Wednesday, March 10, 2010

'Néjàd Vu, All Over Again: The Media, 'Pretext,' Context, & 9/11

by Nima Shirazi for Wide Asleep in America

Despite a nearly endless barrage of reporting on Iran's nuclear energy program, the US government's push for a new round of sanctions, and on-going efforts to foment regime change in the Islamic Republic, all had been relatively quiet on the Ahmadinejad front in the Western press for some time.

Until now.

The mainstream media's favorite scapegoat, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, resurfaced on Saturday amidst reports that he called the attacks of September 11, 2001 "a big lie." According to the immediate and rabid response of virtually every Western news network around, this was simply the latest insane claim of the same raving madman who has previously threatened to wipe a foreign state off the map and denied the Holocaust.

Yet, as with those other mistranslated or misunderstood statements, this new claim hardly stands up to even the most cursory scrutiny, as it has been reported with little accompanying context and comparison. According to a translation by Reuters, Ahmadinejad, addressing the staff of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry, stated that, "The September 11 incident was a big fabrication as a pretext for the campaign against terrorism and a prelude for staging an invasion against Afghanistan." PressTV translated the President as saying that the circumstances of 9/11 were a "big lie intended to serve as a pretext for fighting terrorism and setting the grounds for sending troops to Afghanistan."

Most of the press, including CBS, Huffington Post, and Fox, ran with an Associated Press report by Ali Akbar Dareini entitled, "Iran's Ahmadinejad: Sept. 11 attacks a 'big lie'" while CNN and Ha'aretz reprinted the AP with some slight variations like using the headline "Ahmadinejad Calls 9/11 'A Big Fabrication'."

Robert Mackey, writing for The New York Times editorialized that Ahmadinejad told Iranian intelligence officials that the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City was "staged."

By reporting that he called 9/11 a "lie" or "fabrication," the press has completely subverted the meaning of Ahmadinejad's actual statement. Headlines and ledes like the ones printed by the mainstream media give the intentionally misleading interpretation that Ahmadinejad claimed that 9/11 didn't actually happen. But the full quote obviously reveals something quite different. The events of 9/11 - that hijacked airplanes were flown into buildings, killing tens of hundreds of people - is not questioned or denied by Ahmadinejad in these statements. The attacks, in and of themselves, are not debated or disputed. What Ahmadinejad says is that the event itself was the result of, as PressTV reports, a premeditated "scenario and a sophisticated intelligence measure," that was subsequently used as an excuse to justify the so-called "War on Terror" and invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

In short, President Ahmadinejad does not claim that 9/11 itself is a lie. He never has. In May 2006, in a letter written directly to George W. Bush, Ahmadinejad states, clearly and unequivocally,

"September Eleven was a horrendous incident. The killing of innocents is deplorable and appalling in any part of the world. Our government immediately declared its disgust with the perpetrators and offered its condolences to the bereaved and expressed its sympathies."
Ahmadinejad's words echo those of his predecessor, President Mohammad Khatami, who in the wake of the attacks declared, "On behalf of the Iranian people and the Islamic Republic, I denounce the terrorist measures, which led to the killing of defenseless people, and I express my deep sorrow and sympathy with the American people." Furthermore, Iran was one of the first countries to hold candle-light vigils in solidarity and sympathy with the victims of the attacks.

What Ahmadinejad does claim, however, is that the official story of the events - publicly memorialized in the publication of the US government-sponsored The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the 9/11 Commission) - is dubious, incomplete, and may very well have been the result of well-calculated misinformation and deliberate action (or, perhaps, inaction on previously obtained intelligence) by the US government. This is neither a new revelation for Ahmadinejad nor for the world community in general. In his letter to Bush, Ahmadinejad wrote,
"Could it be planned and executed without coordination with intelligence and security services - or their extensive infiltration? Of course this is just an educated guess. Why have the various aspects of the attacks been kept secret? Why are we not told who botched their responsibilities? And, why aren't those responsible and the guilty parties identified and put on trial?"
In questioning the job done by American intelligence agencies, and questioning the US government's official version of events and responsibility, in the lead-up to September 11th, the Iranian President isn't alone.

