Tuesday, March 18, 2008


The National Endowment for Democracy, in its tireless effort to give democracy a bad name, initiated a project called "World Movement for Democracy" in 1999. The project's acronym, WMD, may very well be a bad inside joke among the guardians of the empire today.

On WMD's steering committee sits Mahnaz Afkhami, President of "Women's Learning Partnership for Rights, Development and Peace." One of WMD's projects is "International Women's Democracy Network," whose "secretariat [is] to be housed at an existing network with a substantial trans-regional membership, currently the Women's Learning Partnership." Iran must be close to the heart of this circle.

Afkhami, the first Minister for Women's Affairs under the Pahlavi regime, is naturally a friend of Reza Pahlavi, the son of the deposed Shah, who has not given up on the dream of restoration and is busily trying to organize Iranian exiles, not just monarchists but also leftists and separatists, in a vain attempt at regime change (Connie Bruck, "Exiles: How Iran's Expatriates Are Gaming the Nuclear Threat," New Yorker, 6 March 2006). What does Afkhami say about the former crown prince? "He's a regular guy" (qtd. in Franklin Foer, "Reza Pahlavi's Next Revolution: Successor Story," The New Republic, 3 January 2002). That says everything about the kind of world she lives in.

The NED's WMD is holding a conference in Kiev, Ukraine, one of the laboratories of "color revolutions," on 6-9 April 2008. At this conference it will pay tribute to "Irans One Million Signature Campaign" among other movements, says the NED's press release ("World Movement for Democracy to Meet in Kyiv,", 12 March 2008).

Only fools or knaves would accept a tribute from a combo of imperialists and monarchists. Those of you who have friends among the leadership or rank and file of the One Million Signatures Campaign should let them know that and encourage them to publicly repudiate it. Friends don't let friends get suckered into developing a political WMD.

Some of you may say, "They weren't born yesterday -- they are intellectuals who know what they are doing. How dare you patronize them?" But history shows that the empire has perfected the art of deceptive marketing, and some very good activists have become victims of it:
[Ramin] Ahmadi and a group of partners were among the earlier recipients of State Department democracy financing, securing initial grants of $1.6 million in 2004 to start the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center. Its offices are now in a vast oblong space overlooking Yale's gothic campus. When I recently visited the center, its executive director, Tom Parker, emphasized that Ahmadi does not speak for the organization. But Ahmadi remains on the center's board. In early 2005, he brought the board a proposal to hold a human rights workshop in Dubai. . . .

Emadeddin Baghi, who at that time was running a center for the defense of prisoners' rights in Tehran, sent members of his family -- including his wife and daughter -- to Dubai. "I was under the impression that this was a U.N.-sponsored event and that it would work on basic human rights reporting and documentation," he told me. "When the participants arrived, there was no trace of the U.N. And they had more in mind than reporting and documenting. We were lied to."

Upon arrival, he said, participants were kept sequestered in small groups, housed in separate hotels across Dubai. Over three sets of sessions, they were not only given some basic human rights and health training but also a session on successful popular revolts in places like Serbia, conducted by the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, a Washington-based group. At least two members of Otpor -- the Serbian youth movement instrumental in ousting Slobodan Milosevic -- were present. Portions of "A Force More Powerful," a three-hour documentary series featuring civil-resistance movements overcoming authoritarian rule around the world, was also screened.

Further sessions included a lesson on how to use Hushmail (an encrypted e-mail account) and a secure open-source software called Martus designed to store information about human rights abuses. With the press of a single button, you can upload information to a server and erase any trace of the file from your computer. Each participant was given the software to take back to Tehran. One participant recently told me: "We were certain that we would have trouble once we went back to Tehran. This was like a James Bond camp for revolutionaries."

Two years later, at least two persons have been arrested in connection with attending the Dubai workshops. To this day, Ahmadi's name continues to come up in interrogations. (emphasis added, Negar Azimi, "Hard Realities of Soft Power," New York Times Magazine, 24 June 2007)
Moreover, some of the leaders of the One Million Signatures Campaign have been rather careless. To take one example, they have given interviews to Radio Farda and VOA Persian: e.g., "Iranian Activist Parvin Ardalan Tells VOA Women in Iran Struggle to Obtain Their Rights" (Press Release, VOA, 22 February 2008).

What's wrong with that, you may ask. How is that different from, say, speaking to the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal? All ruling-class media of the West, to be sure, have biases for imperialism, and it is clear that the US government plants its fake news in the commercial media ostensibly independent of it: e.g., Greg Mitchell, "'NYT' Reporter Who Got Iraqi WMDs Wrong Now Highlights Iran Claims," Editor & Publisher, 10 February 2007; and Glenn Greenwald, "Michael Gordon Trains His Stenographer Weapons on Iran," Salon.com 2 July 2007.

