Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East
HH: Early this morning, I was reading Ha’aretz, the leading newspaper of Israel, and came across an article entitled ‘King of the Iranian Bloggers.’ It was a profile of Hossein Derakhshan, a blogger now living in Toronto. Hossein was born in Tehran, raised there until relatively recently, and we catch up with him today in Israel. Hossein, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show. Nice to make your acquaintance.
HD: Well thank you for having me.
HH: Let’s start by having you give a little biography, Hossein, about how you ended up in Israel today via, you know, you’re on travel from Toronto, but how you ended up in Toronto, and what your blog is, and how you came to be what you are.
HD: Okay, I left Iran in 2001. Before that, I was a journalist, I was writing about digital culture and internet in a reformist newspaper. And it was closed down, but that wasn’t the reason I left Iran. The reason I left was because I wanted to experience living in the West, and see how things are there. So I left Iran for Canada. I emigrated to Canada, not a refugee, and I started experiencing the West, and it was then that after 9/11, a few days after 9/11, I discovered blogs because of the coverage that they were getting in relation with first-person accounts, or first-hand accounts of the things that happened in New York. So I discovered the idea of blogs, and I found it fascinating, especially because I wanted to keep the connection with my readers, that were reading my daily column about digital life and the internet in Iran, and that reformist newspaper, called Asr-e Azadegan, and I thought I could experience this new phenomenon, but I wasn’t expecting this to be so popular among the Iranians. So when I started, I was receiving lots of e-mails from people, asking me how they could start their own blogs. So I would have to explore and basically study method of how I can easily teach the other people, the other Iranians, to write their blogs in Persian language. And because there were some technical difficulties to use the Persian language on the internet at that time, it was a bit difficult. But then I realized that Blogger.com, which was not owned by Google at that time, had started supporting a technology that was providing this facility for other languages. This technology is called Unicode, and it’s now very widespread and very well known. But at that time, it was quite new. So when I discovered that, I wrote an instruction, a very simple instruction, step by step, on how you could start your Persian blog. And in one month, we had about 100 Persian blogs. That was totally, totally unexpected to me.
HH: Now Hossein, how many are there currently operating from within Iran, blogs, I mean?
HD: There are at least four or five blogging service companies inside Iran that are operating in Tehran and some other big cities, which are basically providing about, I think, the number of blogs are estimated to be more than 700,000. This obviously…
HH: Does the regime impose any controls on them?
HD: The Islamic Republic is not really sensitive towards anything that is not that much popular. They, of course, they want to control the public opinion. This is obvious. But it doesn’t mean that they are worried about the blog that has only 60 readers per day, and probably even is breaking the biggest taboos of the Islamic Republic. But they are concerned about any blog that has a significant popularity and influence, and is breaking some of these taboos, including my own blog, which is maybe popular and influential, and I’ve been discussing some of these taboos and issues. And that’s why it’s filtered and blocked, so people can’t access it from Iran for the past, maybe, two years now.
HH: Now I’m speaking with Hossein Derakhshan, one of the leading bloggers in Farsi, originally from Iran, now living in Toronto. Hossein, why was the newspaper you worked for closed down in Iran?
HD: When the reformist president…actually, we have to go back a little bit more. After the Iran and Iraq War, which took about…which lasted about eight years, a group of Iranian religious scholars and intellectuals started interpreting the Shia Islam in a different way. They were starting to read it in a different way, which was more liberal, much more democratic, and all that. So then, that movement, in about eight years, became, or manifested itself in political terms, and it basically became a political movement called the reformist, reformism, or a reform movement. And then all of a sudden, a very liberal, moderate president was elected by a very kind of…a different kind of constitutency that was always disillusioned, and that were not participating in the elections. Well at that time, which was about, I think, 1997, the reformists…a reformer president, reformist candidate, was elected, basically, on the basis of the vote of the young people and women. And he started changing lots of things which actually were followed by the win of the same group of reformist people in the Parliament, and they started actually changing lots of legislation, and lots of methods and processes in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which led to much more open and much more liberal society than it used to be.
HH: But why was your newspaper then shut down?