Esfahan is Half the World, and Half the World Questions the 9/11 Story

To read the hysterical reports about his recent 9/11 comments questioning the accepted story of the event, one would think that Ahmadinejad is voicing roundly rejected, widely unpopular, and insanely outrageous conspiracy theories, devoid of any reasonable evidence or public support. This is hardly the case.

In fact, Ahmadinejad is in the company of more than half of planet Earth, half of New Yorkers, and almost half of all Americans. His views are not particularly uncommon, let alone unique. They surely don't demonstrate a lunatic fringe viewpoint, but rather an opinion well within the public discourse, though not often discussed by Western media.

Whereas the 9/11 Commission was officially "created by congressional legislation and the signature of President George W. Bush in late prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, including preparedness for and the immediate response to the attacks," a plurality of the public believe this goal was not successfully accomplished and have doubts about the Commission's findings.

An August 2004 Zogby poll, conducted right after the Commission's report was made public and just days before the Republican National Convention was held in Manhattan, found that over 49% of New York City residents and 41% of New York State citizens say that at least some US government officials "knew in advance that attacks were planned on or around September 11, 2001, and that they consciously failed to act."

Another Zogby poll from May 2006 found that 42% of Americans believe that "the US government and its 9/11 Commission concealed or refused to investigate critical evidence that contradicts their official explanation of the September 11th attacks" and said "there has been a cover-up." Another ten percent of respondents were unsure. The same poll found that 44% of Americans believe that "the Bush Administration exploited the September 11th attacks" in order to advance its own foreign policy agenda in the Middle East, namely, "to justify the invasion of Iraq."

Furthermore, 45% of those polled agree that "so many unanswered questions about 9/11 remain that Congress or an International Tribunal should re-investigate the attacks, including whether any US government officials consciously allowed or helped facilitate their success," while eight percent remain "unsure."

A Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll from July 2006 discovered that "More than a third of the American public suspects that federal officials assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could go to war in the Middle East."

The next year, in May 2006, a Rasmussen poll revealed that "overall, 22% of all voters believe the President [sic] knew about the attacks in advance," while "a slightly larger number, 29%, believe the CIA knew about the attacks in advance."

Between May 2002 and October 2006, polls conducted by The New York Times and CBS News found that upwards of 79% of the American public believed that "When it comes to what they knew prior to September 11th, 2001, about possible terrorist attacks against the United States," members of the Bush Administration were either "mostly telling the truth but hiding something," "mostly lying," or "not sure." In those four and a half years, the number of respondents convinced that the government was "mostly lying" grew by 20%.

A September 2008 World Public Opinion survey, asked "16,000 people in 17 countries who they thought was responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington." The results showed that "majorities in only nine of the 17 countries believed that al-Qaida was behind the attacks." In response, WPO director Steven Kull stated,
"Broadly, I think what this tells us is that there is a lack of confidence in the United States around the world. It is striking that even among our allies, the numbers that say al-Qaida was behind 9/11 do not get above two-thirds, and barely become a majority. So this is a real indication that the United States is not in a strong position to, in a sense, tell its story. The American narrative is not as powerful in the world today."
Evidence aside, the mainstream media presents Ahmadinejad's recent statements as if they represent an outlandish theory based upon nothing more than paramount insanity.

