terror and tehran
homeaxis of evilinside iraninterviewsdiscussion
photo of a demonstrationjoin the discussion: Are you convinced by the U.S. case against Iran?  Does President Bush's language of evil serve U.S. interests?

Dear FRONTLINE,

President Bush should have said The Islamic Republic of Iran or the Islamic regime in Iran, instead of just Iran. There must be a clear distinction between the evil regime and the Iranian people. Hope the media will make this distinction in the future.

Shirin Momtaz
Washington, DC

Dear FRONTLINE,

As an Iranian pro-democracy activist and a political scientist, I would like to congratulate the producers of "Terror and Tehran" for a job well done. I noticed several errors of fact and interpretation, which I would like to share with you and your readers.

1. Former President Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was referred to as "nationalist." This is factually wrong. Mr. Rafsanjani is an Islamic fundamentalist and is opposed to nationalism in the Iranian context.

2. Several times the program referred to reformist faction of the fundamentalist elites as "democratic" and "pro-democracy," and mentioned Ayatollah Sanee and President Khatami with such labels. The reformist fundamentalists support the fundamentalist system called "Velayat Faghih" [sovereignty of Shia Cleric], but advocate a reduction of repression in order to prolong fundamentalist rule. Neither Khatami nor Sanee have ever called for FREE elections in which Iranian democrats can participate.

3. The program correctly mentioned the 1953 coup and its significance, but it failed to mention that the Shia clerics' opposition to the Shah was not due to the 1953 coup. Ms. Elaine Sciolino erroneously attributed the clerics' hostility to the US to the 1953 coup. In fact the second highest ranked cleric in 1953, Grand Ayatollah AbolQasem Kashani, and the third highest ranked cleric, Ayatollah Behbahani, strongly supported the coup against Dr. Mossadegh. The highest ranked cleric, Grand Ayatollah Broujerdi, welcomed the coup afterwards. Khomeini was at that time a clerk for Broujerdi and took Broujerdi's messages to the Shah. The opposition of Khomeini and other Shia clerics to the Shah began in the 1959-1964 period and had more to do with female franchise, land reform, and replacing of oat to the Quran with oat to a holy book. In 1979, after two million Iranians went to the country estate of the late Dr. Mossadegh to pay their respect, Khomeini fumed and said: "if the US imperialists had not slapped Mossadegh in the face, then Mossadegh would have slapped Islam."

On errors of interpretation:

1. The program confused the advocates of secular democracy also called "The Third Force" with the advocates of reformist fundamentalist faction. The name Third Force has been coined in contradistinction to the two fundamentalist factions -- Hardliners and Reformists.

The program did cover many secular democrats such as Darush Forouhar and his wife Parvaneh Eskandari-Forouhar, Siamak Pourzand, Ms. Mehrangiz Kar, Dr. Faribourz Raisi-Dana, and the son and daughter of the Forouhars Arash and Parastoo. The Third Force includes divers groups and individuals. The main pro-democracy group constituting the Third Force is the Iran National Front INF, which was established in 1949. It was the democratic government of INF, led by Prime Minister Dr. Mossadegh, which was overthrown by the CIA organized coup in August 1953. The Forouhars were leaders of one of the parties in the INF called Iran Nation Party. Mr. Pourzand was a journalist in the main newspaper of the INF called "Bakhtar Emrooz" in 1952- 1953.

In my view, the main weakness of the program was its failure to interview members of Iran National Front in Tehran. The INF constitutes the main secular democratic organization inside Iran. It is widely assumed that if there is a transition to democracy, it would be the INF, which would assume power.

The program correctly covered the pro-democracy uprising in July 1999. Two of the leaders of the uprising, Gholam Reza Mohajeri Nejad and Roozbeh Farahanipour - have escaped Iran and live in the US. The program would have been richer had the producers interviewed these two bright young pro-democracy activists.

