So last night our friends returned a favor and made dinner for us. She is American, and he is Iranian; he served in the armed forces under the Shah, and fled after he fell by walking out of the country (quite a story).
She & I have been discussing the war, and my journey to supporting it; I lent her my copy of Pollack, but I was obviously very interested in hearing what he had to say.
To be honest, it both scared and enlightened me.
He is a highly educated man, an engineer from an upper-middle class family. Every time he goes back to Iran, he is sweated by the religious police, but always let go (his parents are alive there, and he has very strong family ties). He works for the airline industry, and we’ve joked about the security examinations he’s been through – “with a proctoscope” he says.
But when we started talking about the war, his affect changed dramatically. I suggested that this might help bring about the fall of his detested mullahs, and he responded that only the decision of the Iranian people would make that happen.
But most telling was our discussion of civilian casualties. I commented that the largest numbers I have seen (which I felt were unreliable) were in the 5,000 range, and that reliable sources tended to cluster in the 1,000 – 1,500 range.
He replied that there had been “at least” 75,000 civilian casualties.
I laughed, thinking he was joking, but quickly stopped when I realized that he wasn’t. I asked him where he got his information, and he replied that he’d had some phone calls with friends who lived near the border, and they had talked with some refugees.
I suggested that this might not be the most fact-based approach, and he waved his hands.
“What are your facts? From the media that tells you what the government wants you to hear? They are an arm of the government, a part of the government. They are told what to tell you and you believe it.”
I stopped him and suggested that, thanks to the Internet, I’m reading everything from the London Times and Le Monde to Arab News, and that none of them came close to supporting what he was saying.
He gave a dry laugh and suggested that for a price – a price the oil companies were willing to pay – the media would say anything.
I gently suggested that his upbringing might have had something to do with this; that in Iran, now and during the era of the Shah, the media were pretty much a joke. But that here, in the West, while I saw structural issues in the media’s coverage of government, that I could not conceive of the media missing out on a chance to embarrass the government in this way.
He gave a knowing smile and we agreed to change the subject.
What does it say about the millions of Arabs in the Middle East, and the gap between us, if this Westernized, educated, security-cleared man believes that we’re essentially living in “The Matrix”? And what does that mean to our plans and hopes for the region?
I need to think more about this…
[JK Note: The comments section gets that process off to a great start, with some excellent sharing of context and experiences from Sub-Saharan Africa to Yugoslavia.]