Wiping Context Off the Map

Disingenuously reporting that Ahmadinejad called 9/11 a "big lie" without exploring the context his statement, notably his claim that 9/11 was used as a "pretext" to carry out the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, is much akin to headlines announcing that Ahmadinejad threatens to "wipe out" Israel without presenting the statement in full. For instance, a Jerusalem Post article from December 12, 2006 and entitled "Ahmadinejad: Israel will be 'wiped out'" states in the first paragraph that the Iranian President "vowed once again that Israel would be 'wiped out.'" Only later in the piece does writer Herb Keinon reproduce the entire quote, which reveals a contextually vital qualification:
"The Zionist regime will be wiped out soon the same way the Soviet Union was, and humanity will achieve freedom...[elections should be held among] Jews, Christians and Muslims so the population of Palestine can select their government and destiny for themselves in a democratic manner."
Similarly, press reports from the previous fall, which sparked the entire "wiped off the map" fiasco, failed to tell their readers the whole story. In that speech, analyst Arash Norouzi explains, "Ahmadinejad declares that Zionism is the West's apparatus of political oppression against Muslims. He says the "Zionist regime" was imposed on the Islamic world as a strategic bridgehead to ensure domination of the region and its assets." Apparently, in his reading of history, Ahmadinejad was simply reiterating the suggestions of Zionism's founder Theodor Herzl. In chapter 2 of his 1896 manifesto, Der Judenstaat, Herzl wrote,
"We [Jews] should there form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism. We should as a neutral State remain in contact with all Europe, which would have to guarantee our existence."
Ahmadinejad reminded his audience that, while the eventual weakening or complete dissolution of America's hegemony over the Middle East via its colonial-settler garrison state may be unthinkable or unimaginable to some, "as Khomeini predicted, other seemingly invincible empires have disappeared and now only exist in history books." He listed the Shah's tyrannical monarchy in Iran, the repressive and expansionist Soviet Union, and the Iraqi dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, as examples of "regimes that have collapsed, crumbled or vanished" in only the past three decades. In conclusion, Ahmadinejad repeated Khomeini's prescient view that the political demise of the Zionist government of Israel would soon follow: "The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time."

Of course, all we've ever heard from Western press reports is that Ahmadinejad threatened to "wipe Israel off the map," an idiom that doesn't even exist in the Persian language, and that was the end of the discussion.

Confusing "Pretext" with "Pretense"

When Ahmadinejad speaks about historical events acting as pretexts to subsequent injustices, he is not claiming that the first event never happened, but simply stating that the event served to justify what followed. This pretext, then, is the exploitation of terrible tragedies as an excuse, motive, and ostensible reason ascribed to explain what historically occurred next. Using horrific events to nefarious advantage is what Naomi Klein has essentially defined as "The Shock Doctrine." This is what Ahmadinejad has spoken about when he uses the term "pretext," which is why, in his speech on Saturday, he stated that "Depredation, bullying and killing the reality of humanity are the outcomes of the capitalist way of thinking."

Unfortunately, the media has decided to equate the term "pretext" with "pretense" and insist that they are both identical synonyms for a claim, invention, myth, fabrication, or lie. With this in mind, it is easy to see how the demonization campaign of Ahmadinejad has been so successful.

This deliberate misinterpretation is not at all new. Even though it is commonplace in the press to insist that Ahmadinejad is a virulent anti-Semite who believes the Nazi holocaust never happened, this is an absurd suggestion unsupported by the facts.

When, at last April's Durban II conference, Ahmadinejad addressed the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 by
stating, "As was the case after World War II, armies occupied other territories and people were transferred from territories...In reality, under the pretext of compensating for the evil done in the name of xenophobia, they in fact set up the most violent xenophobes, in Palestine."

He continued, "The Security Council made it possible for that illegitimate government to be set up. For 60 years, this government was supported by the world. Many Western countries say they are fighting racism; but in fact support it with occupation, bombings and crimes such as those committed in Gaza. These countries support the criminals."

The media reported that Ahmadinejad called the holocaust a myth, which promoted a pre-staged walkout by attending European delegations. But the usage of the word "pretext" is obvious to anyone willing to actually read.

