Friday, June 19, 2009

Right-wing Media & Twitter Echo-Chamber Continue to Spread Unsubstantiated Rumors

See yesterday's POST for the necessary background information and discussion before reading this post, as it builds on yesterday's.

UPDATE (5:05 p.m., June 25): A blog post by a well known Iranian dissident in exile is now being circulated on Twitter as "proof" of the "Lebanese Hizbullah in Iran rumor." A good friend who is fluent in Persian was kind enough to provide a summary of the post, which cites no original sources or evidence that "proves" anything, let alone the rumor. The post also reuses two photographs run almost one week ago by a Persian ad English language web site with a royalist (shah) banner prominently displayed. This web site also did not provide evidence for its allegations of who the individuals photographed were. Now, scores of people, most who probably cannot read any Persian, are yet again participating in the Twitter rumor echo-chamber. Some ignorant Twitter users are even misidentifying the language of the blog post as "Arabic;" I mean, all those "squiggly line" languages are the same, right?

The dissident-blogger provides no actual sources, and simply repeats the same sourceless rumors that have been circulating for nearly a week. His claim rests on the "argument" that Hizbullah is now "repaying" those from whom it benefited. Of course, this would also include Mir Hossein Mousavi, who,
along with Iran's ambassador to Syria, Hujjat al-Islam Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, was instrumental in supporting Lebanese Shi'i groups when they were coalescing into a unified movement (Hizbullah) in the mid 1980s.

UPDATE (12:49 p.m., June 25): Shaykh Na'im Qassem, Hizbullah's deputy secretary general, said in an interview: ""Hezbollah has nothing to do with Iran's internal affairs," he said. "We don't side with anyone. This is an internal Iranian issue. What is happening there has nothing to do with our situation. We have our own Lebanese identity and popularity, and these events don't concern us."

UPDATE (9:15 p.m., June 23): Veteran Middle East and war correspondent Robert Fisk, of the British newspaper The Independent, who is in Tehran chimes in about the rumors:

"Now for the very latest on the fantasy circuit. The cruel "Iranian" cops aren't Iranian at all. They are members of Lebanon's Hizbollah militia. I've had this one from two reporters, three phone callers (one from Lebanon) and a British politician. I've tried to talk to the cops. They cannot understand Arabic. They don't even look like Arabs, let alone Lebanese. The reality is that many of these street thugs have been brought in from Baluch areas and Zobal province, close to the Afghan border. Even more are Iranian Azeris. Their accents sound as strange to Tehranis as would a Belfast accent to a Cornishman hearing it for the first time. Fantasy and reality make uneasy bedfellows, but once they are combined and spread with high-speed inaccuracy around the world, they are also lethal."

The rumors are becoming more and more ridiculous now, and continue to spread thanks to dishonest or uncritical users of Internet sites such as Twitter. I have seen multiple claims, with no evidence to support them whatsoever, of "Syrians, Sudanese, Chechens, and Taliban" in Iran as riot-breakers. Is this the same Taliban, from Afghanistan, who is virulently anti-Shi'i and hanged Iranian diplomats in the 1990s? And are these the same equally anti-Shi'i Chechen groups? What's next, North Koreans?

Some have made an ad hominem allegation that I am an "apologist" for the Iranian government. This claim is demonstrably false, as evidenced by my past writing on the demonstrations and other issues. See, for example, HERE and HERE.

Other readers mistakenly think that I am saying that there are certainly "no members" in Iran for the rumored purpose. I am not arguing this. I am criticizing the blind acceptance of such rumors, any rumors, without reliable substantiation or those which are based on purported "verification" by blatantly ideologically-motivated media sources or anonymous and possibly fictional "sources." I am also criticizing those who peddle such rumors as fact, whether on Twitter (as many are doing) or via other mediums.

The Problems with Twitter discussed HERE.

