Conspiracy Theories, Double Standards: Iranians on Bin Laden
by ALI CHENAR in Tehran
04 May 2011 04:25
Death of al-Qaeda chief prompts many to question rationale of U.S. policy in region.[ dispatch ] As a correspondent for Tehran Bureau, many times I have asked my fellow countrymen for their thoughts on Iranian affairs, ranging from political crises to the economic situation and social conditions. Yesterday, however, when I tried to gauge their response to the death of Osama bin Laden, I faced more questions than answers. Iranians, famous for their conspiracy theories, simply cannot believe Bin Laden was hiding in plain sight a few hundred meters from an elite Pakistani military academy.
Peyman, a 38-year-old financial manager, believes, "The Americans knew where he was and it was time for him to go." When I suggest that the Americans did not know where he was until recently, he laughs. "You really think they are telling the truth?" Morteza, a cab driver, agrees. "Do not be naïve! How could they not know?" Even if the Americans somehow didn't know, he says, "The Pakistanis knew for sure." He asks, "What kind of army would not check the security of its facilities up to a few miles around! And he was living a few hundred meters from this military center!" In Morteza's view, "If Pakistanis can pull this one off, it means Americans are idiots!" And in his opinion, "Americans are not idiots," so something else must be going on.
Asked about the reaction in Tehran, a young woman in her 30s says, "It's unimportant compared to what is happening in Iran. And seriously, Iranians are always looking for conspiracy theories and think that Osama was either killed a long time ago or he is now living on an island and drinking exotic drinks after his death was staged." Asked what is more important in Iran, she responds, "I never dreamed that Ahmadinejad would become the opposition and people would start to think of him as the opposition. I never dreamed to see the price of everything skyrocket.... Imagine [a worker who] has five kids and even if he wants to feed them just bread and cheese three times a day, he won't be able to afford it. And everyone is okay with it -- unhappy, but not enough to protest."
Thanks to the Internet and satellite TV, Iranians have gained a front-row seat from which to follow the global media. Many of them are aware of the rift between the Democratic and Republican parties in the United States and ponder the ways in which that affects American foreign policy. Having watched U.S. politicians react to the news of Bin Laden's death on CNN, Mahnaz, a 22-year-old political science major, observes, "It is interesting that Republicans are not giving any credit to President Obama." She adds, "It seems some Republicans are more pro-Pakistani than some Democrats." She chuckles over a hypothetical: "What Republicans would have said if Bin Laden was found in Iran! No excuse would have been accepted."
The Iranian government often accuses the United States of applying double standards in its approach to sensitive issues such as human rights and punitive measures such as sanctions and embargoes. For average Iranians, double standards can mean something different. Mahnaz asks, "Would Americans believe Osama was hiding 35 miles north of Tehran, a few hundred meters from a Sepah [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] base without Sepah knowledge? Or would they have used this as evidence of Sepah complicity and involvement with Bin Laden?" She continues her inquiry: "Do Americans interpret the facts as they fit into their beliefs, or form their beliefs based on facts?"
For many Iranians following the story of the al-Qaeda leader's demise, this is a time of relief. Still, many of them are amazed by the U.S.-Pakistan alliance, the role of Pakistan in the whole affair, and America's lenient approach to its nominal ally's behavior. And they wonder what makes that other Islamic republic so different from Iran. In its relationship with Pakistan, the United States seems to be the fall guy, doling out billions of dollars for the illusion of an alliance. Those who cannot find answers for their questions find solace in the idea of a grand conspiracy.
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