Marandi takes on the Media
by HAMED ALEAZIZ
10 Feb 2010 02:02
[ Q&A ] In the nearly eight months since the Iranian election, few in Iran have openly spoken to the western media. One exception has been Dr. Seyyed Mohammad Marandi who has become a regular on the international talk show circuit. He has appeared on CNN several times, hosted by Christiane Amanpour and Fareed Zakaria, NBC, and mostly Al Jazeera English. Marandi has been quoted by Reuters, NPR, The Jerusalem Post, and co-authored an op-ed on the Politico Web site with Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett soon after the election in June.
Marandi's positions supporting the government in articulate American English has helped earn him the title of "the biggest monster of the century," something he laughed off in a recent telephone interview. "There's nothing I can do about it," he said. In fact, he went on to say that he considered himself a critic of the Iranian government. "I believe Mr. Ahmadinejad is the popularly-elected president of Iran, but if I were one of his ministers I would advise him very differently on several matters," he said.
Marandi, 42, is a professor of North American Studies at the University of Tehran, where he conducts research on American culture, film and literature. Marandi was born in the United States and raised in an upscale neighborhood in Dayton, Ohio, in the 1970s. He was even a Dallas Cowboys fan. At 13, his family moved back to Iran. And three years later, he took up arms and fought in the Iran-Iraq war, during which he was injured four times, two as a result of chemical attacks.
A passionate Occidentalist, Marandi studies "American misrepresentation of Iran." In one recent conference in Lebanon, Dr. Marandi delivered a speech on the lack of fair coverage of Iranian history in American textbooks. He appeared on NBC with Matt Lauer to dispute the translation of a speech by President Ahmadinejad. Dr. Marandi even criticized President Obama's choice of location for his speech to the Middle East: "I think that he probably made the worst possible choice to choose Egypt as a place to make a speech," he said.
His father is a conservative member of parliament representing Tehran and also Head of the Medical Sciences Academy.
Tehran Bureau correspondent Hamed Aleaziz recently caught up with Dr. Marandi.
Would you agree that you are the primary, or at least the most prominent English-speaking Iranian spokesman in the Western media?
Not really because I don't consider myself to be a spokesperson for anyone. I'm an academic at the University of Tehran. I'm a member of the North American Studies Department; I currently chair the Department. I have been elected by the members of the department to chair it, and that is my job. I teach and I work on campus. I don't work anywhere else. However I am perhaps the person most often viewed by English-speaking audiences over the last few months, and that is because I'm invited on different programs [that] I've accepted. But I have no official status anywhere, and interestingly, perhaps, is the fact that I didn't vote for either Mr. Ahmadinejad [the current president] or Mr. [Mir Hossein] Mousavi.
How do you feel about the role that you've been given by these news outlets?
As an academic I feel that I have a duty to speak the truth and say things even though it may not be popular in the U.S. and the Western media. I understand that the Western media has always been hostile to Iran ever since the Revolution and that the representation of Iran has always been very negative and that was the case when Mr. Mousavi himself was prime minister many years ago. I knew that when I would come to the defense of Iran that I would be portrayed in a negative light by many people in the English-speaking world and by many Iranian exiles, but I feel that I have a duty to say what I think. If I have to pay a price for it, if I am attacked or insulted, I do have to pay that price. I do get regular death threats, but I think that I have an obligation to speak out and if I have to pay a price then so be it.
What draws you to participate in these interviews on a myriad foreign policy subjects from nuclear weapons to the professor that was killed a few weeks ago, to even the supposed trade between an Israeli company and Iran?
It's just really a personal interest of mine, because my field of work is not politics, and these interviews take a lot of my time. I have to often go to studios and it prevents me from doing my own research and my own work. But I do it because there is a large amount of demonization going on in the Western media with regards to Iran. It's of course nothing new, but it has been intensified over the past few months. It is something that of course has existed for the last two decades and it's not even just Iran, it's the Middle East, the Islamic world, and even much of the developing world beyond the Islamic world that is usually viewed to be somehow inferior to the so-called free world. And because I feel that this is not appropriate and does not do Iran justice, these representations, and I feel that the Western media is biased toward Iran, when invited to different news, television, or radio programs, if I have the time I usually accept and I defend Iran when I feel it needs to be defended. And I defend the alternative perspective when I feel that it is not being mentioned in the mainstream media in Western countries.