Ahmadinejad's Durban II comments repeat remarks he previously wrote back in early September 2006, in a letter sent to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In it, Ahmadinejad stated, "World War II came to an end with all its material and moral losses and its 60 million casualties. The death of human beings is tragic and sad. In all divine religions and before all awakened conscience and pure nature of mankind and the sense of right and wrong, the life, property and honor of people, regardless of their religious persuasion and ethnic background, must be respected at all times and all places."

By accepting the 60 million death toll of World War II, how could Ahmadinejad be denying the mechanized ethnic cleansing of millions of European Jews? He continued,
"Honorable Chancellor

I have no intention of arguing about the Holocaust. But, does it not stand to reason that some victorious countries of World War II intended to create an alibi on the basis of which they could continue keeping the defeated nations of World War II indebted to them. Their purpose has been to weaken their morale and their inspiration in order to obstruct their progress and power. In addition to the people of Germany, the peoples of the Middle East have also borne the brunt of the Holocaust. By raising the necessity of settling the survivors of the Holocaust in the land of Palestine, they have created a permanent threat in the Middle East in order to rob the people of the region of the opportunities to achieve progress. The collective conscience of the world is indignant over the daily atrocities by the Zionist occupiers, destruction of homes and farms, killing of children, assassinations and bombardments.

Excellency, you have seen that the Zionist government does not even tolerate a government elected by the Palestinian people, and over and over again has demonstrated that it recognizes no limit in attacking the neighboring countries."
If Ahmadinejad's point still isn't clear, he elaborates:
"Using the excuse for the settlement of the survivors of the Holocaust, they encouraged the Jews worldwide to migrate and today a large part of the inhabitants of the occupied territories are non-European Jews. If tyranny and killing is condemned in one part of the world, can we acquiesce and go along with tyranny, killing, occupation and assassinations in another part of the world simply in order to redress the past wrongs?"
The question is not whether the holocaust happened or not, rather, it is how that horrendous tragedy has been exploited in order to justify the establishment of a "Jewish State" in Palestine and rob indigenous Palestinians of their own rights to self-determination. The issue is not to call history into question, but rather to explore the consequences of historical acts.

Furthermore, Ahmadinejad has always made a stark distinction between Jewish people and Zionists. He has said on numerous occasions that his opposition to a Jewish State is a political and ideological one, and not to be confused with a violent ultimatum or military threat to the Israeli people. Ahmadinejad has repeatedly said that Iran has "no problem with people and nations" and that Iran does "not have any confrontation with anyone. We seek relations based on respect and justice." Even more specifically, in a 2008 CNN interview with Larry King, he stated quite clearly that "we don't have a problem with the Jewish people."

Just to be extra clear, Ahmadinejad declared, "We are opposed to the idea that the people who live there should be thrown into the sea or be burnt," reiterating his belief in self-determination of all people based upon elections: "We believe that all the people who live there [in Israel and Palestine], the Jews, Muslims and Christians, should take part in a free referendum and choose their government."

Even during his widely lambasted Durban II speech, Ahmadinejad clearly demarcated the distinction between the 19th century colonial ideology of Jewish nationalism and the Jewish religion, stating, "The word Zionism personifies racism that falsely resorts to religion and abuses religious sentiments to hide their hatred and ugly faces."

Despite the fact that Ahmadinejad called for an "end to Zionism," countless news agencies erroneously reported that he sought the "destruction of Israel," and numerous commentators, including British ambassador Peter Gooderham, called these remarks "anti-Semitic."

In his piece about Ahmadinejad's 9/11 statement on Saturday, The New York Times' Robert Mackey, reminded his readers about comments made by the Iranian President during an International al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day rally on September 18, 2009, a national celebration in solidarity with the Palestinian people and in opposition to Zionism. Mackey, who refers to Quds Day as "Iran’s annual anti-Israel day," writes that Ahmadinejad told the crowd that "The pretext for the creation of the Zionist regime is false...It is a lie based on an unprovable and mythical claim." Again, the pretext of the holocaust is not at all the same thing as a lie.

The holocaust, as an historical occurrence admitted to by its own perpetrators in Europe and widely described as the systematic and mechanized murder of millions of Jews, is not being called a lie in this statement. Considering that the indigenous people of Palestine bear no responsibility for the atrocities committed by the Nazis, the consequences of the holocaust, however, as it was used to justify the creation of Israel in Palestine, is what Ahmadinejad states is based on a "mythical claim." This becomes quite clear by listening to the very next line of Ahmadniejad's speech, unreported by Mackey or anyone else in the Western press: "The occupation of Palestine has no connection with the issue of the holocaust."

Later in the Quds Day speech, Ahmadinejad once again made sure to distinguish between Judaism and Zionism:
"The Zionists have no faith. It is a big lie that the Zionists should be considered tantamount to the Jews or the Christians. Zionists are not Jews nor Christians, and, rather, the Zionists seek to destroy all the values brought about by the divine prophets...the basis of Zionism is to destroy human culture and human values and the values of all nations."
Iran itself has an ancient community of over 25,000 Jews, the second largest Jewish population in the Middle East after Israel itself. Along with Ahmadinejad, Siamak Morsadegh, the Jewish Iranian legislator and community leader, has criticized Israel's policies towards Palestinians, especially in Gaza, saying it showed "anti-human behavior...they kill innocent people," and continuing that the Jewish community in Iran does "not recognize a government or a nation for the Zionist regime."

"A New Pearl Harbor"

That Ahmadinejad - along with millions and millions of others around the world - would find the official story of 9/11 suspicious is not without good cause.

A year before the September 11, 2001 attacks, neocon think tank Project for a New American Century, published a 90-page manifesto for a imperially dominant American Empire, urging "that America should seek to preserve and extend its position of global leadership by maintaining the preeminence of U.S. military forces." Among its aims, the report, entitled Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategies, Forces, and Resources For a New Century, calls for the United States to "fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars" and achieve "a global security order that is uniquely friendly to American principles and prosperity."

PNAC's members, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Eliot Abrams, Zalmay Khalilzad, Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Kristol, Robert Kagan, Norman Podhoretz, John Bolton, Scooter Libby, and Richard Perle, believed that "the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event - like a new Pearl Harbor." Maybe those many PNAC members who, later that year, were subsequently appointed to top level positions in Bush's new administration didn't want to wait that long for such a galvanizing moment in order to pursue their own agenda of unilateral preemptive invasions of Middle Eastern countries.

When Ahmadinejad speaks of 9/11 as involving a "complicated intelligence scenario and act," shouldn't the media perhaps contextualize his statement by discussing the exaggerated and manipulated 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident which was largely responsible for launching the American military campaign in Vietnam, the 1954 Israeli false flag operations known as the Lavon Affair conducted against Egypt, or the planned, but never implemented, Operation Northwoods scheme in 1962 concocted by the U.S. Department of Defense to instigate a war with Cuba (one of the plans consisted of hijacking an airplane and blaming the new Castro regime).

IranAffairs' Cyrus Safdari reminds us of "Emad Salem, an undercover FBI informant who had infiltrated the group that carried out the first WTC bombing back in 1993. He was smart enough to record his conversations with the FBI. Turns out, he specifically warned the FBI of the bombing, and offered to replace the bomb material with a harmless substance, but the FBI said no." What about the completely bogus, but thoroughly hyped, "Newburgh bomb plot" to bomb synagogues in Riverdale, NY and fire a missile at a US military jet, which was entirely set up by FBI informant Shahed Hussain.

