“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Even the BBC knows the truth about Iran

When their own correspondents report fairly, even the BBC cannot deny the facts. Fundamentalist, conservative, pure Islamists are an anathema to modern society. But when the time comes to stop the nuclear madness what will these same media outlets say and do?
Farewell to a changed, subtle Iran

Frances Harrison is moving on after three years as the BBC correspondent in Tehran. It has been a period of change, she writes, but generally not for the better, particularly for women.

When I first came to Iran the reformists were still in power, not the ultra-conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But to me as a newcomer, the government then did not seem particularly liberal.

The reformists were not quite what they had been cracked up to be in the West.

Reform, I soon found out, was not a euphemism for regime change - it just meant more respect for the rule of law and human rights, in order to preserve the Islamic system of government, not overthrow it.

With the benefit of hindsight, many look back on the reformist period as a sort of golden age, where a smiling well-dressed President Mohammad Khatami spoke honeyed words about democracy, even if he did not deliver on many of his promises.

The contrast between then and now is huge.

Media crackdown

When my predecessor left, he threw a lunch party for officials. They were friendly and urbane and unfazed by the fact that I was a woman bureau chief which is still a novelty in Iran.

Now things are so bad that officials from the ministry of Islamic guidance who are helpful on a personal level did not come to my farewell lunch hosted by the BBC.

I did not take it personally. The atmosphere is now one where Iranians are afraid to mix with foreigners for fear of being accused of spying.

If they do talk to foreigners they certainly do not want to do it in front of each other.

One Iranian journalist working for a foreign news agency even asked if we had foreign diplomats coming to a farewell party in our house because, she said, if there were it would not be safe for her to attend.

During the two years of President Ahmadinejad's government, I have watched friends have their press cards taken away by the government.

It is not that this did not happen before but now there is a sense of a widespread crackdown on the media.

I have struggled with my conscience interviewing people lest I put them at risk.

At one house, the mother-in-law of a student activist accosted me in a most un-Iranian way, saying: "Why are you here? He has children and he's just been released from jail." It is un-Iranian because of the innate sense of hospitality here.

People have come to my office with information and I have found myself warning them to be careful about coming again.

It gets to a point where you find yourself questioning the motives of anyone brave enough to speak out.

Either it is a trap or perhaps they are really naive - in which case why are we interviewing them?

Subtle opposition

But let me tell you about the subtle ways in which Iranians articulate their opposition.

This is not a culture where anyone says anything directly - and it can sometimes be infuriating for a foreigner.

But it has nuance, subtlety and a playfulness that is lost in the one-dimensional views you see in news reports.

The other night I was at a private party and two young Iranian women performed a song about a bird. It was indescribably sad and beautiful and had many of the women in the audience in tears.

Women are not allowed to sing in public in Iran - it is considered un-Islamic for men to hear them.

These women - who in today's Iran can only perform in houses of friends - sang about a bird, a crane, whose wings had been clipped and whose mouth had been covered.

It was a poetic symbol of censorship and the restrictions imposed on women. It moved the audience far more than any feminist speech or political agitation because it drew on their tradition and the Iranian love of poetry.

Persian culture survives

On the surface, Tehran is a place where you see women swathed in black and there are ugly grimy modern buildings housing rude officials.

The Islamic system of government has deliberately erased much of what was Persian culture and it is only by looking hard that you can catch glimpses of the past.

Some officials may be staggeringly rude but at home Iranians are so courteous that it overwhelms foreigners

Yes, some of the women may be covered from top-to-toe in black, but do not think that every woman who is covered up like that is submissive and docile - they wield huge power behind the scenes, often controlling the family finances.

Some officials may be staggeringly rude but at home Iranians are so courteous that it overwhelms foreigners until they get used to the ritual exchange of politesse that is rather beautiful to observe in action when done by a true professional.

The younger generation may eat pizzas and burgers and listen to rap music, but they still have a deep respect for Persian food, music, poetry and the language itself.

Of course, three years in Iran has brainwashed me.

I do believe that Iranians cook rice better than anyone else in the world, that Iranian women are the most beautiful in the world, and that the roses smell sweeter.

