Saturday, July 08, 2006

Znet-Niki Akhavan

A tasteless joke in Znet

Of the articles written in the past week in response to the news of the likelihood of the seizure and sale of the University of Chicago’s collection of ancient Iranian artifacts, “Looting Iran” by a certain Niki Akhavan may be of particular interest to those who, if not mindful of how the announcement has benefited the Islamic Republic and its supporters already, are generally acquainted with the utterly ludicrous nationalistic posturings of a puppet theocracy at war with Iranian nationalism. I need hardly add that, as an Iranian, I am strongly opposed to such punitive measures. But here the article not only attempts to spin the story in favor of the main villain, it also evinces a degree of dishonesty and opportunism that the reader wonders whether it was written by an official of the Islamic Republic. As remarkable is the fact that the piece appears in a “left” leaning journal* on record for providing justification for the looting of Iran as a European colony!

The article begins with a particularly loaded statement:

“It took years of painful sanctions and numerous bombing campaigns before looters swept in to steal Iraq’s archaeological treasures. It seems that in the case of Iran, the theft may precede sanctions and war.”

I’ll leave her characterization of the victims of Hamas as looters and thieves to the victims themselves. Apparently, despite Akhavan’s own acknowledgment, no court of law was involved in all this, and the “Zionists”, well, they just plan to mob Chicago University! And the rhetorical nature of the statement suggests that the looting of Iraq’s treasures is more a pretext than an actual concern. But what of Iran’s ancient artifacts? Are they about to be looted? To the Iranian readers, the question is perplexing and incomprehensible, for they have been looted for more than two decades.

One need not conduct painstaking research to know that since the establishment of the Shiite theocracy, not only the smuggling and looting of Iranian art and antiquity, but the deliberate destruction of (mainly) Iran’s pre-Islamic heritage have been systematic and widespread. It has been almost impossible not to find reports and articles relating to such looting even in the Islamic Republic’s own newspapers on a daily basis. Even a recent study conducted by a European researcher revealed that most of the major archeological sites in Iran have already been looted. Given the magnitude of this disaster, would a person even a little concerned about the fate of Iran and Iranian antiquities deny the actuality of the tragedy and speak instead of an impending possibility, affecting and limited to a single collection no less, all while not merely shifting the blame away from the Islamic Republic, but also advocating giving it security guarantees (that is what “reconciliation” means) as a solution?

Moving on, from the looting of ancient artifacts to soccer, she writes:

“The backlash against the propaganda war against Iran and Iranians can be found in events both trivial and deadly serious. Fans of the Iranian National Soccer team were infuriated, for example, when American sportscasters used the occasion of Iran’s opening match against Mexico to rehash the Western media’s favorite clichés about President Ahmadinejad and his controversial statements regarding Israel and the Holocaust.”

Akhavan provides no examples of these “clichés”, alluding to Ahmadinejad’s “controversial statements regarding Israel and the Holocaust” (without being specific) with a degree of casualness and informality that verges on apathy. Yet, the conspicuous absence of a single use of the term “Islamic” (as in “the Islamic Republic”, “the Islamic Republic of Iran’s soccer team”, etc.) in her article may suggest that the designation, or something close to it, may very well be one such “cliché”. Other supporters of the Islamist regime, including the “liberal” press, suffer from the same allergy.

She continues:

“The games of no other national teams have been inappropriately used as a political forum, and this fact did not escape Iranian viewers, whose bitterness at an earlier than expected exit from the World Cup was further agitated by unsavory sports coverage.”

The reader, of course, cannot judge what was or what was not “inappropriate”, as he does not know exactly what the American sportscasters’ “rehashing of clichés” entailed. What the reader can do, however, is to remind Akhavan that she is in no position what so ever to complain about another’s inappropriate use of sporting events: Because an “Iranian National Soccer team” that would refuse to play “athletes of the Zionist regime” should the occasion arise, should not be allowed to set foot in any international game in the first place. **

Moving on, from soccer to nuclear proliferation, of note here is the vague division of Iranians into supporters and opponents of “nuclear technology” (The possibility that the Islamic Republic may be developing nuclear weapons is not even considered, although a more honest writer, aware of such anxiety, would have acknowledged the possibility to dispute it.) Much like the division of “Iranians from a range of backgrounds” into staunch supporters or sworn enemies “of their current government”***, the point here once again is to conveniently exclude opposition to the Islamic Republic from bearing on the general argument. She writes:

“The continuing application of this double-standard is irksome and counter-productive: it will force the majority of Iranians who support a civilian nuclear program to further dig in their heels, and it will lead those who oppose nuclear technology to distrust the intentions of administrations who claim to act for the good of the Iranian people.”

Do supporters of nuclear technology for Iran also believe that the Islamic Republic should acquire it? Many of those “opposed to nuclear technology”, do they not oppose it precisely because they are opposed to the regime? Thus in addition to being vague, this division of Iranians into supporters and opponents of “nuclear technology” instead of supporters and opponents of the regime experimenting with that technology is deceptive precisely because the issue is not nuclear technology, but the prospect of such technology falling into the hands of the Islamic Republic.


No Iranian would disagree that “What the University of Chicago has in its possession is part and parcel of a heritage that belongs to the Iranian people and cannot be identified as the property of any ruling government.” But to even suggest, in this shamelessly opportunistic manner, that the issue would bear on the matter of reconciliation (“A nail in the coffin of reconciliation between the Islamic Republic and the United States!”) is to reward a savage Islamist regime for years engaged in destroying that heritage with a fabricated record of having had a role in its preservation and protection.

To conclude, I need not urge Iranians to speak out against the punitive measures in question. But I do urge them not to allow the Islamic Republic to assume the role of their advocate.

* The article was also published in the Islamic Republic’s Iran Daily and the US based and

**“This is a general policy of our country to refrain from competing against athletes of the Zionist regime”. Statement by the “Iranian National Olympic Committee” during the 2004 Olympic games in Athens.

*** Opponents of the Islamic Republic do not regard the regime as “theirs”, and “their current” suggests the “sworn enemies” in question are merely opponents of the Ahmadinejad administration.


Anonymous Omid said...

Niki Akhavan is a good researcher and writer, I like her article.

She does not defend the Mullah, she is defending Iran.

I can't believe that you think Iran = Mullah!

9:23 AM  
Anonymous Delnaz said...

why are you attacking Niki Akhavan?
she didn't say anything wrong. She didn't support the regime. She's just trying to protect Iran's heritage.

how can anyone be a asupporter of both the mullas and saddam?!?!?!?!?!

you please don't know what the hell you're talking about

12:23 PM  
Blogger programmer craig said...

Omid, I disagree. She most certainly does support the mullahs. And, as Winston pointed out, she supports the ongoing violence in Iraq as well. She makes no secret of it. I've been following her exploits for over a year. If she's trying to hide where her loyalties are, she's not doing a very good job of it!

12:24 PM  

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