What about the 2007 statement by National Medal of Science laureate Lynn Margulis in which she referred to 9/11 as a "new false-flag operation, which has been used to justify the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as unprecedented assaults on research, education, and civil liberties"? Or former CIA Middle East operative Robert Baer, who has written, "Until we get a complete, honest, transparent investigation - not one based on 'confession' extracted by torture - we will never know what happened on 9/11." Or former senior CIA official Bill Christison, who wrote that there is a "strong body of evidence showing the official US government story of what happened on September 11, 2001 to be almost certainly a monstrous series of lies." What about the other CIA officials who question the official story?

What about the Guardian report from November 1, 2001 which revealed that, according to French intelligence officials, "Two months before September 11 Osama bin Laden flew to Dubai for 10 days for treatment at the American hospital, where he was visited by the local CIA agent"?

What about the mysterious collapse of Tower 7, Able Danger, the failure to scramble jets, the myriad National Security experts denied, ignored, or censored from the 9/11 Commission report, the hundreds of professional architects and engineers calling upon Congress to order a new investigation into the destruction of the World Trade Center, deception and non-cooperation by the Department of Defense, whistle-blowers like Coleen Rowley, supposed short-selling and text message warnings, or the five dancing Israelis seen watching and videotaping the attacks from New Jersey's Liberty State Park across the Hudson River?

What about the British intelligence report, entitled "Responsibility for the terrorist atrocities in the United States," which purports to provide evidence that "Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the terrorist network which he heads, planned and carried out the atrocities on 11 September 2001, yet begins with the following disclaimer: "This document does not purport to provide a prosecutable case against Osama Bin Laden in a court of law"?

What about the BBC report, entitled "The investigation and the evidence," which concludes, "There is no direct evidence in the public domain linking Osama Bin Laden to the 11 September attacks...At best the evidence is circumstantial."

What about the evidence that, in no verified audio or video tapes, has bin Laden actually claimed responsibility for the attacks, yet has even been quoted as stating, "I have already said that I am not involved in the 11 September attacks in the United States. As a Muslim, I try my best to avoid telling a lie. I had no knowledge of these attacks, nor do I consider the killing of innocent women, children and other humans as an appreciable act...we are against the American system, not against its people, whereas in these attacks, the common American people have been killed."

What about the fact that Osama bin Laden is, to this very day, not specifically wanted in connection with the 9/11 attacks, according to FBI's own Most Wanted List?

As a result, is there not plenty of dubious information and spurious evidence surrounding the official story of the September 11 attacks to warrant some sort of suspicion, regardless of what you may personally think actually happened? In this way, with his recent comments, President Ahmadinejad has given voice to the majority of the world. But clearly, for fear they might stumble on some uncomfortable truths, it appears easier for the mainstream media to decontextualize his statements and label him a crackpot conspiracy theorist who is a danger to the American way of life, thus leading the United States down the path to attacking a third Middle Eastern country, than to do its own job.

By misrepresenting the country of Iran, its people, its system of government, its culture, its religion, its elected and unelected leaders, the Western press has already set the stage for an attack on the Islamic Republic. Because of the media's sensational and propagandistic reporting, 71% of Americans already believing that Iran currently possesses nuclear weapons. 90% think that the power of Iran's military poses either a critical or important "threat to U.S. vital interests" (despite the fact that Iran's military budget that is literally one hundred times smaller than that of the US). 59% of American citizens even support unilateral, preemptive US military action against Iran regardless of whether economic or diplomatic efforts achieve the government's desired effect.

Perhaps, as was seen with the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, the press is doing exactly what the US government wants it to do.

Nima Shirazi is an author and musician. He is a contributing writer for Foreign Policy Journal, Palestine Think Tank, and The Rag Blog. His analysis of United States policy and Middle East issues, particularly with reference to current events in Palestine and Iran, can be found in numerous other online and print publications, such as Palestine Chronicle, Monthly Review, ColdType, Information Clearing House, OpEdNews, VoltaireNet, World Can’t Wait, CASMII, Ramallah Online, Kenya Imagine, InfoWars, and Woodstock International.

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