HD: Oh, okay, okay, okay. But then, they were heavily dependent on the newspapers to get their message out, to relate to the public, to the constituency, and all that kind of thing, which was really important for them, because they had…they didn’t have control on the state media. The state media is always controlled by the conservatives now, because it’s totally under the control of the supreme leader, who is closer to the conservatives than to the reformists. So when the conservative establishment realized, and they basically saw that these newspapers are basically functioning as a political party for the reformists, and they were also suspicious that there might be some sort of foreign connection, some sort of, maybe, connection between them and the Americans, and because the United States has always been the biggest opposer to this Islamic revolution, they were…they became paranoid, and they started questioning and fearing about why these newspapers are popular, and what the potential impact of them would be, and they closed them down based on these suspicions, which actually proved totally, totally false in a few years after that.
HH: Now why…are you critical of President Ahmadinejad? And why?
HD: I would do anything to remove him from the office. I went to Tehran in 2005, in the summer. I went to Tehran to support the reformist candidate who didn’t win at that time, and I was really, really seeing that how radical, and how out of touch this group of people, this small group of people who were supporting Ahmadinejad, were. You know, they are basically a group of people who were very involved in the Iran and Iraq War, and they fought that war in a very, very kind of…they made many sacrifices, basically, for that war. They were not part of the conventional army. They were part of another alternative army, which is called the Revolutionary Guard, and they were created by Ayatollah Khomeinei in the first months of the revolution, to protect the revolution. That was their mission. So after the war, they always felt sort of unappreciated. And they always wanted a bigger voice and a bigger role in policy making, but the government and establishment were always trying to satisfy them with giving them some economic advantage and economic benefits. But when Ahmadinejad was growing, was basically coming out of that group, he was representing himself as someone who could change Iran, and could put Iran on the right direction, and he was totally critical of the clerical establishment, and lots of corruption, and those kind of things that he was saying…he saw it was happening. People kind of thought that he might be the savior, and at least on an economic level. So that’s why he was elected the president of Iran.
HH: We have a minute to the break, Hossein. Is he a fanatic? Are you afraid he really believes in the return of the 12th Imam?
HD: I think he really believes. But the good news here is that he doesn’t represent the majority of Iran, and he doesn’t even represent the establishment, the clerical establishment in Iran. So there are so many difficulties among…between him and, for example, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and there are also some other issues that we’ll discuss after the break.
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HH: Hossein, you said before we went out that Ahmadinejad believes what he…about the 12th Imam, but you’ve also said that you want the Iranian regime to have nukes.
HD: Yeah, yeah.
HH: Can you understand why Americans, many Americans, don’t believe that we can allow that to happen?
HD: One very significant fact here, and that few people know, and few media actually cover, is that the fear of Ahmadinejad is quite, quite unrealistic, because, simply because he doesn’t have any control on the army. So he can’t possibly be anyone even close to someone like Hitler, that everyone tries to maybe make comparisons between him and Hitler. And no other president in Iran have had any control on the army and the military. This is a very, very significant thing.
HH: I’m aware of that, as is this audience. But we also know that the supreme leader, if Khamenei is still alive, could be replaced by someone like Ayatollah Yazdi, who believes as Ahmadinejad does. Why would we not be concerned about an Iran with nukes with a supreme leader like Yazdi?
HD: Because that’s very unlikely to happen. There was a recent election for basically the body who is responsible for choosing the leader in a semi-democratic way. And that Ayatollah Yazdi was elected with a huge, huge gap from the first candidate who basically was elected in the first place of that body, which is called the guardian, and which is called the Council of Expediency, or basically the Persian word for it is Majlis-e Khobregaan. And he’s a very liberal, moderate person. He’s actually the former president before Khatami. His name is…
HH: Now, but many of us in the West, many of us in the West don’t view Rafsanjani as a liberal or a moderate, but put that aside for a moment. If, in fact, you were wrong, and Yazdi did become the supreme leader, would the West have a great deal to worry about?
HD: I think yes, but that’s very unlikely, basically, because Iran is still with…despite all these problems, is a democratic country, and it’s unlikely for this minority, for the minority group with such small influence in public, and with such limited popularity, to win the whole power.
HH: But given that, Hossein, given that that is a possibility, however remote you might judge it, or likely, others might judge it, is that not a reason for so long as that’s a possibility, to deny Iran nukes, because we simply can’t afford to have a 12th Imamist running around with his finger on buttons?
HD: But this is actually, to be honest, if it’s not really different with what, for example, some radical Christians who are very close to Bush, and who were basically one of the reasons he was elected in the first round and the second round, their thinking. They also believe in some sort of Messianic figure, and this is not very different.
HH: Hossein, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. There are no radical Christians running around George Bush who believe in ushering in the End Times by the occasioning of chaos. That’s just not true. Do you have any names to go with…
HD: But the evidence is suggesting something else, actually.
HH: No, actually, it’s not. There isn’t anyone. Not one. You name me one name of a radical Christian…
HD: It doesn’t matter who is close to Bush or who is not. The policies that they’re doing, the invasion of Iraq, the whole rhetoric of you’re either with us or against us, and lots of other policies that come from that ideology, suggesting that they also believe in that, and it’s even more dangerous, because they’re more popular than this small group of Iranians who are supporting Ahmadinejad.
HH: Hossein, if, in fact, anyone believed that, and they believed in ushering in the End Times, they’d have had six years to start it by now.
HD: I don’t really know, but the evidence that I’m seeing from the Bush administration is much more dangerous than anything that you can see from Ahmadinejad’s government.
HH: All right, let me ask what would the reaction in Iran be if American forces struck at the Quds forces that were supplying the lethal IED’s to Iraqi terrorists?
HD: What would the reaction…could you repeat the question please?
HH: If the United States struck across the Iranian border at the Quds forces who are preparing the IED’s that are being used to kill Americans in Iraq, what would the reaction in Iran be?
HD: The problem between Iran and the U.S. goes back to a long time ago, and I think the whole reason that Iran is making all this trouble is a way of defending itself against the United States that has never acknowledged the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic, and this revolution, whose main slogan was independence, freedom, and this mix of religious government which is very, actually close in terms of concept, the Israeli government wants to maintain a balance between democracy and religion. The U.S. have never acknowledged this regime, and this is very, very expected and normal reaction of the Iranians to try to defend itself, to try to maintain the independence and sovereignty, and they would of course do anything to prevent, or to decrease the likeliness of the U.S. attack, even if limited or invasion. And everything that Iran is doing in the region, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Palestine with Hamas, and in Lebanon with Hezbollah, is just a reaction to prevent some sort of preemptive thing that the U.S. would probably do on Iran the same way it did to Iraq. No Iranian wants to see what happened to Iraq in Iran, and I’m one of them, and I’ve actually written that…
HD: …that if the U.S. attacked Iran, I would go back to Iran, and I would defend the Islamic Republic against the Americans.
HH: Is it legitimate for Iran to be sending weapons that kill Americans into Iraq right now, and possibly personnel as well, is that right for the regime to do?
HD: If you want to discuss human rights, killing any human being would not be legitimate anyway. But if you’re talking about the realities in the world now, it’s a war, and people get killed from both sides. Iran is fighting against the U.S. in Iraq, and this is a reality, and any other country would do the same thing.
HH: So you recognize that Iran is in fact sending weapons and fighters into Iraq to kill Americans?
HD: I didn’t recognize that, because I don’t have any strong evidence that suggests that Iran is actually doing that. But even if Iran was doing that, it would be totally, totally accepted on my side.
HH: And so, and you would rebuke the United States if the United States struck back in self defense against that intermeddling by Iranians in Iraq?
HD: Absolutely. It’s a war between Iran and the U.S. that’s happening actually in Iraq before it comes to Iran.
HH: So you believe that the United States and Iran are already at war?
HD: I think they are, and actually, this is not only in Iraq. They’re already at war in many other fronts.
HH: What other fronts?
HD: Including the Lebanon, which was basically between Israel and Hezbollah, but in reality, it was between Iran and the U.S. It was a proxy war.
HH: Fascinating. Hossein, we agree about that. When will you be back in Toronto?
HD: I’m not actually sure. I think Europe is much more of an interesting place than the freezing Canada, these days, in this winter.
HH: Well then, we will try and catch up with you again soon. I appreciate your candor. We disagree about many and fundamental things, but I love having you on, and I look forward to having you back. Hossein Derakhshan, who’s blog is available at Hughhewitt.com. It’s called Editor Myself. Candor is a wonderful thing.
End of interview.