Radio Farda and VOA Persian, as well as others like them, however, are in another league, being expressly funded for regime change. "$36.1 million of the democracy money" went to just these two regime change media (Azimi, 24 June 2007). They are not even subtle about it, featuring monarchists and terrorists on their programs, so much so that some of the smarter neo-conservatives despair of their efficacy:
On occasion, V.O.A. has lurched toward Reza Pahlavi, the shah's son. The 40-something would-be monarch, who lives in Maryland, is often on the program and on occasion is invited to bestow New Year’s wishes on the Iranian people. And on April 1 of this year V.O.A. featured Abdolmalek Rigi, the head of Jondollah, a militant Sunni group that operates inside Iran’s southeastern border and claims to advance the interests of the Baluch minority. Jondollah is responsible for dozens of hostage takings and terrorist attacks. On this particular round-table program, Rigi was introduced as the leader of an armed national resistance group. Two days later, ABC News reported that the United States was funneling covert support to the group. (The U.S. immediately denied this.) Mehdi Khalaji, currently a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, worked at Radio Farda for three years and has spent the past months studying the Persian-language media. The new administrators at V.O.A. "do not seem to be able to distinguish between journalism and propaganda," Khalaji told me. "If you host the head of Jondollah and call him a freedom fighter or present a Voice of America run by monarchists, Iranians are going to stop listening." (Azimi, 24 June 2007)
If Mehdi Khalaji, a fellow at a notoriously pro-Israel and anti-Iranian think thank, thinks that these media are too recklessly imperialist, it is safe to conclude that they indeed are. (Khalaji has made a detailed study of them: "Through the Veil: The Role of Broadcasting in U.S. Public Diplomacy toward Iranians," The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, April 2007.)

Now, is it a good idea for Iran's feminist leaders to get on the media that are too right-wing for this WINEP man? Would that make feminism popular among working people of Iran, the very people who must be won over to the idea of gender equality in order to decisively reform the state and civil society in Iran? These questions have apparently not occurred to the One Million Signatures Campaign leaders, which is another reason why a warning about the NED's WMD may not be out of place.


Amir said...

Well written and very informative. Being cautious is never a bad thing.

Unknown said...


Thanks for this post. I always read your blog and find your commentary very intelligent. One thing about this particular post. I don't find any fault with what you are saying, but Hossein Derakhshan, who writes in Persian and English at hoder.com, has linked to this post with the following comment:

"A warning from the editor of the credible leftist journal 'Monthly Review': ask your friends to distance themselves from the American backers of the 'One Million Signatures' campaign" and the subtitle is: "With precise documentation of the relationship between this campaign and the U.S. State Department and NED."

Now my understanding is that you are expressing concern about the support NED and the State Dept are extending to this campaign and you want the Campaign to distance itself from this support, but you aren't necessarily alleging that the campaign has been co-opted by the U.S. The farthest you go is to criticize some of the members of the campaign for carelessness in interviewing with Radio Farda and VOA. But this does not exactly amount to the kind of paraphrasing that Derakhshan has done of your post. Since he has a lot of readers, and he has been attacking the One Million Signatures Campaign for a while now (he has, I would argue, a different agenda than you do, or at least a different ethics), I thought you might want to know this.

Yoshie said...

My view is that the movement's demands are legitimate and that, if the Islamic Republic's leadership were smarter, they would promptly adopt them, not only for the sake of justice for women but also to deny the empire propaganda ammunitions on the gender front (I realize that this may be easier said than done, since a good part of civil society -- especially the government's most loyal supporters -- are conservative, probably more conservative than many of the government officials).

Some of the methods of the movement's activists -- talking one on one with working women in women-only locations where they may feel more comfortable opening up for instance -- are very much necessary and very promising, too.

But some of the leaders appear not to have really thought through about how best to win over working-class women and men of Iran to their cause -- hence their appearance on venues that are likely to turn off most Iranians (except perhaps the most unthinkingly pro-American ones).

I'm sure that Washington wants to hijack this movement (hence the NED's press release), as well as other social movements, in Iran, but, to my knowledge, there is no evidence that any leader of the movement has already consented to Washington's solicitation.

mojiagha said...

To May Li:

What is wrong with "staying away from the American backers" [like NED] of the 1 million signature drive?

By not immediately distancing themselves from and denouncing the NED, etc. the leaders of this campaign are providing evidence that this whole campaign may itself be a result of the kind of Dubai conference Youshie has referenced above.

I ask: Where is the line between collaboration, co-optation, and being used?

I know that if NED-type organizations even mention my NAME (let alone supporting what I do), I would IMMEDIATELY go public and denounce them.

Why is Mrs. Shirin Ebadi (and other leaders of this campaign) not doing so?

Moji Agha