As I wrote yesterday, unsubstantiated rumors are circulating wildly around Twitter and Internet discussion forums and blogs alleging that the Lebanese Shi'i party Hizbullah (Hezbollah) and the Palestinian Islamist group HAMAS have "sent" members of their paramilitary wings to Iran in order to assist the government in cracking down on demonstrators. The rumor about Hizbullah originate from unsubstantiated allegations from anonymous sources contained in an article in the German newspaper Der Spiegel, which also alleged recently in yet another anonymously sourced and highly contested article that Hizbullah carried out the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri in February 2005. Even Hariri's son and inheritor of his political party, Tayyar al-Mustaqbal (Future Movement), Sa'd al-Hariri, and his allies, such as Druze strongman Walid Jumblatt, were extremely cautious about the article's allegations. Despite the questionable reliability of the allegation, the rumor soon spread like wildfire over the social networking site Twitter, and from there to online forums and blogs. Twitter's reliability as a news source, which was being trumpeted at the beginning of the week, was soon called into question because of its role in promulgating rumors and unproven allegations as facts.

The rumor about HAMAS seemingly can be traced to one of two sources, either a highly biased article in the right-wing Israeli English-language newspaper The Jerusalem Post, dated June 17, or a blog post on an Evangelical Christian blog called The Last Crusade, written by one "Paul L. Williams" and dated June 18. The two pieces include essentially the same material, as well as IDENTICALLY worded paragraphs and minimally reworded paraphrases. It is unclear whether "Williams" or the writers at the Post were guilty of plagiarism.

For example, both articles use this nearly identical quote, with minor edits (e.g. "it was" in the Post and "it's" in the blog article):

"It’s ironic, the knife wielding man added, the victorious Ahmadinejad “tells us to pray for the young Palestinians, suffering at the hands of Israel.” He expressed his hope that Israel would “come to its senses” and ruthlessly deal with the Palestinians.

When asked if these militia fighters could have been mistaken for Lebanese Shi’ites, sent by Hezbollah, he rejected the idea. “Ask anyone, they will tell you the same thing. They [Palestinian extremists] are out beating Iranians in the streets… The more we gave this arrogant race, the more they want… [But] we will not let them push us around in our own country.”

The individual being quoted, if he actually exists, incorrectly uses the word "race" and provides the "interviewer" (or fiction writer) with a quote that would make any right-wing Israeli and/or radical Zionist ideologue salivate.

Both articles quote anonymous sources, who fail to explain how they were able to not only tell that certain individuals were not Iranian, but know that they were "Arabs," and further, how they were able to tell which groups these alleged characters belonged to. The Post bases its entire article on two anonymous sources. It is remarkable that their "special writer" was only able to get two individuals, if they are real, to "confirm" the "validity," so-called, of the rumor. Haven't hundreds of thousands of Iranians been demonstrating? These factors call into question the reliability, validity, and factual basis of both articles, and particularly that in the Post.

The right-wing Zionist outlet The Israel Project, which like CAMERA, masquerades as an "unbiased" protector of journalistic "truth," issued a press release on June 18 recycling the rumors about Hizbullah and HAMAS having sent members to Iran to assist in the quashing of the ongoing demonstrations. The press release cites the Der Spiegel article, which claims that the U.S. government-funded Voice of America media outlet claimed that "5,000 Hizbullah members" were sent to Iran (though a search on the VOA news web site turned up no such claim), the article from The Jerusalem Post, and Pajamas Media, a network of right-wing blogs and web sites based in the United States. The Pajamas Media article cited provides no verifiable sources to back up its claims that Hizbullah and HAMAS members are participating in the quashing of demonstrations. General mention is made of "Palestinian intelligence sources," who are not further identified. Even if true, these "Palestinian sources" would most likely be members of security and intelligence services connected to the Fatah ruling party, headed by Mahmoud 'Abbas, who has elongated his term as president of the Palestinian National Authority, despite his term having expired earlier this year. Fatah's security and intelligence organs are dominated by Fatah party strongmen like Muhammad Dahlan and the thuggish Jibril Rajub (Rajoub), who have an interest in spreading disinformation and propaganda against their chief rivals, HAMAS. Dahlan in particular has a motive to do so, as Fatah security forces and militias under his control were soundly and humiliatingly defeated in 2007 during the HAMAS-Fatah war in the Gaza Strip. Dahlan reportedly assisted the Israelis with targeting during the assault on Gaza in December 2008 to January 2009.

