Tuesday, November 5, 2013

One of the worst articles on Iran ever.

I often disagree with some aspect of the articles I read about Iran. Usually it is something minor, and occasionally it is an entire argument that I disagree with. These arguments are opinion based, and use facts to back up their opinions, so while my disagreement is there, it is often a matter of opinion. So when I today encountered a truly remarkably terrible article I felt compelled to comment on and refute it in its entirety.

Micah Halpern's HuffPo piece, 'Where is the Ayatollah' is one of those terrible articles clearly written by an amateur with little understanding of the past or present. Thankfully it was a short article so my face was not permanently contorted into a horrible grimace by the experience. 

I will now take Halpern's claims and destroy them: 

1) 'Rafsanjani is believed to be a reformer and as such, he could really create change'

No. Rafsanjani is not, was not, and will not be a reformer. He has long been what we call a 'pragmatist', someone who works within the system to create solutions that are not necessarily based on an ideology. Reformists connect him to the horrific crimes of his office (while president and in previous roles as well) towards the more liberal parts of the Iranian population. In the run up to the recent presidential elections where the most moderate candidate remaining at the end won (Rouhani), there was some doubt that the wave of reformist and moderate voices would embrace Rouhani because of his close ties to Rafsanjani.

Conclusion: Implying that Rafsanjani is a reformer is stupid, and speculating based on a miserably failed understanding of reality is even stupider. -2 points for Mr Halpern.

2) 'He is extremely well qualified to be the Supreme Leader, even more qualified than Khamenei in terms of his level of learning and academic standing'

The favored replacement for Ayatollah Khomeini in the 80s was a man named Hussein-Ali Montazeri. He was the highest ranking Shi'a mujtahid to support Khomeini's idea of Velayat-e Faqih (others who would have outranked him—albeit not by a lot—such as Morteza Mottahari, were assassinated during the revolutionary period). Montazeri became more liberal during the Iran-Iraq war, especially in regards to the civil rights violations he saw being perpetrated by the regime and publicly stated his opposition. Montazeri was a principled man but had very little political acumen. Montazeri was also responsible for 'exporting the revolution', a similar role to what the Qods Force plays today, although less militant by nature. The brother of Montazeri son-in-law, Mehdi Hashemi was in charge of this office and was executed for revealing RAFSANJANI's role in Iran-Contra (hint: it was major). Montazeri took this, amongst other actions against him very personally. Long story short, Montazeri was removed from his position as deputy Supreme Leader, leaving Khomeini's ideology in trouble. It previously had been stated that the Faqih must be the most educated (see Khomeini's Islamic Government for more on this), but because the 2nd most educated (not counting other Shi'a clerics in other countries which were and continue to be nearly universally opposed to the idea), the replacement, was in opposition to the regime, they had to make changes. Khomeini eventually changed the constitution so that the Faqih no longer needed to be the most educated, highest-ranking mujtahid which allowed Khamenei, who was a relatively low ranking Hojjat-o-Eslam prior to this, to take over. At the time there was speculation in the West that because there was not a viable replacement, that Iran may decide to have a council of Supreme Leaders (I read this article in a 25 year old magazine during my MA but I cannot find it online anywhere). Khamenei was the President of Iran at the time, but he was by no means the most senior cleric. There was also a Prime Minister at this point, a position with more power than the Presidency, which had been occupied by more moderate and liberal people such as Mehdi Bazargan (since exiled) and Mir-Hossein Mousavi (who has been under house arrest for years following his Green Movement protests), but this position was removed in a joint effort of Khamenei and Rafsanjani. The two of them then swapped when Rafsanjani pushed Khamenei as the candidate for Supreme Leader, and Rafsanjani took the presidency. 

Conclusion: While religious qualifications have some connection to the office of the Supreme Leader, implying this is the sole criteria is foolish and uninformed. Halpern also does not mention the fact that Rafsanjani was removed from his position as the chairman of the Assembly of Experts in 2011, the legislative body tasked with overseeing the Supreme Leader. -2 points for Mr. Halpern.

