Book shows how Iranian mullahs manipulated Western media

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Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khomeini and his media-savvy allies duped Western journalists and intellectuals into supporting his rise to theocratic tyranny, according to a new history.

“He had manipulated the secular left and the Islamic modernists, as a vehicle, and he would dispose of them at the moment of his choosing,” Kim Ghattas writes in Black Wave, a new survey of the four-decade rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

That reflection caps Khomeini’s meteoric rise from a “tired exile” in Iraq to the pinnacle of political power in Tehran. He was propelled, in part, by the gullibility of prominent French thinkers and Western journalists who were horrified by the brutality of the Iranian monarchy but failed to recognize the “irredeemable monster” who had come to live among them in the four months prior to the Iranian revolution of 1979.

“They wanted to believe in Khomeini, the sage under the apple tree,” Ghattas writes of “France’s leftist intellectuals.”

Their support played a crucial role in swelling Khomeini’s international influence in the waning days of the monarchy, as the shah’s security services were blamed for a deadly theater fire and came under increasing pressure for other human rights abuses.

“In Neauphle-le-Chateau, over the course of a four-month stay, he would give 132 interviews and become the face of the revolution, recognized throughout the world,” she writes. “The seventy-six-year-old cleric was invigorated.”

Ghattas, a longtime BBC journalist who is now a senior fellow at the Carnegie Institute, wrote Black Wave in an effort to explain “what happened to us?” That is, how did the “more vibrant” Middle East that older generations can still remember degenerate into the violence and chaos that she witnessed as a child born in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War? The tendency for Western media to project their own beliefs or preferences onto people who they don’t understand is one of the answers that emerges from her exploration of that large question.

“The strategy was twofold: radical, reactionary messages for inside Iran, carefully curated words for Western ears,” she observes in the book, which was released Tuesday.

Khomeini didn’t have the public relations savvy to execute that plan on his own. Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, a close ally who would emerge as the first president of the Islamic Republic of Iran prior to his own exile, managed his public image carefully.

“Banisadr translated (and sometimes purposely mistranslated), adding context and rounding the edges for sensitive western reporters,” Ghattas writes. “The resulting impression was that of an ascetic sage who had no interest in politics and would ‘spend the rest of his days in a seminary in Qom’ once his goals of removing the shah and returning to Iran had been achieved.”

This image held great appeal among “France’s leftist intellectuals,” who nurtured their own charming self-image as a revolutionary force.

“Hugely influential in shaping public opinion, they were anti-establishment, anti-power, and anti-imperial,” Ghattas writes. “They wanted to believe in Khomeini, the sage under the apple tree.”

They would soon be undeceived. “I will decide the government, a government for the people,” Khomeini said after arriving in Iran on Feb. 1, 1979.

That declaration was at odds with public image he cultivated while living in France in the fall of 1968, and it soon became clear which version of Khomeini — the theocratic tyrant or the meek sage — reflected his true ambitions.

“The executions began just before midnight on February 15, on the roof of the school: four leading generals were shot, after a summary trial in which they were accused of treason and mass murder,” the book said. “Photographs of the four generals’ bodies in a pool of blood, blindfolded, their hands tied behind their backs, were splashed on the front pages of newspapers the next day, making international headlines. There was no more pretending.”

Source » washingtonexaminer

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