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“They distort the diagrams in order to deceive you and to lead you to a path to nowhere.”

The words belong to Mir Hossein Mousavi, the leader of Iran’s pro-democracy movement and a candidate in Iran’s stolen 2009 presidential election. During one of the televised debates, Mousavi, the most serious rival to the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was interrupted by the host. This untimely intervention was enough to provoke Mousavi, who had until then remained reserved, into launching a furious barrage against Ahmadinejad, who, along with his supporters, had run a relentless smear campaign against Mousavi and the reformists.

In the days and weeks leading up to Election Day, the Ahmadinejad camp had resorted to every dirty trick in the book to present Mousavi and the reformists as corrupt pawns of Israel and the United States.[1]

In doing so, Ahmadinejad also accused the reformists (and by extension the Mousavi campaign) of having caved into Western pressure on the nuclear issue during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami.

Yet attacking the revolutionary credentials of Mousavi, whose successful premiership coincided with Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq, would bring little election gains for Ahmadinejad. After all, Mousavi was known as Nokhost vazire emam or “Imam [Khomeini’s] prime minister.” The character assassinations soon reached Mousavi’s wife Zahra Rahnavard. Ahmadinejad questioned Rahnavard’s academic credentials before millions of Iranians suggesting that she was unquailed to be a university professor. This form of character assassination backfired and resulted in greater support for Mousavi and the reformists.

But perhaps the real Achille’s heel of the Ahmadinejad administration was its near calamitous mismanagement of the economy. Iran had made a staggering $300 billion oil revenue during Ahmadinejad’s first term in office, yet the cost of living has skyrocketed, prices have experiences a steep hike, inflation had gone through the roof and unemployment has reached new heights. The economy dominates political debate in Iran today.

There was a dire need for graphs and numbers and help was on the way. During the 2009 election debates, Ahmadinejad told Iranians that his government had actually reduced unemployment. And it was true, it had, but by simply changing the definition of an “employed” and “unemployed” person. It did not matter that figures from his own central bank were enough to discredit his claims of economic progress. No sir! Before the eyes of millions, Ahmadinejad held up chart after chart, arguing that the country’s economy was in fact in a splendid shape, this at a time when a global recession had brought the West to its knees.

For many Iranians, Ahmadinejad’s debates have been—and will be—remembered not for his words, but more for his crude use of charts and diagrams accompanied with an irksome tone of self-righteousness.

In late September, the United Nations General Assembly listened to the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But much like Ahmadinejad’s election posturing, the prime minister’s words at the UN will be remembered by the cartoon-like drawing of a bomb and a fuse to convince the world about the threat of an Iranian nuke.

Filled with historical inaccuracies, the speech not only made no mention of a future Palestinian state, which is at the core of the international consensus on how to solve the conflict, but rather every effort was made to divert attention away from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.

In the half hour talk, Netanyahu managed to mention the word “bomb” no fewer than twenty times. So determined to rally support against Iran, he actually manages to unintentionally whitewash Nazism by suggesting that the Nazis, responsible for the massacre of 6 million Jews, were far more compassionate, humane and reasonable adversaries who cherished life.

“Nazis and communists liked life. Islamists [in Iran] revel in death. An enormous difference,” he said, much to the glee of neo-Nazis and anti-Semites.

“So, how much enriched uranium do you need for a bomb? And how close is Iran to getting it? Let me show you. I brought a diagram for you. Here’s the diagram.”

And so the diagram was out.

“This is a bomb,” said the prime minister in a tone of revelation, “this is a fuse.”

To illustrate the “apocalyptic” consequences of an Iranian nuke, Netanyahu brandished a fanciful cartoon that was meant to depict Iran’s progress in building a warhead. He then quite literally drew a thick red line just under the point of detonation to denote the threshold Iran would have to surpass before manufacturing the bomb.

“Just imagine a nuclear armed Al-Qaeda,” Netanyahu warned.

But this fear mongering is not new. As early as 1992, when Netanyahu was still only a parliamentarian, he had told his colleagues that Iran was three to five years from being able to produce a nuclear weapon and that the threat had to be “uprooted by an international front headed by the US.”

This obsession with bombs and enrichment should not come as a surprise. In a country that prohibits the entry of pasta into the Gaza Strip for security reasons, surely nuclear enrichment, even if it is within the limits set by the International Atomic Energy Agency, is to be perceived as an existential threat and part of a “clash between modernism and medievalism.”[2]

But Bibi need not worry. As it happens, Iran, the military “power” inches away from annihilating Israel—a country with over two hundred nuclear warheads—is “so inadequate” in communication and “its training deficiencies so significant,” that it is incapable of distinguishing between civilian and military aircraft. A heavily classified Pentagon intelligence report recently published by The New York Times predicts that “misidentification of aircraft will continue.”

The “ridiculous-looking, over-simplified bomb cartoon,” as The Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri referred to it, was as serious as Bibi’s so-called “clash between modernity and medievalism” or his citing of the infamous Orientalist Bernard Lewis to argue that due to the very nature of Iran’s leaders, the principle of mutually assured destruction did not apply to the Iranians in case they ever acquired the bomb, for in their mind, this total annihilation was an “inducement, and not a deterrent.”

As expected, the “bomb cartoon” instantly became the subject of much satire and ridicule for many media outlets both in Israel and abroad.

But in Iran, Netanyahu’s speech aroused a different sentiment. For them, the tragic farce was not the long-winded and exceptionally silly speech. The image of Bibi cleverly showing his audience the cartoon he had prepared could remind Iranians of only one thing. They had seen that clever smirk, that primitive diagram, that self-righteous tone as it yelped, “trust me, I know!”

What made the similarity even more bizarre was the inane use of diagrams by cunning politicians who would stop at nothing in order to deceive the masses for a “greater good.”

Just hours after Netanyahu had finished exhibiting his drawings, one image was circulated extensively amongst Iranians active on social media sites.

The picture showed Ahmadinejad and Netanyahu, busy displaying their diagrams. Above the two men, was an image of Mir Hossein Mousavi and next to him this quote: “They distort the diagrams in order to deceive you and to lead you to a path to nowhere.”

A recent cartoon by Iranian artist Mana Neyestani captures the overall mood prevalent in Iran.

When Mousavi uttered those words in June 2009, he was merely referring to Ahmadinejad’s campaign of falsifications. The monumental fraud that later triggered the massive Green Movement had not yet occurred, Netanyahu had just assumed office and Iran had not become so internationally isolated.

But the “path to nowhere” is favoured by opportunists from both countries: one claims to lead the anti-imperialist cause and uses religion or nationalism as a rallying cry depending on the occasion; the other, better looking with a fluent speaker of American English, pretends to be passionate about the Jewish nation as he carelessly whitewashes a murderous ideology that resulted in the deaths of millions of people during World War II, including Jews.

It should come as little surprise, then, that during the 2009 uprising in Iran, The Christian Science Monitor’s Joshua Mitnick explained, “Why Iran’s Ahmadinejad is preferred in Israel.”

“[M]any officials and analysts here actually prefer the incumbent president because … he’ll be easier to isolate … Mousavi, by contrast, isn’t expected to alter Iran’s drive for nuclear power, but he would win international sympathy,” he wrote.

According to Ephraim Inbar, director of the Begin Sadat Centre at Bar Ilan University, “If we have Ahmadinejad, we know where we stand. If we have Mousavi we have a serpent with a nice image.”

Mossad Chief Meir Dagan, Israel’s top spy cautioned that “If … Mousavi had won, Israel would have had a more serious problem, because it would need to explain to the world the danger of the Iranian threat.”

Dagan’s predecessor Ephraim Halevy had also voiced similar views, referring to Ahmadinejad as the “greatest gift” Israel could hope for as he galvanised world opinion against Iran. “He only serves us. We couldn’t carry out a better operation at the Mossad than to put a guy like Ahmadinejad in power in Iran,” he boasted.

“He unites the entire world against Iran.”

Referring to Ahmadinejad’s repeated predictions of Israel’s demise and questioning of the Nazi Holocaust, Halevy said the Iranian leader “proved to everyone that the Iran of today is an Iran that is impossible to live with.”

Daniel Pipes, a protégé of Bernard Lewis, tells us how “my head tells me it’s best that he remain in office,” because it is “better to have a bellicose, apocalyptic, in-your-face Ahmadinejad who scares the world than a sweet-talking Mousavi who again lulls it to sleep, even as thousands of centrifuges whir away.”

“I am rooting for Ahmadinejad,” he reassured his readers before the 2009 elections in Iran.

“[B]ellicose, apocalyptic” and “in-your-face” are also apt descriptions of Bibi.

In his journal of life in the West Bank, Palestinian human rights lawyer and writer Raja Shehadeh, distinguishes three ways of responding to Israeli injustice in the occupied territories: The first is that of “blind hate,” the second, “mute submission.” But there is also a third way, the way of the Samid, “the steadfast one,” who watches his home as it turns into a prison.[3]

The Samid to undertake the first way, as the conqueror would no doubt prefer, so as to rid himself of the troublesome intruder in the Land of Israel.

“Between mute submission and blind hate I choose the third way. I am Samid.”

Although Shehadah’s West Bank journal predates Iran’s Green Movement by decades, it could very well have been describing the current status of its leaders, who have been under house arrest since February 2011 after calling for rallies in solidarity with the Arab Spring.

“You, Samid, choose to stay in that prison, because it is your home, and because you fear that if you leave, your jailer will not allow you to return. Living like this, you must constantly resist the twin temptations of either acquiescing in the jailer’s plan in numb despair, or becoming crazed by consuming hatred for your jailer and yourself, the prisoner.”

For more than six hundred days now, Mousavi’s house has been his jail.

Over the years, the reform movement has rarely, if ever, been in a comfortable relationship with country’s complex power structure in Iran, especially the hardline governing elite that now dominate all branches of the state and military.

They challenge the despotic enemy within, as the pharaoh brands them as traitors and agents of the West who seek the downfall of the Islamic Republic. “Seditionists” (fetneh gar), “topplers” (barandaz), “counterrevolutionaries” (zed-e enghelab), etc., the tyrants brand them as they wish.

They are paraded in show trials run by a state they helped build. They are flogged and beaten by prison guards who were at best toddlers when they toppled the last dictator in 1979.

The Greens, the Samidin from Iran, are accused of having received one billion dollars from Saudi Arabia, and of having ties with the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, a terrorist group with a murderous past.

Lengthy jail terms, solitary confinement, house arrest, physical and psychological torture, exile, travel ban, work ban, the kiss of the whip; all meant to humiliate the Samid, designed to break his will. A year after the 2009 unrest, Mousavi said that “we stand tall with dignity, yet whipped, beaten and imprisoned; we stand … we are most certain about our victory … for we have not demanded anything but the nation’s rights.”

In their quest to subordinate the oppressors in Tehran to the will of the people, the Samidin from Iran—or the Green Movement as they are commonly referred to—also face the strenuous task of not being used as pawns for the powers that have cast their predatory gaze on the motherland.

As they attempt to thwart a military strike and sanctions against their homeland, they must listen to the “Iranian Chalabis,”[4] Iranian expats who ardently support hawkish policies towards their country and accuse the greens of secretly working for the “mullahs” in Tehran.

The Samid is an easy target, for everyone.

They say that while in prison, Mousavi, the “serpent with a nice image” in the words of Daniel Pipes, has developed heart complications. Exactly what caused the decline in the well-being of a previously healthy Mousavi is, at this stage, up for speculation.

Much like their Palestinian counterparts, the green Samidin have no illusions, for all of this is part of life. But make no mistake, the Samid does cherish life. Indeed, at the height of the 2009 uprising, it was Mousavi who anticipated the long path before the movement he was leading:

“In the past century our people have seen quite a few … triumphs. However, their triumphs were the outcome of [direct] struggle. As long as the environment of struggle and endeavor lasted, these strides were also preservable. But as soon as people were exhausted or thought they had to return to their homes, the fruits of their struggle were also lost. To fight [for a cause] is holy, but it is not long-lasting. What does last is life.”

For the time being, it seems, the people have returned to their homes.

The Samidin, Shehadah writes in The Third Way, “must keep the anger burning,” for it is up to them “to remember and record.”

As Tehran’s conservative leader of Friday prayers Ahmad Jannati fittingly warned, they are simply “fire under the ashes,” burning until the time is ripe.


[1] A tasteless joke seeing as Mousavi’s close ally Ali Akbar Mohtashami had been instrumental in founding the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

[2] Indeed, in February 2009, when United States Senator John Kerry visited the Gaza Strip, he learned that one of the items the Israelis had banned from entering the strip included pasta.

[3] See Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians. Cambridge, MA: South End, 1999.

[4] Ahmad Chalabi, the Bush administration’s favourite Iraqi exile, was a staunch supporter of a strike in order to remove Saddam from power.