Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ahmadi-Nejad's Popularity and Iran Experts

Potkin Azarmehr, Azarmehr Weblog:
A fair person has to, at times, take his hat off to his adversary's skills. I consider myself a fair person; in sports for example, I am always happy to admire my opponent's skills and strengths and commend him on his outstanding abilities. I also have to admire the Islamic Republic at times. Most of all, for their ability to manipulate the Western media, and particularly the "experts" or the "Iran Analysts".

Shortly after I wrote about MacAskill and Tisdall's article in the Guardian who had claimed Ahmadi-Nejad's popularity to have soared to 70%, I received a link to another similar claim from yet another so-called Iran expert. See Genuinely Popular by Meir Javedanfar.

At the bottom of the article Meir is introduced as:

"...Middle East Analyst and the Director or the Middle East Economic and Political Analysis Company, meepas.com. He has been quoted and interviewed by the BBC, Radio Holland International, Haaretz Newspaper and the Boston Globe as well as a number of other newspapers and Radio stations. For rights to quote this article"

Vow! This sounds impressive, he is after all the director of an impressive sounding think tank. I have always been a firm believer of getting the right information, whether it is to one's taste and liking or otherwise. If one doesn't have the right information, then its like playing chess blindfolded without knowing where the pieces are.

So I sent the email below to Meir:

"Dear Meir,

Did you make these observations when you were in Iran? How many of Ahmadi-Nejad's rural tours did you accompany? Did you mingle with his audience to see what they are really saying or did you interview them as an official reporter?

Other than the above what kind of nationwide opinion polls did you conduct or have access to or did you surmise these conclusions as general observations?"

To his credit Meir, replied quickly:

"Salam Jenab Potkin,

First of all, many thanks for your email. Its great to communicate with fellow Iranians over such important matters.

You are right, it is difficult to get census information, but here is one which I thought is very useful:

Regarding Ahmadinejad’s tours, I used articles in Iranian and foreign press. We may not like him, but many people outside Tehran believe in him.

In terms of empirical data, again, I used information from foreign and Iranian sources. I also talk to people who travel back and forth to Iran.

Unfortunately I can’t even get to the crowd (although I would love to), because I live in Israel.

Sepaz gozaram

Meir Javedanfar
Middle East Analyst
The Middle East. Analysed. "

So his main source again was the MacAskil and Tisdal article! Well when I was in university one of my lecturers used to say if you copy more than 10% from a source it is plagiarism but if you copy more than 90% then it is a student project. It seems that "Iran Experts" also operate on similar principles to the student projects that my university lecturer referred to.

The Islamic Republic think tank units expertly target the Western newspaper journalists who have the potential of opinion making. Through their "officials" they feed these "experts" with their "sources" of information, the poor average Guardian reader, then reads these articles admiring the skills of these "analysts" in obtaining their information and putting the pieces together. The myth then propagates that so and so is an "expert" on Iran and his writings become gospel for the snotty intellectuals whose opinions are made based on what they read and not on their experiences or God forbid mingling with the common man on the streets. READ MORE

One really comical "Iran Expert" is Christopher de Bellaigue, the author of "in the rose gardens of martyrs". I actually came across someone's blog in Australia who was ever so impressed by de Bellaigue's Iran credentials. According to the Australian blogger, Christopher de Bellaigue, was fluent in Persian and even had an Iranian wife. My God, you must be an expert on Iran if you have an Iranian wife.

Now lets examine the reality, here is one article by this "Iran Expert". It was titled "Iran's mystery man" and published in "The New York Review of Books"

Move on to section III of the above link, when the "Iran expert" describes his trip to Tabriz in June. The second line reads "..Visiting Ahmaghieh, a poor suburb, I got my first inkling ..."

Ahmaghieh? Someone fluent in Persian would quickly jump up reading this. Ahmagh in Persian means idiot. Ahmaghieh would be a district full of idiots. The similarity between Ahmagh and Ahmad is in fact a popular way of lampooning the Iranian president in the many thousands of jokes about him. But lets give our "Iran Expert" the benefit of the doubt, it could have been a typo. I make lots of typo mistakes while trying to update my blog in between my work and I don't like criticising someone for something that I myself am guilty of.

So lets read on, surely de Bellaigue would have corrected his typo, after all he says he has been to this district, surely he can not be an armchair analyst who sits in his office and receives the official lines to disseminate across the world as fact. But no! again in the same line he mentions

"..Ahmaghieh has a population of about 60,000 people..." and then in the next paragraph
"..In Ahmaghieh, I met two young men.." and again few paragraphs further down:
"..After seeing the film, many in Ahmaghieh decided to vote for him.." and again:
"...He was an educated man, about 40 years old, and he told me that he had been working in Ahmaghieh for the past 18 years.." and so on.

Well some "source" had a sense of humour and must have been having a laugh with our "Iran expert". Go back to the very first paragraph of de Bellaigue's article, there is one element of truth there however:

"I know of no Iranian active in public life or in journalism, let alone a foreign diplomat or reporter, who predicted Ahmadinejad's win."

So even according to de Bellaigue, his sources and the "experts" can and often are wrong. As comical as all this may sound there is one underlying tragic reality. These "Iran Experts" who are pumped up by these official "sources" credit the legitimacy of Iran's Islamic government. That is no laughing matter.