3) 'The friendship never suffered over the fact that they have starkly contrasting visions of the way Islam should play out in the Islamic Republic.'

Probably not the case. I am unfamiliar with the details of the personal relationship between the two figures, as are most Westerners, but it is safe to say that today they are not the most friendly. The Rafsanjani family has been heavily persecuted since 2009 and Rafsanjani's decision to lend some support to the Green Movement (which has since increased). Rafsanjani's children have been arrested, beaten, jailed etc. as I wrote here on my blog . The idea that they would remain friends despite the state-sponsored abuse of the family is beyond ridiculous. Also see my conclusion for #2, where Rafsanjani was removed from his chairmanship. If this is not evidence of a break in friendship I do not know what is...Max Fisher wrote a blog on the 'tumultuous' relationship of the two. 

Conclusion: They do have 'starkly contrasting visions of the way Islam should play out in the Islamic Republic', but saying the friendship never suffered is a bit of a leap. .5 points for Mr Halpern for almost not being wrong

4) 'After the reports of Syria gassing its own citizens Rafsanjani made the following statement: "A government that uses chemical bombs against it people, will face hard consequences, just like Saddam, who earned eternal shame in the bombing of Halabja and suffered such a horrible fate."'

Not only is this completely unrelated to the surrounding paragraphs, it is completely irrelevant. Iranians are rightfully very sensitive to the use of chemical weapons because of the extensive use by Iraq on Iranian soldiers and civilians during the Iran-Iraq War. At the time of this quote from Rafsanjani the prevailing claim among non-Western powers was that Syrian rebels had used the chemical weapons so this made complete sense.

Conclusion: Terrible organization and taking something out of context. -1 points for Mr. Halpern for not doing his homework.

5) When he announced that he was running for president in the 2013 election, a position he was elected to twice already, he was disqualified for two reasons. He was over the maximum age and he had supported protestors on the street during the Green Revolution.

There is no maximum age for the office of president. Read the constitution, it clearly says nothing about this. The GIVEN reason by the Guardian Council for excluding him was his age, despite the fact that many members of the Guardian Council is significantly older than Mr. Rafsanjani and the Guardian Council's term is 6 years which is longer than the 4 year term of the presidency. Lastly, Rafsanjani's support of the Green Revolution was also not as clearcut as Mr. Halpern stated. 

Conclusion: Being almost right on Rafsanjani and the Green Movement (calling it the Green Revolution is another negative for Mr. Halpern) results in -.5 points for Mr Halpern

6) 'In a fascinating move, Khomeini's daughter sent a letter to the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei and then even published it in May 2013 asking the Supreme Leader to overrule the committee and let Rafsanjani run.'

Some of Khomeini's children and grandchildren are relatively liberal, and while this is true, it is again taken out of context by Mr. Halpern

Conclusion: A half truth reduced by context. A generous .5 points for Mr. Halpern

7) 'Why has the Supreme Leader, the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei not been seen in public of late, I am not about to speculate.'

The entirety of Mr. Halpern's article is full of untruths and things taken out of context, it would be just as useful for him to speculate as it is for him to put pen to page (or finger to keyboard)

Conclusion: Do I need a reason? -1 points for Mr. Halpern

FINAL CONCLUSION: Do not read this article. It is terrible and the author should be ashamed. HuffPo should be ashamed for publishing it, as should its entire staff for being associated with this. I am sure that there is something else I missed in the article that is terrible, but frankly it is not worth my time to identify and critique it.

P.S. Another bit which Mr. Halpern did not mention at all: Khamenei's arm has been paralyzed since a failed assassination attempt in 1981, his health has also been in question several times as the CableGate affair demonstrated. It 'fits' into the context of the article, why was this ignored? -1 points for Mr. Halpern

Running total: 1) -2, 2) -4, 3) -3.5, 4) -4.5, 5), -5, 6) -4.5, 7) -5.5 and a bonus -1 reaching a total of -6.5. Truly an embarrassing work.

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