoration of World Mosque Day, has absolutely nothing to do with the bus bombing in Bulgaria. The quotes cherry-picked and bizarrely analyzed by the Israeli media have nothing to do with boasting or bragging about the attack.

The speech, typical of Ahmadinejad, states clearly that, in the face of Western aggression and efforts to impose hegemony over Iran and its rights, the Islamic Republic will stand firm and not back down. This is even evident in the English language report on the speech itself, available on Ahmadinejad's own website.

"I assure the Iranian people that the government will not retreat even one iota from their rights, principles and values against the declining materialistic powers," Ahmadinejad said, "even if the enemies mobilize their past and future capabilities and get accompanied by certain parties inside the country."

The key part of the speech twisted and bastardized by the Israeli press actually states that "the main enemies of the Iranian nation and the Islamic Revolution have waged a major battle and mobilized their utmost power and capability but the Iranian government strongly resists against them. The enemy deals a blow to the Iranian nations step by step; but, in return, it receives a stronger, heavier blow."

The Iranian president is so obviously talking about the campaign to abrogate Iran's nuclear rights (Ahmadinejad said that "the hegemonic system opposes the Iranian nation only because of the high speed of its progress in various sectors such as industries, science and technology") and Iran's steadfastness in the face of economic pressure and ever-mounting sanctions and threats that to allege this has anything to do with Burgas is not only amazingly dishonest and grotesque, but also dangerous.

The critical paragraph of Ahmadinejad's speech (a small portion of the whole, which mostly praises the importance of mosques as constructive cultural centers of society) can be read below both in the original Farsi along with an alternate translation:
دكتر احمدي‌نژاد در بخش ديگري از سخنان خود با بيان اينکه امروز دولت درگير يک نبرد سنگين و تمام عيار است، خاطرنشان کرد: امروز دشمنان اصلي ملت، فرهنگ، آرمانها، انقلاب اسلامي و موجوديت ايران، همه توان خود را بسيج کرده اند تا از حرکت سريع و رو به پيشرفت ملت ايران جلوگيري کنند و دولت نيز با همه توان و به صورت شبانه روزي و لحظه اي روياروي آنها ايستاده است. دشمنان با تسلط بر همه مراکز اقتصاد و قدرت در دنيا به صورت شبانه روزي و لحظه اي عليه جمهوري اسلامي اقدام مي کنند و دولت نيز پا به پاي آنها به مقابله برخاسته و اگر هر ضربه اي وارد کنند، ضربه اي دريافت مي کنند كه معمولاً ضربه دريافتي آنها سنگينتر از ضربه اي است که وارد کرده اند.

Dr. Ahmadi Nejad in another section of his remarks (words) mentioning that today the (Iranian) Government is involved in a heavy and all encompassing struggle reminded that: today the main enemies of the people, culture, ideals,the Islamic revolution and the Iranian existence have mobilized all their abilities (powers) to prevent the fast movement towards progress of the Iranian nation, and the Government (Iranian) also with all of its power, day and night and every moment is standing in front of them. The enemies with domination over all the centers of economy and power in the world day and night and every moment are acting against the Islamic Republic and the Government (Iranian) also has risen in front of them (standing in front of them, against them) and if they deliver a blow they will receive a blow which usually the blow they receive will be heavier than the blow they have delivered.

(translation by Ahmad Shirazi)

[An additional, more fluid, less literal, translation has been appended below]
The use of this quote, and the false presentation of it as having anything to do with the Burgas attack, may set a new low in the warmongering campaign that Israel is waging against Iran.


Within minutes of my posting this article, Paul Woodward of War in Context updated his own post: "A Times of Israel article that I referred to yesterday turns out to have been total bunk — surprise, surprise." He also graciously links back to this piece.



July 22, 2012 - Here is yet another translation of the relevant part of Ahmadinejad's speech, generously provided by professional translator Mehrdad Shahabi:
Referring to the fact that the government is today engaged in a heavy full-scale struggle, Dr. Ahmadinejad in another part of his speech pointed out that, "Today, the main enemies of the Iranian nation, its culture and ideals, its Islamic Revolution and the nation's very existence have mobilized all their possibilities to impede the Iranian nation's swift progress. In response, doing its utmost, the government, has stood up to them round the clock, day and night.

Dominating the world's economic and power centres, the enemies have been acting against the Islamic Republic round the clock, day and night. The government, for its part, has stood up to them in every step they take. For every blow delivered, they will receive a counter-blow, which is usually heavier than the blow delivered."


July 22, 2012 - The Times of Israel has retracted its bogus Ahmadinejad "gloating" story and issued a corrective article entitled, "Ahmadinejad was talking about sanctions, not Burgas, in his speech last Thursday, says Persian expert."

The expert cited is Bahman Kalbasi, correspondent for BBC Persian.