Isn't it illegal to speak to the foreign media?
It is legal. But there are three reasons why many of my colleagues refuse to participate. One is because they find the western media, particularity the American and British media, to be so hostile that it is useless endeavor. And they regularly try to dissuade me from taking part unless it's Al Jazeera. The second reason is that Iranian academics have a difficult time getting visas for academic conferences and to travel to universities for sabbaticals and speaking out in the media doesn't make things any better. Many of my colleagues have been refused visas to travel abroad. Many believe it's linked to politics, and speaking to media will only complicate things for them.
Even I get harassed regularly at American airports despite having a US passport. I believe it has to do with my appearances and what I say. I may be wrong though, but it is my perception and perception is important anyhow.
The third reason is that while many of my colleagues can read and understand English text debating an issue in English for an American audience is difficult when it's not their with mother tongue.
Have you ever been contacted by or given praise by the government for your work on foreign news broadcasts?
Never. I have never been contacted by anyone in the administration. I do not work in the administration, and I have said on numerous occasions that I did not even vote for President Ahmadinejad, but I accept the fact that he is the legitimate president of the country and that he won the election, and those who stood against him should have accepted the legitimate result and the will of the people. I do that because I feel that it is my responsibility to do so, and whether anyone praises me or not it's completely irrelevant to me. But I think that all my students and my colleagues know me quite well, because I am there full-time and that is all that I do.
You grew up in the United States. How did your childhood in America shape your perception of the country?
I was born in the US. I'm an American citizen by birth. I grew up in the US and went to school there. After the Revolution, my family moved back to Iran, and I began to be more and more disillusioned with many aspects of the US government when I saw how the US had treated Iran and was treating Iran. Its support for the Shah and efforts to overthrow the Revolution were very much in contradiction to my childhood perceptions of the US as a freedom-loving country with a government that supports freedom. As time went by and the US supported Sadaam Hussein in the war and helped Sadaam Hussein in his war against the Iranian people, my disillusionment with the US intensified and I would consider myself to be a very strong critic of the US government, both then and now and even today as [represented by] Mr. Obama as the relatively new president of the US.
How do you keep up to date about happenings in Iran? Specific newspapers, channels, Web sites?
The internet. I read news on different websites that are from different political factions because in Iran there aren't two groups -- it's not the government and opposition. There are many political trends in the country, and much of the opposition has nothing to do with the so-called Green Movement. The Reformists inside Iran have for the most part completely distanced themselves from those people, and the so-called Conservatives or the Principlists, they too are divided into different groups themselves. So there's a very diverse set of political parties and persuasions in the country and they all have their own Web sites and newspapers. I read the news off the internet when I have time and usually I do so if I am invited to participated in a television or radio program before I participate.
Are there any particular Web sites you visit?
There are quite a few. My way of doing things is by reading alternative and diverse viewpoints and trying to find the consistencies or inconsistencies in each and then arrive to some sort of conclusion. Sometimes of course I get information from television or other sources.
Okay, I'm not too familiar with the news Web sites in Iran. Can you name a couple that you like to use?
There is Fars news. There's Tabnak, there's Jahan news, there's Mehr, there is Raja news, Farda news, IRNA, Farjan news, there is Mr. Rafsanjani's Web site, there is Alef news. There is Emrouz. There are very many.
Okay, so you use these Web sites?
No, these just come to me at this time. I can't speak from memory of all the Web sites that you can use. There are numerous sources that I like to use. I don't read all of these all the time, but if there's a particular story that interests me I try to read the different news outlets.
It has been widely reported that your father is the private physician of the Supreme Leader. Is that correct?