The pro-democracy movement in general and the Iran National Front in particular call for FREE elections and for a referendum on the Velayat Faghih. The Third Force, led by the INF, advocates the replacement of sovereignty of the Shia clerics with the sovereignty of the people, i.e., democracy. The INF advocates civil liberties, democracy, republican form of government, pluralism, separation of mosque and state, modernity, social justice, and amity and comity with all nations.

It is imperative for American audiences to know that there is a huge difference between the Iranian people who yearn for freedom, democracy and modernity, and the despotic fundamentalist tyrants who brutally oppress them. There are no free elections in Iran in which the democrats can run. Frontline did a service to the American public by showing the reality of Iran. Thanks.

Masoud Kazemzadeh, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Political Science

Utah Valley State College


Masoud Kazemzadeh

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

We thank Dr. Kazemzadeh for his thoughtful letter. He correctly points out that there is an important distinction between groups that advocate a secular democracy, with separation of mosque and state, and others who might be called the reformist fundamentalism faction, who want to reduce the repression but keep the ultimate power of the clerics in place. Individuals from both groups appear in the film, but perhaps we did not make the distinction clear enough. As for Ms. Sciolino, she correctly reports that anti-American sentiment is, in part, based on the U.S. role in the l953 coup. The clerics also may have opposed Mossadegh then, but now they can make the intervention fit todayŪs politics, even if it calls for a bit of hypocrisy.

Dear FRONTLINE,

As an Iranian in exile, I'm fully convinced by U.S's case against Iran. The Islamic Republic's involvement in numerous terror acts agains the US has been well documented as well as their alliance with Hamas, Hizbollah, and the Islamic Jihad. Time and again I hear in the news of the elements in the Islamic Republic's support and shelter of the Al Qaeda as well, but the US Press is either uncertain about these allegations or unable to further cover this major issue. Unfortunately it's not stressed enough in the US press of how deeply the Islamic Republic is involved in terrorism and the spread of evil in the world, I don't know what the dynamics are behind this diplomacy. If you were to pay more attention to the articles posted in "SMCCDI" [Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran], you would know what I mean. How they are involved in halting any real peace in Afghanistan, their involvement in Turkish/Kurdish Conflict, but mostly their efforts to stop peace and spread terror in the Israeli/Palestinian Issue. This in turn complicates US's endeavors in helping to achieve peace in Afghanistan as well as to improve the mideast situation.

Therefore, yes I believe that the language of evil serves US's interest well. That's if US is serious about its war on terrorism and intends to help freedom fighters of the terrorist regimes, fight their oppressors. Do you think this is a hawkish point of view? If so please refer to "SMCCDI" Website and read their articles, notably their newsletter to President Bush, thanking him for his branding Iran an "axis of evil" thereby separating the people of Iran from their evil regime.

frida prodan
portland , oregon

Dear FRONTLINE,

I praise PBS's Frontline's insight for even raising the question "Does America's war on terror hold democracy hostage in Iran?"

My personal answer to this question is absolutely yes. Iranians, like any other nation, tend to bond together when they perceive an external threat. This bonding causes the avoidance of multiple ideas under which a democracy can flourish. When such a conditions occurs, the constructive political dialogue is reduced, and thus those who hold the political upper hand will tend to increase their power by crushing their opponents with the excuse of "unity" against an external threat.

President Bush's label for Iran as part of the "Axis of Evil" has given much political ammunition to the the far right autocratic groups in Iran, whom ever since have been echoing the drums of war that President Bush talks about. Under the excuse of the American external threat, many moderate and constructive moderate groups in Iran have been silenced by the far right autocrats who currently hold the dominant but less popular political hand in Iran. One can only conclude that President Bush's language of evil has had a negative effect on the growth of democracy in Iran.

Does this serve American interests? As Henry Kissinger once put it: "I beleive there's a difference between what we would like for nations to be, and what is required for the American national interest." It can be sadly concluded that there are groups in the American political spectrum that see the flourishing of democracy in Iran as against "American national interests".

