Defiling the Victim
October 19, 1978 — The Daily Iowan

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project
| April 7, 2015                              


One of the tilting points in the Shah of Iran’s fall was the tragedy which occurred at a crowded movie theater in Abadan on August 19, 1978. Hundreds of people (figures range from the 400 to 800 range) were trapped inside the burning Cinema Rex, victims of arson, allegedly at the hands of the government security forces, SAVAK.

This letter from an Iranian student to The Daily Iowan (The University of Iowa newspaper) used the event to help illustrate the depth of the regime’s depravity, fully aided and abetted by an absurdly biased U.S. corporate media.

Thursday, October 19, 1978

Letters: Media smear Iranian people

To the Editor:

The atrocious fire at Abadan has raised the level of written propaganda to its most exagerated [sic] extremes in the international press. In particular, we would like to look at some of the aspects of the media handling of events in Iran to substantiate our claims that there is evidence of “unique” treatment of news on Iran by the media.

First of all, we want to clarify that we do not lump “the press” into one monolithic bloc. We do not believe that every reporter in the U.S. press is busy in their editorial rooms hatching plots against the Iranian people or Iranian students. In fact, our experience has often been that local reporters and journalists are honest professionals who have sought frequently to learn facts and investigate the truth of events in Iran. Unfortunately, there is a different situation that prevails in some particular arenas of the press where editorial boards do have consistent policies with regard to their line on the Shah’s regime and with regard to their portrayal of the movement.

On the one side, you are told that the beleaguered Shah of Iran, keeper of dungeons, is valiantly trying to bring “modernization” to Iran; on the other side, you are told that there is an inexplicable, somehow “irrational” mob (which mysteriously includes the majority of the residents of virtually every city and town and most villages in the country) that just won’t get the hang of it and just won’t “go along” with these noble programs of the Shah.

These words are creating a climate of opinion surrounding the movement in Iran. To what extent it succeeds depends on the degree to which people begin to speak out against what they know is false, and clearly explain what they know is true. Only in this way can American and Iranian people together prevent further bloodshed and the massacre of thousands of people whose struggle is for freedom and democratic liberties and an independent country that upholds and cherishes its own values and culture and determines its own system of government according to the will of the masses of the Iranian people.

Public justification for the U.S. government’s support of their ally, the Shah of Iran, is wearing pretty thin — so thin that not one official statement has been heard during the 10 months of rebellion inside the country that is “by far the largest U.S. security assistance program in the world.” (p. 37, “U.S. Military Sales to Iran,” staff report to the Subcommittee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, July 1976.) Instead, it seems that the Shah of Iran is being clothed in various disguises, and the entire anti-Shah opposition is being systematically and uniquely slandered though the medium of the major U.S. press agencies.

Unable to convince an intelligent public that the royal superindendent [sic] of SAVAK torture chambers is a “progressive democrat,” the backers of the Shah have tried one myth after another. He is paraded before the world dressed in one set after another of the emperor’s new clothes — the “enlightened despot,” the vanguard of “modernization” and even the “king of independence in the Third World.” Against the realities of savage police brutality, street massacres and the outright sale of Iran to the U.S. military while millions live in squalor, these myths can safely and accurately be called lies.

The horror of the Rex Cinema fire in Abadan — the deliberate burning alive of as many as 750 men, women and children in a working class neighborhood theater — is a new level of attack, both in deeds and words, against the millions of people fighting literally for their lives. The Abadan fire was a desperate attempt to seize back the political power that has been torn from the hands of the regime by the events of the past 10 months. What else is left to a regime that has only its SAVAK gestapo and the brute force of machine guns except to commit such an act and try to blame it on the people’s movement?

Since few politicians can openly support a known fascist, and it is impossible to run public opinion directly in favor of fascism, the only possibility for backers of the status quo in Iran to paint a picture of the opposition as “unfit to rule,” “unfit for democracy.” If the people are portrayed as irrational zealots and frenzied rioters, then you can try to say that a dictatorial rule is necessary to “restore order” and “maintain stability.” This was the purpose of the Abadan crime.

We ask this question: In what similar instance of reporting have you read such consistent letters labeling of the opposition forces, including outright slurs against an entire religion and insinuations of lunacy in an entire people? Yes, there are countless Moslems involved in the movement; it happens that 90 per cent of the people in Iran are Moslems. But the basis for their opposition to the Shah has little to do with what religion is practiced. The fact that certain ideals and cultural values are slaughtered and assaulted every day by the vulgar corruption of the Pahlavi Court and its coterie of lieutenants is one basis for political antagonism between the masses of people and reactionary rule in Iran.

It is the absolute right of any people in the world to cherish, protect and uphold their cultural values as their own and to oppose in every way the imposition of alien cultural values upon them. The destruction of pornographic movie theaters, liquor stores, Pepsi trucks and U.S. and European banks expresses this.

We have to ask, and we are sure you must wonder, what function is served by these daily slanders against Iranian people, calling everyone who opposes repression and police tyranny a “fanatic” and an “extremist”? It should be clear that since there can be no more pretense that the Shah is a “benevolent” monarch or anything else resembling humanity, the only thing that supporters of U.S. power in Iran can do is to slander the opposition to the Shah. By attacking the opposition and creating the impression outside Iran that everyone in the movement, or a majority of its leaders, are “fanatics” and “terrorists” and somehow beyond all reason, they aim to create justification for continued repression and direct U.S. intervention against the movement for independence and freedom.

Mohammad A. Jahangirian
for the Iranian Student’s Association

With Iran, ‘Everything Old Is New Again’ (Nov. 1979 letters)


Related links:

The Shah, the President and empty phrases — Letter to The Daily Iowan, February 16, 1977

Iran — U.S. aids moral bankruptcy — Letter to The Daily Iowan, January 25, 1977

U.S. cooperates in Iranian oppression — Letter to The Daily Iowan, July 6, 1976

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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