My father is a professor at Shahid Behesteh-University. He has his own private practice, and he is one of the physicians that the Leader might see if he wants to have a check-up. So no, he is not a personal private physician for him. He spends his days at the University and his private practice.
Have you ever met the Supreme Leader Khamenei?
I have never met him as an individual or had a meeting with him. I have seen him, but I don't have any government or any other role to play for me to be in any way close to him or to his office. So I have seen him, but I haven't spoken with him about any particular topic extensively or anything like that. Just a few words.
You frequently describe American news broadcasts that are beamed into Iran as inciting riots and violence--Do you believe other countries should refrain from supporting or creating news for the purpose of beaming into foreign countries? If so, how do you reconcile this view with Iran's own multiple Arab news channels?
The news channels that are being beamed in from the US are many, they are in Persian, they are all hostile toward Iran and the Islamic Republic of Iran and many have spoke of and encouraged violence. Many others have used racist language to speak of Arabs for specific purposes.
Iranian channels in Arabic, as far as I know there are two channels in Arabic, one is a news channel and one is a religious channel. None of them are specifically directed at any particular country, and Iran, therefore, has channels that are very different by nature. The Iranian Arabic news channels, alongside many Arabic news channels, they provide information to the Arab world about international affairs. But the tens of Persian-language TV channels beaming in from the US are funded basically to destabilize Iran. There is no country in the Arab world that has claimed that Iran's two channels are directed at destabilizing any country in particular in the Middle East.
Do you have a message to the Iranian Diaspora who may feel troubled about the post-election events in Iran?
In general I'm not in a position to give anyone any particular message. I'm just an ordinary citizen in Iran. But I would say both to Iranians in the US and Americans in the US, that Iran is obviously neither a utopia nor a distopia, and neither is the US. And the representation of Iran in the US is very one-sided, and it is not constructive. It will not help to create a more favorable environment for future rapprochement between the two countries when the English media and the American media treat Iran in such an unfair manner. When Islamophobia and phobia of Iran is reinforced through the media, it only harms prospectives for future generations to come together to build a more positive and more friendly atmosphere for a better future.
But how do you feel about Iranians who are abroad and are upset about the post-election events? Do you think their claims are baseless?
Well, Iranians outside of Iran have very diverse news and they are not a monolithic entity.
What about Iranians who are against the current government?
Well again, that would be one segment of the Iranian diaspora and therefore I think that the best thing that all people can do, Iranians and non-Iranians, would be to look at the news from more diverse sources and not just American sources -- also look to sources within Iran. Put these pieces of news together through reason and logic -- without emotion -- try to come to some sort of conclusion. I think that if one does that, one will realize that the news coming from the US is not very objective and not very fair.
22 Bahman is approaching, do you have any ideas or thoughts as to what might happen?
I think it's pretty obvious that there will be a very high turn-out in all cities for the rallies in support of the Islamic Republic as a state. Those who are opposed to the Islamic Republic, or the so-called Green Movement, will probably try to stage some sort of rally but it will be very insignificant in comparison. What is also extraordinary is that the pro-Islamic Republic rallies that have taken place just a couple of weeks ago, especially through these days after Ashura, throughout the country and also in Tehran, which were massive and unprecedented in Iran, received almost no coverage in the US and in many Western countries as far as I know. I think that is itself revealing that the media in the US is very biased, but more importantly, it misleads American public opinion and even much of the political elite in the US. This creates a danger in that the US may, as a result of not being well-informed about events in Iran, miscalculate; miscalculations can have severe consequences for all people.
How do you feel about the executions that took place last week?
Well, the executions were, if you mean the two people who were linked to terrorist organizations... I think that in any country people who are armed and are supported and funded by countries outside of the country of their own birth, they would be considered as people who are carrying out treason. The same is true with the US. If American citizens are in the US carrying TNT, or have the intention of carrying out attacks, or are members of terrorist organizations, they will be dealt with in a very similar manner by the US. So I think that one should look at it in a more objective perspectives: The US cannot condemn a country for doing something that it would do itself if the same situation and the same sort of actions take place on American soil.
Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau