Sunday, April 06, 2003

Over at the I believe that blog a writer comments on Zahra Eshraghi's denial of the statements attributed to her in the New York Times. It seems she believes Eshraghi rather than journalist. Unfortunately, there's a long history of Iranians making taped statements to Western journalists and then denying they ever said such things! (see comments at the other blog). So I tend to believe the journalist. As an Iranian friend once said to me, "Spanish culture is just like Iranian culture, only they don't tell lies!" :-)

This brings us into a discussion about taqiyah. What is taqiyah? It is dissembling for the sake of faith, or hiding your true beliefs. At the link they quote (interestingly) Jesus and St Paul not saying exactly what they mean. The deputy judiciary chief of Iran, Larijani is quoted by Elaine Sciolino as saying...

"There's a hidden reality, a hypocrisy that keeps the peace," Larijani told me.
"It protects the dignity of the other. Architects don't build glass houses in Iran. If you don't speak of everything so openly, it's better. Being able to keep a secret even if you have to mislead is considered a sign of maturity. It's Persian wisdom. We don't have to be ideal people. Everybody lies. Let's be good liars."

It's relevant today because the fatwa from Sistani is under discussion at the same blog, and taqiyah can provide a good explanation of why there is so much argument over it! That is, Iranian state-controlled media does all they can to deny it, Iraqi TV quotes Sistani saying attack the invaders, etc. I know, I know, as if I'd attach credence to state-controlled media... but unless you've lived in a free, open society you won't really understand the safeguards against error in the media of such societies. Bias on the other hand is unavoidable (go and read Manufacturing Consent). There's a great quote from the book "See No Evil" by Robert Baer I can use here. I hope it helps Westerners understand Middle East media, and Iranians understand Western media (granted, Iranian press is among the freest in the Middle East):

"In the Middle East, life goes on behind high walls, out of view of strangers, especially foreigners. And it wasn't just walls made out of mortar and stone. The Middle East is a place wired to obscure the truth. Television and newspapers don't report news; they report whatever propaganda the government wants them to report. Investigative reporters don't exist. Books on politics and society aren't worth reading. The only time a scandal spills into the public is when the government decides it should. At the personal level, things are no different. Middle Easterners believe that the less they give up about themselves, the better. They'll talk about politics only in the most general terms, and they wouldn't even consider discussing terrorism. In their eyes, terrorism is a state activity; expressing your opinion on it just gets you thrown in jail."

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