Yesterday, on Twitter, Kalbasi confirmed my debunking of the Times article.
The retraction explains that while "Ahmadinejad's speech was widely interpreted in Israel as asserting that the Burgas bombing was a revenge attack for the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists...Kalbasi said such interpretations reflect a mistranslation, and that the speech contains no word or phrase that indicates Ahmadinejad was talking about the bombing. The relevant section of the speech relates to western sanctions on Iran and Iran's response, he said, rather than to the Burgas bombing as on ostensible response to the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists."

The article concludes:
"He was talking about growing international and economic pressure on Iran, and assuring his constituency that their government will stand up for them and fight back," said Kalbasi, noting that Thursday's speech is carried on Ahmadinejad's website.
Glad that's finally cleared up. (Though the damage has already been done.)



July 25, 2012 - Atlantic senior editor Robert Wright has thoroughly addressed the mistranslation and faulty analysis of Ahmadinejad's speech.  He is more generous with his terminology than I am, crediting the episode to a study in "confirmation bias" - and he makes a compelling case. (Personally I think that "propaganda" doesn't necessarily have to be deliberately deceiving or have a devious motivation; so, in that way, ingrained assumptions leading to "confirmation bias" could be similarly described as the resulted of a propagandized community or common narrative.)

Wright writes:
Iran may or may not be behind the Bulgarian bombing, but there's no reference to the bombing in Ahmadinejad's speech, and a close appraisal of the speech makes it highly unlikely that Ahmadinejad meant to allude to the bombing.
Nima Shirazi, the blogger who first raised doubts about the Israeli interpretation of Ahmadinejad's remarks, calls the distortion "propaganda." But what seems to me more likely--and, in a way, more unsettling--is that the distortion wasn't intentional, but rather was the result of an essentially unconscious warping that comes naturally to humans.
Specifically, I'm betting that the culprit was "confirmation bias," the tendency of people to see evidence consistent with their pre-existing beliefs (sometimes when it isn't even there) and to ignore or minimize evidence inconsistent with their beliefs. Confirmation bias is at work every day, in Israel and Iran and the United States, often in ways that make war more likely. What follows is the dissection of a single, cautionary case of natural self-deception.
Wright covers the story comprehensively, elaborating on how the "journalistic tendency" of confirmation bias "can pave the way for war."
When you've got Israeli readers who will click on stories about Ahmadinejad's "gloating," and American readers who will do the same, and Iranian readers who will click on stories about the malicious intent of America and Israel, then the natural workings of journalism will reinforce and amplify preexisting incendiary beliefs (though in Iran, of course, the press is less free and more subject to government influence, which brings problems of its own). So confirmation bias enters the system at two points. It motivates some readers to click on certain kinds of stories, and it encourages journalists to produce those kinds of stories even if they're misleading--and journalists don't even have to be bothered by conscious awareness of how they've abetted untruth!
Wright deftly identifies a number of "other elements of self-deception that seem to have been at play" in  erroneously establishing a narrative including "Unreflectively narrowing the meaning of vague or ambiguous words," "Accepting evidence uncritically," and "Making slight and essentially unconscious fudges."  Beyond this, Wright notes two very important points that are worth repeating in full here:
First, given the way human psychology works, the thought that Ahmadinejad "gloated publicly... over the deaths of Israelis" may well be more conducive to war than the belief that Iran is responsible for the deaths. And this "gloating," which many Israelis now believe happened, apparently didn't.
Second, as we listen to Bibi Netanyahu and others assure us that they have overwhelming evidence of Iranian involvement, it's useful to keep in mind that confirmation bias is at work in politicians and intelligence analysts as well as in the rest of us. If we learned nothing else from the runup to the Iraq War, we should have learned that.
The entire post is well worth a read.



opit said...

It would be tough to set any new records as far as mistranslating and misinterpreting Ahmadinejad would be concerned. Things have been so bad for years that a Canadian blogger set up a Blogger website specifically to correctly quote him. You likely remember the drivel about A. seeking the destruction of Israel . The 'Holocaust Denier' one is even more fun as I believe A. is in fact a believer in the virtue of historical research : given his responses to repeated 'interviews' using the same set of prepared questions. It is a race to see whether that idea or the notion that Israel has absolutely no justification to conflate European anti Semitism given Israel's lack of compassion to Samaritan semites ( and Christians ) in Palestine.

brian said...

ironically israel and the west have gloated over the murder of 3 syrian generals killed by terrorists

Elihu D. Stone said...

Here's an example of why some people have difficulty believing the Iranian President's stated regard for empirical fact and scientific study. OR Did somebody mistranslate this...?

brian said...

The New York Times hails terror bombing in Damascus
By Alex Lantier
21 July 2012
The New York Times reacted to the July 18 bombing in Damascus that killed several top Syrian security officials with unconcealed enthusiasm.

Mehrnaz said...

Elihu, he is referring to different cultural values. In the West homosexuality has been RECOGNISED (very recently) and plays a role in identity politics. This is not the case in Iran and many other societies.

But what has Mr Ahmadi-Nedjad's views on homosexuality - shared by most countries and cultures on the planet - got to do with the issue of Israel and the systematic distortion of his views and his demonisation?