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Posted by on Dec 31, 2006 in At TMV | 5 comments

The Dialogue of the Civilizations Has Communication Issues

Ted Koppel has apparently joined up with the Discovery Channel and produced a documentary that tries to explain the decades of antecedents behind the latest US/Iran impasse by uncovering the average Iranian’s view of the United States. It is an attempt at mutual understanding, an intriguing and needed project, to be certain. Unfortunately, it suffers from an expected pro-American, anti-Iranian bias at times, propagated by Koppel himself even if he doesn’t realize it. The documentary’s absolutist title, Iran: The Most Dangerous Country, should be hint enough that the content will be a bit skewed. While I applaud Koppel and the producers of the Discovery Channel for bringing attention to the historical basis of Iranian/American animosity, it should be obvious that one should not consistently interrupt an Iranian woman while she publicly speaks of reform. To be more clear, the woman is Dr. Massoumeh Ebtekar — former Vice President under moderate president Mohammad Khatami, and English translator for the US diplomats during the 1979 Hostage Crisis. Here’s a portion of the transcript, beginning with Ebtekar broaching the topic of moderate reform following Khatami’s election and her appointment as VP (thanks to the magical rewind capability of DVR):

Ebtekar: There was an opportunity to see things in a different light. But unfortunately, it was not taken properly — but on the contrary, we can say the climax of the reform process [was when] Iran was termed a member of the Axis of Evil by the Bush Administration, which was a severe blow to the —
Koppel: That’s a, that’s a nasty phrase. Do you think it sort of matches “The Great Satan”?
Ebtekar: This is the way it goes…
Koppel: Exactly, words.
Ebtekar: The reality is that this blow came at a time when we were pushing for a geniuine democratic movement in Iran —
Koppel: But this is coming at a time where the United States is still being denounced as the “Great Satan” in Iran. I made the mistake back in 1979 when I first heard that phrase “The Great Satan”, what a silly phrase. They don’t really mean it. But you did mean it, you meant exactly that. You meant that the United States was, in a sense, the embodiment of evil.
Ebtekar: I think the Iman made that reference based on that understanding that the Americans have no recognition for human rights when it comes to their interests. The only thing they see is to protect those interests by any means.

Koppel’s insistence on “The Great Satan” squelched a chance for a real conversation centered on the reform movement. Instead, his antagonism spurred Ebtekar to throw back her own incendiary remarks, feeding into the cycle of damaging words Koppel himself acknowledged as counterproductive. I don’t necessarily blame Koppel for falling into such a rhetorical trap — if anything, it’s emblematic of the aggregate American view of Iran. The 1979 Hostage Crisis remains heavy on the public’s collective conscious, and it, along with Iran-Contra, are deeply ingrained within the foreign policy establishment’s institutional memory, as well. The fear and animosity are almost genetic at this point, but it can be reversed. While Koppel tends to slip up here and at other times, at least his goal seems pure by pursuing this direly needed Dialogue of Civilizations.

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Copyright 2006 The Moderate Voice
  • Paul Silver

    I had the same reaction in watching the show. I really wanted to hear what this VP of Iran had to say about the promoters of moderation in her country.
    Perhaps Charlie Rose, Jim Lehrer, or C-Span will visit her and let us learn from unique insight.

  • Kim Ritter

    I agree that Koppel should have let the VP speak without interruption. The very power of hate-filled rhetoric should be taken into account by the user. It was just as irresponsible for Bush to use the “Axis of Evil” rhetoric as it was for Khomeni to label us “The Great Satan”. The longterm result may block the important communication that needs to occur between our two countries.

    Just as hate-rhetoric divided the two political parties and our nation, it creates a wedge here, that we may have major difficulty removing in order to make some sort of progress. My hope for 2007 is that we can move beyond such polarizing speech to come together to find real solutions. Demonizing the other side usually just galvanizes them against you.

  • Jim S

    The first thing to remember about moderates in Iran is that they are meaningless. There cannot be any true power held by moderates in Iran so long as their government retains its current structure where all power ultimately resides with imams. Until you admit that you are wearing rose tinted glasses while looking at Iran.

  • Paul Silver

    I was under the impression that Iran was relatively more moderate, or at least less provocative, under President Khatami.
    Aren’t there moderate forces among the Imans who allowed this?

  • What a load of uber-PC BS. We have to fall over backward to kiss people’s backside because of the phrase “Axis of Evil,” despite Iran’s decades long (and continuing) financing of terror groups…but heaven forbid someone takes exception to the phrase “The Great Satan.”

    What’s next? Are we supposed to apologize for our complaints about their Holocaust denier conference too?

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