Dear Newsweek magazine: Everything You Think You Know about Iran is Incomplete

Mr. Sourpuss

Mr. Sourpuss

On the cover of the latest issue of Newsweek magazine, I was faced with a sullen Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the provocative title, “Everything You Think You Know About Iran is Wrong.” Excited to think that I might discover something new about Iran in this issue, my excitement diminished after reading the same old story again: that the Iranian people are good but misunderstood; that the government is bad, but not as bad as you think, and no, it’s not a dictatoship. This might seem familiar if you followed this blogs’s reporting about Roger Cohen’s articles in the New York times earlier in the year.

So I decided to make a comment to Fareed Zakaria’s article:

“Posted By: alyosha19 @ 06/03/2009 1:54:12 AM

Newsweek should rename this article, ‘Everything You Think You Know About Iran is Incomplete.’ Especially given the fact that the most underreported large story in the West about Iran is the ongoing, unforgiving repression of the Baha’i community there.

Journalist Roxana Saberi may have drawn a lot of attention when she was recently freed in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison after a 3 month stay, however some 30 Baha’is remain incarcerated there for over a year, under false pretenses, with no due process and no access to their lawyer, Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi. Currently the imprisoned 7 member Baha’i leadership in Iran may be facing the death penalty soon, for the crime of simply being Baha’i. Perhaps because these Baha’is were neither American nor journalists is one reason why the Western media avoided covering this story widely.

However the facts behind why the Baha’is are being imprisoned are very important for Westerners to understand — the community’s mere presence in Iran (the largest religious minority, with over 300,000 members, much larger than the Christian and Jewish populations) can be perceived as a threat to the Iranian status quo.

So what do Baha’is believe in that is so threatening to the Iranian leadership?

–the Baha’i Faith believes in the unity of all the world’s major religions as one common faith from God, from Judaism and Hinduism up through Islam and beyond.

–Baha’is reject any clergy and they participate in an elected, spiritual democracy that shuns any form of campaigning or electioneering.

–Baha’is also believe in world peace, the equality of women and men, the harmony of science and religion, the independent investigation of truth, among some of the more famous principles.

–To boot, Baha’is also are to remain obedient to their government, no matter how bad, how corrupt, and even if they throw them in prison. Nice guys seem to finish last.

All of the above principles seemingly conflict with current designs of the Iranian government. And these principles are very appealing to a disillusioned Iranian public–which in turn has led to the severe crackdown on the practice of the Baha’i Faith in Iran.

To imagine that these principles originated in Iran in the mid-19th century, well before they were accepted in the West, may be surprising to Westerners, who may view the Middle East as “backwards” or not progressive. It’s also interesting to note how in the current reporting about all the posturing and threats of war between the East and West, that the Baha’i message–which could arguably illumine the discussion between the two sides–is being silenced amidst the noise.”

If you would have written a better reply, this blog would be grateful to hear about it!

4 responses to “Dear Newsweek magazine: Everything You Think You Know about Iran is Incomplete

  1. The revised title is far more accurate, definitely. Speaking as one who lived in Iran I will promise you that no high resolution picture of a beautiful mosque or landscape, no 7-day excursion into the country, no one-month stay tell you about Iran. Certainly those pictures won’t tell you that you could be imprisoned for having the ‘wrong political beliefs’, perhaps the ‘wrong religious beliefs’, or for being a girl wearing the ‘wrong attire’ one day.
    Ladies and gentlemen, the Islamic Republic of Iran is a model of intolerance. Please do enjoy the pictures, do listen to the news of Iran threatening world peace, do listen to the young Iranians who are getting education and wanting a good life, but for God’s sake, do not hide under the Persian rug the dirty deeds of those who have killed and continue to kill ‘non-believers’ or the ‘wrong people’ in the name of Allah.
    I can understand that we, the public who is overstressed with news of doom and gloom, don’t want to hear about one more group of people and their sufferings. If that’s the case let’s not listen to anyone, categorically!
    I think the reporter of the Newsweek article and others (yes, Mr Cohen) would do well to say that they just do not want to write about these oppressive acts because the public would not read their articles. That certainly is more honest than portraying something that is incomplete and gives an inaccurate impression of the truth.

    The blog said ‘Emerging Iran’, emerging out of what? How about ‘Sinking Iran’ or ‘Sunken Iran’. Oh, I see, because they found access to modern technology and can build roads and bombs, that changes the picture. Forget the fact that morals are at all time low- the country wreaks of human rights violations. But they have bombs you say. They have malls you say.
    Why all this coverage of Guantanamo Bay detention camp and their prisoners? They were actually terrorists, and no, they should not be tortured but why not a bit of attention to the Baha’is and others who were persecuted because they were not Muslims, because they did not show up to Friday Mosque. What about the rights of women?
    Baha’u’llah wrote a passage that each reporter would do well to think about before they sign their name off to their report, and that is:
    “…In this Day the secrets of the earth are laid bare before the eyes of men. The pages of swiftly-appearing newspapers are indeed the mirror of the world. They reflect the deeds and the pursuits of divers peoples and kindreds. They both reflect them and make them known. They are a mirror endowed with hearing, sight and speech. This is an amazing and potent phenomenon. However, it behoveth the writers thereof to be purged from the promptings of evil passions and desires and to be attired with the raiment of justice and equity. They should enquire into situations as much as possible and ascertain the facts, then set them down in writing.”
    All other professionals are expected to be truthful. For reasons unknown, reporters flip flop in their positions- sometimes they are investigators of truth, and other times they are artists expressing an impression.

  2. Thank you so much for posting Mona. Great quote from Baha’u’llah about journalists.

  3. The reply to Newsweek is very well-put.

    Stories like those of Roxanne Saberi, Baha’is, Jews, and numerous other religious minorities, and activists, are a far too common occurrence in everyday Iran. It’s an old story, it’s not going to sell any more papers for newsweek, and it clearly doesn’t fit with the softer picture of Iran that is being pushed.

    This is a country that is in a vexed state of flux; its government knows that, fears any type of instability, and so infringes on the human rights of its peoples, or others who put forth a perceived threat is commonplace. The Baha’is in Shiraz for example, who were imprisoned and interrogated simply for doing community service for children and young teens alongside their Muslim countrymen is another prime example.

    There IS a lot of good in Iran though, its a country with a rich heritage and an intelligent majority who finds itself in a so-called democracy that keeps most “threatening” candidates out of seats for parliament or any high-level political office. The people (like the folks in Shiraz I mentioned earlier) are doing what they can to make positive social change happen in the country… but again, their stopped, again and again.

    That is, the other untold or incomplete picture here, of a country that is struggling to find peace with itself. While the government calls for nuclear weapons to promote its natural stature, the people call for peace and harmony with the outside world, opportunities to educate their children and contribute to the advancement of human civilization.

    I’m keenly interested in seeing how the story unfolds in the coming months and years. Thanks for the post.

  4. Thanks for your insight John. I, too, am looking forward to see how things unfold in Iran.

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