Supporting Journalists in the Front Line

On January 8, in Tehran, after the massacres in Paris at the Charlie Hebdo offices, journalists carrying flowers and candles gathered outside the building that had once housed the Association of Iranian journalists, to pay their respects to their slaughtered colleagues in Paris. The security forces of the current regime, however, ever fearful of any assembly, prevented them from gathering near the building that has been padlocked since the August 2009 raid by the regime’s security forces.

When journalists in the West are attacked or killed simply for doing their job, millions take to the streets; where is the support for the brave journalists and cartoonists in countries such as my motherland, Iran, where Islamist oligarchs reign? Where then is the support for the many pressmen, bloggers, and cartoonists on the front lines of the fight for the freedom of expression, and those who stand against the Islamist zealots? In Saudi Arabia last week, the 30-year-old blogger Raif Badaw, received 50 lashes in the public square outside the mosque after midday prayers.  “Very severely,” the lashing order says. This Friday, he is to get 50 more. And the Friday after that, 50 more. And the Friday after that, 50 more – until a 1000 lashes is reached.  It will take 20 weeks, or nearly half a year. If he lives. He has no medical assistance. Where is the outcry over that? His “crime” was to write blogs thoughts such as: “My commitment is… to reject any repression in the name of religion… a goal we will reach in a peaceful and law-abiding way.” How come their stories remain so foreign to the global news outlets? The Saudi court called it “insulting Islam.” Where are the marches over that?

My father, Siamak Pourzand, was one of Iran’s most celebrated journalists, whose career spanned 60 years. For speaking out against the mullahs in Iran, he spent long years in and out of Tehran’s horrendous Evin prison. In April 2011, he was murdered by the regime’s agents, who threw him off the sixth-floor balcony of the apartment where he lived. He was home on a medical furlough from prison.

Although the regime claimed it was suicide, our family and friends -- and probably everyone -- knew better. According to the Iranian regime’s sharia-law driven courts, my father was guilty of “acting against the security of the regime.” Although he never spoke against its religion, Islam, he courageously took issue with its objectionable, if not indefensible, violations of civil and human rights. So members of Iran’s regime claimed he was a “combatant against God” -- a “crime” punishable by execution – and a threat to their Islamic revolution.

When for many years I tried to get the international media to expose the injustices being done to him and other Iranian journalists, there was no interest. I mistakenly believed that if Vaclav Havel, Natan Sharansky, and Nelson Mandela, had -- as had my father -- confronted the monstrousness of their governments, using their imprisonment and suffering as a way of exposing the systems they confronted, then his case too could become “cause” that could that make more visible information concerning the Islamist regime’s unspeakable human rights violations.

Now, when I hear and read the musings of media, journalists, and contributors who cover issues the world over, often they are not even familiar with a topic. They often end up at best causing confusion, and at worst, getting everything wrong. Yet many writers and analysts who often do know their topic, especially on matters related to the Middle East or Iran, are relegated to the “biased” pile, presumably on the assumption -- usually false -- that writers unfamiliar with the facts are not biased.

Why then are Westerners suspicious of their own Judeo-Christian politicians and officials, but give so much leeway to tyrants who, in the name of Allah, have perfected all levels of propaganda and economic acrobatics to remain in power?

In countering the extremists, the West may well need to listen to Middle Easterners who have stood up to the Islamists, not merely to those who often whitewash the realities staring them in the face.  It is important to hear from those who have been raised in victimized countries, as they are the ones who can offer the best tools and details, before it gets repackaged for tourists, the media, and Westerners who are counted on to eat whatever is put on their plate. It is those Middle Easterners who are able to deconstruct realities of life under fundamentalists, without abridging the information. Those of us who have relocated to the West and respect Western values, who have fled the tyrants and fanatics who claim to “liberate” our countries, are often marginalized at best, while business interests, paid lobbyists, and other agents of influence are welcomed, catered to, and befriended. Others, who are able to decode events in a way more accurate, but not as economically “convenient” or helpful politically, are politely muzzled, if not shown the door. 

The West can no longer afford to ignore allies and treat their problems as “localized.” Where Islamism is concerned, nothing is ever just regional. It’s mandate is without time, without borders, and is eternal, to be exported by the word and by the sword.

It those the journalists, bloggers, and cartoonists from the front lines such as those so diligently documented by Reporters Without Borders -- who at least should be heeded -- that is if there is any honest interest in trying to make sure that last week’s slaughters of journalists in Europe will not happen again.

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