Monday, May 22, 2006

Badges of Dishonor

As I reported in this space on Friday, the story about Iranian plans to make non-Muslims wear identifying badges such as those Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust was fabricated.

Andrew Sullivan confirms this today and names the source of the lie as Amir Taheri, editor of a state-run newspaper from the days of the Shah. The National Post article that broke the 'story' named its sources as multiple "Iranian expatriates living in Canada", implying that Taheri may have been working in concert with other expat regime opponents.

Sullivan takes this as a cautionary tale:
After the Iraq WMD debacle, we need to treat all intelligence from interested parties in the Middle East with a great deal of skepticism.
It should go without saying that this principle extends far beyond the Middle East. Disinterestedness is essential to believable journalism. We took the Iran story with a grain of salt for the same reason we should be wary of news tips that come from the Cuban exile community or any other group with a vested interest in what is portrayed as the truth.

Sullivan writes that the "underlying fact of Ahmadinejad's anti-Semitic extremism is true." This, of course, only makes what Taheri did worse. Fouling up this story (deliberately or not), especially with its overt Holocaust aspect, gives Ahmadinejad and his government an out. When stories of bigotry and outrageous behavior are invented, it lends deniability to the ones that are true. Sullivan holds out hope that Taheri may have been the victim of a "garbled misunderstanding". As unlikely as that may be, there's no excuse for the National Post running with such a tenuously sourced article.

Opponents of the Iranian regime, both in and out of Iran, should be vocal and active. They shouldn't shoot themselves in the collective foot by spreading disinformation, however. When the current Iranian administration is involved, the truth is bad enough.
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