September 28, 2006
And Hitler Liked PuppiesBy J.R. Dunn
An interesting example of a phenomenon that might be called 'mainstreaming' turned up in the New York Observer's October 2nd edition. That weekly newpaper, while not of enormous circulation, is a trend— and tone—setter among the smart set of media—saturated Manhattan denizens. By the lights of one of its contributors, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's not such a bad fellow, after all.
Mainstreaming occurs when a when a dictator, a terrorist leader, an ideologue or some other form of international outlaw previously notable for ugly behavior, threatening rhetoric, and defiance of international norms is given the celebrity treatment by some outlet of the legacy media. Close examination by perceptive reporters reveals a previously unsuspected three—dimensional figure beneath the vicious exterior.
It seems that it's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's turn to go through this process, at the hands of his erstwhile translator, Hooman Majd. In 'Mahmoud and Me' Majd deals with his week spent translating for Ahmadinejad during his recent UN visit. Majd, whose father was an ambassador for the Shah and who evidently grew up in the U.S., was selected thanks to his status as a 'trustworthy Iranian.' It shows. The piece is one long exercise in mainstreaming with scarcely a break from the first page to the last.
Ahmadinejad, it seems, is just a regular guy. He owns only three suits, but in fact, prefers a windbreaker. (Though I'm not at all certain that this accurately describes the Tito/Mao—type gear that Ahmadinejad is usually seen wearing.) He thanks Majd 'rather graciously' for translating his speech. 'I heard from everyone you sounded great.'
He expresses an interest in meeting another well—known regular guy, Michael Moore, but has to do without. He receives no less than two standing ovations, the first at a conference with a group of Iranian—American 'academics, physicians and businessmen' who are 'largely observant Muslims as well as supporters of the Islamic Republic' (I sure hope they were being profiled).The second comes at a dinner for '500 loyal Iranians' held in a grand ballroom of the Hilton.
Ahmadinejad, Majd assures us,
This guy needs to get out more — apparently he's met very few politicians.
These exercises often bring a third party onstage to testify to the greatness of the subject, and Majd does not fail us. An 'African U.N. security guard' tells Majd that Ahmadinejad's speech is 'the best thing he'd ever heard' and begs him for a copy. (This role would be filled by an aged peasant in Cuba, an NVA veteran in Vietnam, and... well, you get the picture.)
The story would not be complete without evidence implying that the central figure possesses mental powers far in excess of run—of—the—mill humanity. Carlos Alberto Montaner tells us that Castro enjoys pretending that he knows the yield of every farm he visits, the marks of all grammar—school students, and the name of every cow in Cuba. Mussolini used to pull similar tricks. With Ahmadinejad, we get a conference attendee who points out that he was sitting 'in exactly the same place' last year.
Awe and wonder from all present. 'Mash'allah,' cries the questioner.
At only one point is Majd even vaguely critical, comparing the dinner to 'a Bund rally in 1930's New York'. But he immediately backtracks:
As if this excuses, in retrospect, American Nazis, much less contemporary Jihadis.
Much is overlooked by Majd in writing this story. One example will suffice. The BBC recently ran a documentary concerning a young girl named Atefah Sahaaleh from the small Iranian city of Neka. Her mother died when she was young, and her father was a pathetic junkie, leaving her effectively an orphan living with distant relatives who mistreated her. Like many teens in similar situations, she rebelled, skipping school, wandering the backstreets, and making cynical comments about everything under the sun.
But the Islamic Republic doesn't have any use for rebels, particularly female ones. She was persecuted by the local mullahs, given a hundred lashes and a short prison sentence. At one point in her ordeal she was raped, which, under sharia law, constitutes adultery. She was put on trial, and after defying her judges by tearing off her headscarf before them, was found guilty of 'crimes against chastity', and sentenced, and hanged. She was sixteen years old.
(The man who — literally and figuratively — put the noose around her neck was 'Judge' Haji Rezai. We need to save that name, for better days.)
Majd, I'm sure, doesn't know that story. But he ought to. So that he doesn't, in the future, make the same mistake of thinking that charm, politeness, modesty, and the total recall of seating arrangements for years on end somehow excuses a man of the crime of representing a regime that murders sixteen—year—old girls.
Majd is not alone here. A softball question from CNN's Anderson Cooper concerning Iran's campaign 'against the Afghan opium trade' surprises even him. (Cooper, of course, would last about five minutes in Tehran before somebody pushed a wall over on him.)
This is not an individual failure, it's a failure of the legacy media as a whole. It's unlikely that the media will be able to fully sanitize Ahmadinejad — he is, in the end, too repellent a figure. In truth, they never have succeeded. (With the exception of Castro, for reasons mysterious to me.)
But the mainstreaming process causes damage in and of itself, in unnecessarily blurring the picture, and confusing the naive, the foolish, and the idealistic. The major truth of a criminal is that he's a criminal, the major truth of murderer is that he's a murderer, the major truth of a tyrant is that he's a tyrant. Present these people clearly, as they are, and we'll figure out the rest.
J.R. Dunn is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.