Iran cannot go unchallenged in global media battle
Iran’s regime has scored several relative successes in promoting its carefully crafted public image in the West by using narratives and rhetoric designed for Western audiences. In this messaging, Iran promotes itself as a positive asset for the region and the world and claims to be fighting terrorism, thereby assisting the Western powers’ anti-terror efforts.
Iran’s politicians constantly issue statements and speeches promoting the regime’s supposed dedication to fighting terrorism in Iraq and Syria, asserting that this prevents the (solely Sunni) terrorist groups from spilling over into European capitals.
Iran also plays on the heartstrings of history and what it calls “cultural and civilizational commonalities” with Western nations. In a lecture delivered by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in the German capital Berlin a few months ago — attended by members of the German diplomatic corps — he emphasized the historical connections between the Persian and Western civilizations, stressing that the characteristics shared by the two are deeply rooted in history.
He reiterated this message in an op-ed for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, in which he recalled the “glory days” of the Roman and Persian empires. He wrote: “Europe and Iran must cooperate in order to resolve the crises of the Middle East. We cannot turn a blind eye to the situation there since security in the neighboring countries is of utmost importance.”
Through the use of this distinctly imperialist rhetoric, Zarif is claiming that Iran enjoys security and stability in a restive Arab region, even though waves of turmoil and unrest continue to sweep across parts of Iran, especially in the Sistan and Balochistan province. More importantly, Iran’s brutal regime is one of the primary factors behind the continuing instability and unrest in the Arab region because of its sponsorship, financing and arming of terrorist groups and militias in several Arab countries. The regime has also sent its so-called Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to fight in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. In essence, Tehran’s role is that of an arsonist posing as a fireman.
None of these facts are conveyed to Western media outlets, while the Arabs are the only ones blamed for the catastrophic regional turmoil that has been unleashed and encouraged by Iran’s leaders.
Meanwhile, domestically, Iran’s politicians seize every opportunity to damage the image of their foes in the Arab world, particularly the Gulf, by demonizing them in the West, whether by accusing them of supporting terrorism and inciting sectarianism in the region or claiming that they lack Iran’s civilizational foundations and historical deep-rootedness in a clear and unambiguous attempt to falsify history. Iranian politicians and their propagandists realize that lazy readers will not bother to conduct any serious research into these false claims to ascertain whether they are true, especially since they often chime with the racist and orientalist stereotypes the West has about the Arab nations.
Not content with this ceaseless slander, Iran’s regime has gone even further by recruiting many exiled Iranian researchers and writers by offering them financial inducements or through imposing social pressures. Not only do they promote the Iranian regime directly or indirectly, but also — more importantly — they demonize the Gulf states.
More dangerously, the typical Western reader may not know that these writers are of Iranian origin or connected to the regime, since most Westerners simply cannot differentiate between Middle Eastern names. An equally dangerous aspect is the idea that those with “Middle Eastern names” will automatically be better informed about and more capable of understanding the region and the events unfolding there than Westerners are. The reasons for this erroneous assumption are too many and varied to discuss here.
The Arabs are the only ones blamed for the catastrophic regional turmoil that has been unleashed and encouraged by Iran’s leaders.
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
In summary, then, there is a major need for Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states to counter the Iranian regime’s relentless propaganda and disinformation. They must intensify their efforts to correct Tehran’s false claims and to take full advantage of their soft power tools to expose and correct the falsifications and misconceptions promoted by Iranian media outlets, whether via their English-language outlets or by overseas propagandists whose services the regime has succeeded in buying. I am, sadly, no longer surprised to hear Western citizens repeating the Iranian regime’s disinformation and false claims about the Gulf states and treating these fabrications as indisputable facts.
It is necessary, therefore, for the Gulf states to establish rational, sophisticated and well-balanced satellite TV current affairs channels and news websites in various languages to address and enlighten Westerners in the appropriate manner and using language they can relate to, and to invest in this without expecting quick results.
There should also be an ongoing evaluation of Iran’s media to enable speedy clarifications or corrections regarding missing or deliberately omitted facts. Iran’s regime and its allies must not be allowed to stand unchallenged in the media arena and to work against the interests of Arab nations.
- Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is President of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami