The Media’s Magical Thinking About Iran
Why do Western elites act like credulous children when it comes to the Islamic Republic?
Blame it on Rouhani Fever. Earlier this week, Foreign Policy’s website reported that for the first time in decades an Iranian official used the word “Israel”—“not Zionist entity,” “not occupying regime”—to describe the Jewish state. Later acknowledging their story was wrong (“Death to Israel” after all is the Islamic Republic’s best known slogan), the editors ran a correction, which is more than Christiane Amanpour can manage.
She continues to claim that Iranian president Hassan Rouhani condemned the Holocaust in his CNN interview with her even though the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page contracted for an independent translation that showed Rouhani never said anything of the sort. Instead, according to the Journal, Rouhani skirted the issue, explaining that he was not a “history scholar,” and made vague reference to “crimes against Jews and non-Jews.” Also pushing back against the Amanpour version is the Iranian news agency Fars, which contended that CNN had falsified the translation and denies that Rouhani said anything about the Holocaust. Amanpour’s response to the fact that these very different media organizations intersected at reality was to tweet: “Stunned by willingness of @WSJ ed page and others to jump into bed with Iranian extremist mouthpiece like Fars.”
To understand why when it comes to Iran Amanpour and other segments of the media seem to be publishing and broadcasting so much mendacity, it is important to have a basic grasp of the worldview of Western elites. Call it junior-year-abroad sociology. From this perspective, all societies are basically alike—sure, they may have different customs, clothing, and foods, but everyone sees the world the same way and wants the same things. Problems arise in the world not because different societies clash, but rather because certain segments of every society are in conflict, for every society is also composed of moderates and hardliners.
All around the world, the moderate people of reason want to raise their families in peace, find meaningful labor, and take intellectually rewarding vacations. The hardliners however are universally interested only in power. Because the clearest path to power is through fear—particularly fear of the other, the foreigner who, from this benighted perspective, threatens “our way of life”—the hardliners have to make the masses fearful so that they will beg to be protected from the foreign threat. Because the merchants of fear will stop at nothing to win power for themselves, even if it means sending their neighbors’ children to war, those desirous of peace need to defend their societies against the hardliners. Sometimes that might mean cutting certain corners—not exactly lying, but saying things that while true in spirit, and are not entirely true to the letter.
Accordingly, from Amanpour’s perspective, Rouhani might not have condemned the Holocaust in so many words, but given the nature of the man he obviously would condemn it. After all, it’s well known that Rouhani is a moderate. To argue that Rouhani didn’t say it, as the Wall Street Journal does, only gives more ammunition to the hardliners--the kind of people who read the Wall Street Journal editorials, as well as the extremists in Iran, including the kind of people who run Fars. With enough of this kind of ammunition, the hardliners from the United States and those from Iran will push our two societies to war. Christiane Amanpour is not just preventing this war, by attributing statements to Rouhani that he never made, she’s also cultivating peace.