The sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people."

(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835)

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Who is misreading Iran now? On facts and opinions

A very interesting piece on Iran appeared in Foreign Policy today. Claiming that much of the reporting on Iran is based on political preferences and ideologies, the authors argue that the West has a distorted image of the realities on the ground. Those distorted perceptions lead to bad policy decisions.

Fact-based reporting and writing has been replaced by ideology-driven reporting, where facts are disregarded or not properly investigated. The authors focus on the reporting of the Green Movement in Iran, which has been portrayed as a democratic uprising against an evil dictator.

As a little known fact I would like to add that Mousavi accused Ahmadinejad in the pre-election presidential debates that he was too soft on the British when he returned the sailors that were captured in Iranian waters.

Although I'm sure that all writers of the spectrum, from Noam Chomskey to Bill Kristol (and Dustin Dehez, I might add) have good intentions, I wonder why some disregard facts. What is the benefit? Could anything good come out of a policy recommendation that only considers facts selectively?

In my friend's Dustin case, he wrote a piece on Iran (in German) without even mentioning the three negotiation offers by Iran. Obviously, he did not mention them because they do not fit in the picture. But shouldn't the picture change when facts undermine them?

Another example is the Israeli Ambassador here in Brussels: I saw him at a lecture the other night, where he outlined the Israeli policy that led to the Freedom Flotilla incident. In order to prove his point, he wilfully misrepresented historical facts (Hamas came to power by a coup d'etat), inaccuracies (there is no shortage of anything in Gaza, they even have shoes. Well, that is correct, but Israel let shoes into Gaza only in April 2010) and terminology (the siege is no blockade, the blockade is legitimate, there is no blockade etc.).

Instead of winning support, he clearly lost support in the audience. He did not help Israel that night. Instead of explaining the reasons for Israel's behaviour, he twisted facts to prove his point and lost sympathies of people who felt fooled by his statements.

Seems to be an evident thing to say but we all would be better off if we would base our opinion on facts and not vice versa.

1 comment:

  1. Well, I took the liberty to comment on the Leveretts in my blog. I have to admit that I find it a bit awkward that the Leveretts want to lecture us on objectivity and facts...