Babak Mohit
Gainesville, Florida

Dear FRONTLINE,

I have long believed that the "axis of evil" comment was meant primarily as a course correction, i.e., a departure from and rebuke of Clinton administration policies that sought to downplay Iranian involvement in past terrorism.
I wish your program and your online chronology devoted more time to the critical years between 1964 and 1978. It is one thing to support a dictator during a Cold War, but another thing entirely during a detente and a thaw in East-West relations. As I recall, the U.S. continued to support the shah even as he worked against the forces of reform, which were by this time both religious and secular.

Paul Theis
glendale, wi

Dear FRONTLINE,

I think regardless of the content of the program, its title was just a mistake! Associating two names, "Tehran" and "Terror", creates some bad feelings for those who don't know Iran and Iranian people, at the very first place. It sounds like the whole nation is involved in terror. You can imagine what would be such a feeling if a program called "Washington and Massacre" is broadcasted around the world, just because US navy targeted the Airbus passenger airplane in 1988, and killed 300 innocent people.

Reza Azimi
Toronto, ON, Canada

Dear FRONTLINE,

I really enjoyed your show and feel that you did a great job illustrating the dilemma between Iran's reformist push from the inside and the isolation it faces from the outside.

At the same time, I don't know if the government in Tehran is as directly involved in leading the Hezbollah as the program suggested. Nor do I think it is fully accurate to suggest that Iran is behind the mess in Israel right now.

I realize there is certainly a linkage but I wonder if it's not radical elements within the regime that are supporting the terrorist group rather than the government officially giving its blessing.

This distinction would allow us to focus on and thus ameliorate those specific elements rather than to alienate the entire government and country.

Thank you.

Vahid Fotuhi
Washington, DC

Dear FRONTLINE,

PBS is trying to educate us, but all we can do is criticize the messenger. Why not just LISTEN for once, and we might just learn something. We know so little about what is going on inside Iran today, it's pathetic. ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX try to pacify us with reruns; but I'm not watching, and neither are a lot of other concerned citizens. Thanks, Frontline, for presenting a program that offers food for thought. WAKE UP AMERICANS! Support non-commercial programing.

malia cross

Dear FRONTLINE,

Your program should be praised in that it sought out opinions from Iranians officials, which is rare for an American program.

However, your interviewer comes to the piece with a load of Western prejudices. He assumes that free-market, liberal, secular democracy is THE way to govern. If one reads his questions, it becomes clear that each time he speaks to an Iranian official he's asking, "Why aren't you more like us?".

The viewer should remember two things about Iran. First, the "reformers" of today were the same "radicals" that took over the US embassy. Second, President Khatami did not come to destroy the Islamic republic, but, to preserve it by emphasizing the republican nature of the constitution after all he himself is a clergy and as a one-time Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance banned over 400 works in his tenure. He is one of "them" and has served in every government since 1983.

Finally, if the US is so interested in democracy, why hasn't it encouraged it's "friends" in the region like the autocrats of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Pakistan to push for democratic reforms and end corruption and cronyism?

Kamyar Hedayat
Mountain View, Ca

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am not convinced that the language of "evil" serve U.S interests. U.S government should support the reform movement in Iran and help the reformist to overthrow the mullas's dictatorship. Iranian are tired of political games and hope for a better future without mullas. U.S government should support the Iranian people and their wish. Iranian people love Americans and see themselves totally separate from the unelected government in Iran.

Cyrus Aryan
San Francisco, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,


The program on Iran was very informative. As an Iranian-American I appreciate programs that reveal the real truth about Iran: Majority of Iranians don't hate, but are desperate for demoracy.

Sheila Kazem
San Jose, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I believe that US case against Iran is right the same way that Iran's case against US is right. In a hostile situation, both sides can find reasons to fight and accuse the other.
Iranian government has enough evidence to accuse American government of sponsoring terrorist government of Sadam Husein in its 8 years war against Iran killing more than 300,000 Iranians, supplying chemical materials that was used in bio-chemical bombs against Iranians, suppressing Iranian people by overthrowing their nationalist government in 1953 and continuing aggressions against Iran.