For all the ugliness of much of the politics here, there are still vestiges of a past beauty.

And as I leave, that is the Iran I want to treasure even though it is slowly fading.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Ms Harrison's reports have shown an increasing frustration with a deteriorating situation. Iran is in crisis and the government's reaction has been to demonize foreigners. I suspect that she is leaving before the conditions become intolerable.

The mullahs must be stopped, one way or another. The best way is to enable the Iranians to do it themselves. Iran needs a revolution and the sooner the better.


  1. Seems like the Saudis finally came on board.

  2. Not saying that "Ms Harrison" is a paid Saudi agent, but her BBC editors and handlers certainly are.

  3. The mullahs are preparing the people for sacrifice and hardship. Planting and the seeds of xenophobia. Enforcing discipline through fear.

    The mullahs are putting Iran on a war footing.

  4. But at war with whom, whit, if not the Iranian people?

    Certainly not with US, except in self-defense.

  5. Poor ol England.

    Extremists 'working for UK police'

    By staff and agencies
    Last Updated: 8:29am BST 07/07/2007

    Up to eight people believed to have links with extremists including al-Qa'eda are working for British police forces, it has been reported.

    The Daily Mail said that MI5 had helped to draw up a list of individuals working as officers or civilian staff for a number of forces including the Metropolitan Police.

    The newspaper said some of those on the list may even have attended terrorist training camps in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

    But it claimed that some alleged jihadists had not been sacked because police did not have legal power to do so."

    More from the Telegraph.

  6. "Self defense" that's true Rat, on the surface but they're being exposed. The question is, will the world see them as more than a "nuisance?"

  7. The reason the phones are not shut down, there is no Bill on the floor.

    Not just seven votes to swing. But a dozen. Not talk radio to mobilize the masses. Just votes, which is why those GOP Senators are moving, slowly, but moving none the less.

    Mr Terstor Dem of Montana has called the Mission in Iraq a success, per the Authorization, time to decalare political success and leave.

    But the Bush Team thought they had until September to begin the debate, fools.

  8. No, not preemptively.

    Not after Iraq, not the world.

    The US cannot even get government pension funds to diviest in firms doing business with Iran.

    That's US, let alone the "world".

    They'll have to step over a great big, bold, line in the sand, before the US military acts.

  9. Conventional wisdom from "Republicans in the know" is that come November '08 the issue of Iraq will have been taken off the table. War over, won! Problem solved!

  10. The War on Terror, over
    the War in Iraq, over

    The Clash of Civilizations, the War on Islam. Why those were never even begun.

    There you have the Conventional wisdom, that same wisdom that was going to hold the Republican majority in the Senate, in '06.

  11. I don't see the world acting against Iran until the missles are pointed at Israel and it's T-30 and counting. Even then, I wonder.

    And if we don't see anything happening, the Mullahs will too. So how emboldened will they become? Will they be content to take small bites or will they become greedy? So far, they have been very clever but if we can put enough pressure on them...

  12. Two years later and you'll be hard pressed to find news of the the 7/7 attacks in London. Cleaned up so well, "it's like it never even happened."

  13. "Like the Immigration&Border Security Issues the War in Iraq and the War on Terror have been transformed into a comprhensive project.

    All or nothing, always presented as the options.
    Nothing inherently wrong with that motivation, sometimes, 'Rat.

    It's just that with GWB,
    we always get all of what we don't want,
    and nothing of what we do.


  14. The Beat goes on Dept:

    U.S. Aborted Raid on Qaeda Chiefs in Pakistan in ’05

    Some top intelligence officials say the U.S. missed a significant opportunity to try to capture senior members of Al Qaeda.
    News Analysis: Behind a Siege in Pakistan, Wider Dissent

  15. Did we sell our Air Force to China, or did the admin just put it out to pasture like Porter Goss?

    Good to have "men" like Chertoff as the survivors in the Gelding Administration, not Porter Goss.

  16. Doug,


    chort/ chert --> (rus.) devil/ evil,flawed

    Coincidincy? I think not.