The Pajamas Media article, and The Israel Project's press release, both claim, providing no sources, that Venezuela has sent "anti-riot police" to aid the Iranian government as well. The inclusion of Venezuela, another country whose leader, Hugo Chavez, is hated by American right-wingers and Neoconservatives, makes these rumors all the more suspicious, as they seem to be just too perfect, and, if true, might allow these groups to push forward their own selfish agendas.

In an article-interview about the recent Lebanese parliamentary elections and the ongoing process of forming a coalition, national unity government, Hizbullah's secretary-general (leader) al-Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah declined to take sides in the current electoral dispute in Iran, and warned the March 14 ruling political coalition not to interfere in Iranian internal affairs:

"I will not touch on the Iranian elections now that is an internal matter. I advise the March 14 media, politicians and analysts to stop interfering in the Iranian [presidential] elections, because they do not understand anything with regard to the issue, and before we know it they will start presenting President Ahmadinejad and Mir Hussein Moussavi respectively as March 8 and 'March 14' [the two competing Lebanese political coalitions], this is absurd!"

See yesterday's post for the reasons why it is not in the party's interest to choose a side in the ongoing electoral dispute in Iran.

See Alexander's excellent discussion of these and other major debunked rumors at The Ruh of Brown Folks.


Anonymous said...

Are you sure there is no HAMAS involvement?

I have received credible information that one is indeed captured, and most likely killed by now?

إبن الصقلي said...

I do not say that there are no members of Lebanese Hizbullah or Palestinian HAMAS in Iran. Many members visit, long before the recent demonstrations. I wrote previously that yes, it is possible, though I think that the numbers are grossly exaggerated. Hizbullah, particularly, has nothing to really gain from participating, since they were backed politically and financially by the Reformists as well as the Conservatives, and the third group who some dub Iran's "Neoconservatives" (Ahmadinejad and his supporters in the Revolutionary Guards and Basij).

I am criticizing the blind adoption of rumors, fueled on by biased ideologically-motivated individuals and media outlets. I do not think one can support demonstrations for openness and honesty by fabricating documents and spreading false rumors.

Anonymous said...

Oh, sorry I misunderstood the background information.

I do agree with you that much of the inforamation flowing in and out of news outlets are incorrect or exaggerated. I personally don't trust what they write. However - there's a difference happening in the country right now and that can be considered the reason for the Hamas involvement.

It is unlikely any longer a question of voting fraud, but rather this was just the spark that was neccesary for the people of Iran to finally question the government. How this will end, I do not know, I do know however, that forces are in place to help and protect the people, but at the same time will let people decide what to do.
Hamas would not want the current regime to fall, as this would surely interrupt their business plans considerably, and now that it is more of a people's revolution that just a qustion of who won the election, they do have a lot to loose. Just like in 1979 - Hamas was an integral part of that revolution too - they want to stay in control.

إبن الصقلي said...

HAMAS had not been founded in 1979. It did not emerge until the late 1980s, around 1987, with the outbreak of the First Intifada against Israeli military occupation. Fatah, the U.S.-backed Palestinian party, supported the revolution, as did its leader and the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the late Yasser 'Arafat. The PLO, of course, was a coalition of many Palestinian nationalist groups, including many which did not agree with 'Arafat's political views. 'Arafat was also less supportive of the revolution per se, but responded positively because of Khumayni's strong support and advocacy for the Palestinian struggle. The two had a falling out when it became clear that 'Arafat, politically, was a secular nationalist.

Anonymous said...