I understand the case that US government is raising but I think war is not the solution if it was the solution US would have started it years ago, and if war is not a solution we need to have a dialogue with Iran, and if we need to have a dialogue, it should be based on rationalism and international laws, not based on calling each other "evil" and "Satan"!!!! :

As an Iranian-American I believe that president's speech was not prepared based on reality. This speech put everyone in a state of shock. EU and all other American allies are surprised by this speech, because it shows illusion of American politicians and their lack of understanding towards Iran.

This stand is against US interest in the region and grows opposition towards American policies in the world, for the years to come.

America, as a superpower, should promote the language of peace and respect for human values in the world, not a language of war and hatred.

Reza Kaviani

Dear FRONTLINE,


Any reason you did noy show the downing of the Iranian passenger aircraft by the US that killed many innocent civilians? Any reason you did not mention the sympathy expressed by Iranians for the Americans killed on 9/11?

K R
LA, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I have an additional thought. The administration has been foolishly and childishly drawn into mutual name calling. Since they label us "the great satan", we have to come back with just as silly a label, one of the "axis of evil". It is reminiscent of neighboring children over a back fence ... "You're a dummy" ... "You're a jerk", etc. This is very embarassing to say the least.

Alan Robertson
Chicago, Ill.

Dear FRONTLINE,

I wish I could believe that this program was ment to enlighten the viewer. but I must say this was one more program in our media that has missplaced its intentions.
Khatami is no moderate and there is no moderat within the regime ruling Iran. Some in the west are still seeing the mirage that they want to see the "Moderate" as they saw Rafsanjani.

It seems that, us in the west always have to be last ones to realize that the time has arrived for the dictatorship to crumble. As we experienced with the Shah. How long we have to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the signs that the people of Iran have realized that there are no moderates within the mullahcracy rulling Iran.

I hope one day I will be able to see a balanced program that questions what has happened to Iranians in the past two decads and how bunch of thugs hijacked a revolution and took a nation hostage. How the mullahs have killed so many people and no one has to answer for it. Including the so called moderate selected president or any of his advisors, which are hostage takers or have thier hands stained by the blood of a nation.

The should put to trial in an international court for crimes against humanity as we are doing for Milosevic.

Hope to see that day, I believe that day is not too far and the political pundits in the west will be caught off guard once more.

Farzad A
Washington DC, DC

Dear FRONTLINE,

If BushŪs speech writers had used žIranian GovernmentÓ instead of žIranÓ in his žAxis of EvilÓ speech, he would have most likely gain a considerable popularity among Iranian youth and intellectuals.

It is undisputed that majority of Iranian people, in excess of 70%, do not support the present form of political system in Iran. However, fear of bloodshed and dread of total anarchy have convinced this majority to examine a reform within the present political system. Their acquiescence to the so-called reform movement and the reformist within the government, should not be interpreted as support of the žestablishmentÓ and ruling clergies but rather their desire for a peaceful change.

Conservative clergies are mainly supported by a mafia like groups that have done and will do anything to maintain economic monopoly and political power. Iran-Iraq war allowed these corrupt groups to flourish. Learning their lessons from the past, the economic mafia has been seeking a war or a regional conflict to regain total control and to suppress the desire of majority of Iranian people for democracy and freedom. United States should avoid any action that would permit these groups to reach their evil goals. Thus, a clear and convincing message should be sent that American government and American people separate the Iranian People and their interest from Iranian government. A necessary but a hard task, indeed. Otherwise, the conservative clergies and their mafia supporters may remain in control of this important country more than the region and the world can afford.


Ron Alikani

more

home | introduction | iran and the axis of evil | inside iran | interviews
producer chat | readings & links | chronology | discussion | video
tapes & transcripts | press reaction | credits | privacy policy

FRONTLINE | wgbh | pbsi

khatami photo copyright © reuters newmedia/corbis
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS