25 May 2006
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This article is part of the series: Eefje Blankenvoort
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DeepJournal interviews Iran journalist Eefje Blankevoort - part 1
By Daan de Wit
Eefje Blankevoort is a freelance journalist who regularly spends time in Iran. There she speaks with Iranians about everyday life, but also about domestic politics and the threat of war posed by the U.S. and Israel. DeepJournal interviews Blankevoort and focuses on the subject of the possible coming war with Iran. On May 14th of this year, in the Melkweg in Amsterdam at the behest of the InfoWarRoom of the Balie, a text written by her was read out loud (and earlier edited) by Iranian peace activist Behnam Taebi. The text was a part of a duo-column with DeepJournal and dealt primarily with how the media handles the information related to both the official and the clandestine routes taken to war in Iraq, as well as the possible coming war with Iran. While preparing the column, DeepJournal spoke with Blankevoort about Iran.
DeepJournal: Eefje Blankevoort in Iran, that sounds like Tintin in America. Why do you travel to Iran so often, how often do you get there, and what do you do there?
Eefje Blankevoort: 'I've been to Iran four times now for extended stays. I went there for the first time about three years ago. That was actually quite short, just two weeks, and consisted of an exchange between the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and a school for diplomats there. After that I went back to do research for a paper and lived there for five months that time. I wrote a paper on the role of visual propaganda in the Iran-Iraq war. I've been back two more times since, each time for a period of three or four months. That was for research, writing, and a photo project with a photographer friend of mine. The plan now is to go back around the end of June or July.'
DeepJournal: Aren't you going to find yourself in the middle of a war?
Eefje Blankevoort: 'I don't think it's going to come to that.'
DeepJournal: Why not?
Eefje Blankevoort: 'Harsh language has been used for a number of years now, but each time it just blows over. I think this is also the case this time. I don't think that the situation is so critical that we can expect a war this summer. It's possible that it could well happen in 6 months, maybe 9 months, but in any case not this summer. If you look strictly at Bush's rhetoric, he goes from quite harsh to fairly soft, just as we've been able to see this past month; a war could break out at any moment, or he could come up with a plan of attack. And now all of the sudden it's once again a little softer. There is really nothing that you can rely on.'
DeepJournal: It really does fluctuate somewhat.
Let's take a moment to go over some history. America has been active in that area for quite some time. Take Saddam, who was on the CIA's payroll. The CIA encourages the Ba'ath Party to undertake a coup that years later results in Saddam coming to power. Thanks to American know-how and other assistance from the West, Iraq becomes a nuclear power, then some time later Donald Rumsfeld pays a visit and brings chemical and other weapons with him. In the meantime, the bloody Iran-Iraq war, which is lucrative for the U.S., rages on. A war that was preceded by discussions in which the U.S. convinced Saddam that he could defeat Iran, which resulted in Saddam's attack on Iran in 1980. In mid-1990, the U.S. is once again talking to Saddam, and they tell him that an Iraqi attack on Kuwait would be of no concern to them. Saddam in turn takes them up on this green light, and President Bush Sr. reacts by invading Iraq. And then there's the regime change that the CIA engineered (Operation TPAJAX) against the democratically elected Premier Mohammed Mossadeq, restoring the Shah to power. Can you tell us more about that?
Eefje Blankevoort: 'The Iranians harbor an intense dislike of American politics, not of America itself, its culture or its people, but purely with American politics, American imperialism. That dislike of America has its roots above all in the ousting of Minister President Mossadeq, by way of a coup perpetrated by the CIA. Mossadeq wanted to nationalize the Iranian oil industry, and that set off alarm bells in Washington. The coup was carried out in cooperation with Great Britain, which placed all the power in the hands of the Shah. This led to a cruel dictatorship and was followed by the Iranian revolution, which took place in 1979.'
DeepJournal: And just a few months later about seventy people were taken hostage in the American embassy in Tehran. In a secret deal with the Iranians, the father of the current president arranged for the hostages to be held in captivity longer so that Carter would lose the elections. Which is exactly what happened, with Bush becoming Vice President under Reagan.
Eefje Blankevoort: 'At that moment there were presidential elections in America, or at least the lead-up to them, and at that time the deal - which incidentally is now pretty much out in the open and generally acknowledged - would have been that Reagan had an agreement with the Iranian government, or the revolutionaries at the time, to delay resolution of the crisis so as to put Carter in a difficult spot. That is indeed the story.'
DeepJournal: That was Operation October Surprise: Carter lost, Reagan won, and within an hour after the inauguration the American hostages were free.
DeepJournal: Something else I wanted to get to… Jim Lobe has a wonderful article that you've also read - Bush and Amhadinejad: separated at birth? What did you think of this article?
Eefje Blankevoort: 'What I find interesting is the comparison between the Western media and the Arab media. Al-Jazeera showed a cartoon in which members of the Bush administration are sitting across from the Mullahs, with a caption reading: 'The Neo-Cons in Washington meet their counterparts in Tehran'. It's a very interesting cartoon because it shows quite well how Ahmadinejad and Bush are really not that different from each other. On the one hand you have the escalation of hostile rhetoric on both sides - really projecting an image of each other as the enemy - but then you also have for example the social issues. The way in which Bush carries out his domestic policy really doesn't differ that much from the social policies that Ahmadinejad stands for. That's quite a strong statement, for there are certainly big differences, but they sync up on many levels, among them for instance the opposition to gay rights organizations, deliberated at the U.N., the U.S. and Iran signed a big treaty on this, on abortion rights… All that plays out behind the scenes, you don't hear anything about it, but it's quite interesting that they correspond to each other as much as they do on social policies.'
DeepJournal: In your opinion, how is Ahmadinejad viewed in Iran?
Eefje Blankevoort: 'The elections were of course partially fraudulent, yet there were still an awful lot of people who voted for him for different reasons', and with this Blankevoort unintentionally points out yet another similarity between Ahmadinejad and Bush, considering the high degree of probability that voter fraud took place in both the first election that put Bush in the White House, as well as the second election that kept him there. 'It was absolutely a clear-cut choice during the Iranian elections, between Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad. Rafsanjani is the biggest crook in Iran, he got disgustingly rich by lining his own pockets, and he is truly viewed as an old corrupt ruler. There were not many people looking forward to another go-round with him. Ahmadinejad actually adhered quite closely to Khomeini-style rhetoric, a kind of rhetoric that still to this day has support. Support amongst the oppressed of the earth, the most poverty-stricken - finally they would be able to enjoy the fruits of the revolution. Ahmadinejad comes from the poorest group, so because of that people trusted him. He's gotten a lot of support for that rhetoric. What we're now seeing is that on the one hand, people find him to be just totally ridiculous, a complete idiot, precisely because of his international politics, his line of total confrontation. But on the other hand, you can see that he wins support for that very same tough approach. Precisely because he knows how to make very good use of the feelings that are predominant among the Iranian population - against American imperialism, in favor of the right to self-determination, pride in being Iranian, and the notion of taking charge of your own affairs. He knows how to play into this very cleverly, so at this moment he commands quite a bit of support from the one side. Previously he was under fire - that was before American pressure was stepped up. During the first few months of his presidency he was definitely reeling.'
DeepJournal: Does this fabricated crisis surrounding Iran play into his hands?
Eefje Blankevoort: 'The crisis is partially fabricated, but I don't believe that the whole crisis is entirely fabricated.'
DeepJournal: Is it not simply a question of saying that there is a crisis and there will be a crisis?
Eefje Blankevoort: 'No, I think that it really is a problem that Ahmadinejad has come to power. And for me it's not so much an issue of this nuclear program as it is with what his domestic policy is. It can't be good for Iran to pursue such a policy of confrontation. No one stands to benefit from it, especially the Iranian population, so it's definitely a problem - a crisis - that this man has come to power.'
DeepJournal: But that is not the crisis that's being discussed right now.
Eefje Blankevoort: 'I think it's a big mistake to focus solely on the nuclear program. I think that it's a crisis in so far as if Iran actually does develop a nuclear weapon, then that's a real crisis.'
DeepJournal: But why? All of the neighboring countries have nuclear weapons.
Eefje Blankevoort: 'I'm not in favor of that either.'
DeepJournal: But they're there.
Eefje Blankevoort: 'Okay fine, so they are, then I would like to see them dismantled as well. Another idea would be for this to happen also. There are treaties for this, the dismantling of all nuclear weapons.'
DeepJournal: But that's not very realistic of course. The reality is that Iran's neighbors have weapons, so why should the Iranians not be allowed to have any? That's also sort of what's being discussed.
Eefje Blankevoort: 'That's totally the rhetoric that you hear in Iran, and there is a lot to be said for it, it's very understandable. I'm not going to advocate that because I'm not an advocate of the expansion of any nuclear weapons arsenal. I do appreciate the Iranian rhetoric, it's totally understandable, but it doesn't mean that Iran must have it, or should be allowed to have it [a nuclear weapon].'
DeepJournal: A lot of people are wondering why all the fuss over an Iranian nuclear weapon...
Eefje Blankevoort: 'I think that there needs to be much more of a fuss made over whichever arms race, no matter which one it is.'
DeepJournal: That's true, but right now most of the focus in the world is on Iran, while many other countries - such as Israel, India and Pakistan - not one of whom has signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, have American support…
Eefje Blankevoort: 'And that's wrong, but that doesn't mean that Iran should be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. That's really kind of the point. So long as they can prove that their nuclear program is intended purely for civilian purposes, then it seems to me that there is no problem. We would certainly need to keep tabs on that. The bad thing about the whole crisis, or the problem with making a crisis out of it, is that all of the attention has been shifted from what is actually going on, namely - human rights, reforms in Iran, economic development of Iran, a country that's totally broke. The attention is now shifting to the nuclear program, which is not the most important thing. I think that's what's wrong with this crisis, and also that it could lead to Iran getting attacked. At this moment, that's the worst thing that could happen.'
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