True - Hamas wasn't founded, but the same "organisation" that became known as the Hamas, is and have been supporting the regime since then. The Iranian regime have supported them politically and monetary since that time.

And it is, proven to me, that the same supporters from 1979 are back to help the regime stay in control. These supporters now call themselves Hamas.

Mind you, I am biased against the Iranian regime. I have no information confirming Hizbullah involvement, but Hamas are in Iran and fighting alongside the Basij.

P.S.: Thank you for allowing me to post anonymously, it would not be wise to give away too much information on such a critical point of view.

إبن الصقلي said...

HAMAS wasn't founded by one movement or organization. Generally speaking, it grew out of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, which was initially tied to the Brotherhood in Egypt. However, the two movements went their separate ways due to different national issues. The Brotherhood, in Egypt and around the Arab world, is Sunni and while they are certainly not anti-Shi'i (like Sunni Salafis are), they are not backers per se of the Iranian government either.

The Palestinians who initially welcomed the Iranian Revolution in 1979 were not Islamists, they were secular, and in some cases Marxist and socialist, Palestinian nationalists in the PLO.

As for your claims about HAMAS, we would need to know more about your sources and verify their reliability before such claims can be taken seriously.

As for posting anonymously, that's simply the way I set up my "Comments" section.

Anonymous said...

Lebanese Hamas has deep connections with Iran's hard liners which are in fact a separate entity from the government and they are mostly backed by the Supreme Leader and his power centers (Like the revolutionary guards, Basij and ...). Moreover, one of the pictures depicting the Lebanese high ranking officer is a legit pictures taken during the raid of one of the pro-Mousavi newspaper/websites by plaincloths (which is in Tehran).
I dont understand the non-Iranian people trying to pin-point a new/rumor while they have no intimate knowledge of the Iranian society/governing body/armed forces and etc.
anyways, good luck
by the way, I'm an Iranian :)

إبن الصقلي said...

HAMAS is not Lebanese.

And lots of Americans know next to nothing about their country's history and politics. The same is true for people from all nations. As for the "no knowledge" part, I refer you to my past posts.

You also have no idea what ethno-national or other group(s) I am from.

Anonymous said...

Re your citation of Shaykh Qassim saying Hezbollah doens't interfere in Iran and doesn't take sides, check out Nasrallah's comments posted on PressTV:

إبن الصقلي said...

I've already read this story, and addressed how some have "edited" the quote in order to make him appear to be saying something he did not say based on the quotes in the article. Nor do his comments "prove" that the rumors are true.

إبن الصقلي said...

A viewer wrote:

As an Iranian who grew up in Iran after the revolution and recently immigrated to the U.S., I will state that it is common knowledge that Palestinians and Hezbollah were in Iran during crisis times. Please give us the credit that we can distinguish Iranians of different tribes and ethnic backgrounds from Palestinians. It's like telling apart a southerner from a Frenchman. "

Notice this reader's (not so) subtle bigotry/racism, and the, as usual, lack of any evidence to back up this "common knowledge."

Anonymous said...

I have no doubts that as you mentioned many twitts are biased, unconfirmed and sensationalized. However, your suggestion that people from Baluchistan, Sistan or Turks are brought to Tehran to do the government's dirty job is as biased and as unfounded as the claims which accuses Hamas or Hizbellah of involvement in repressing the Iranian dissidents! Please remember that Baluchis, Tkurks and other national minorities of Iran are the oppressed ones, not the oppressors.

إبن الصقلي said...

Thank you for reading.

I did not say that. I was quoting an article/editorial by the British journalist Robert Fisk.

Amir H. Bakhtiary said...

You do not take into account that the official news outlets have been sealed off. Now rumours are all we have, they may not be totally correct, but currently we have to give them some credibility as our only source.

إبن الصقلي said...

Plenty of reports have come out, even with the Iranian government's attempt to cut off coverage. Just because rumors are "all we have" does not mean they have or should be given much, if any, credibility, particularly when they're based on xenophobia and bigotry.