UPDATED: PRI Downplays and Ignores Genocidal Rhetoric in Iran

UPDATE 10/16/13 — 2:45 PM: Additional information about an increase in executions in Iran since Rouhani took office has been appended to this article.
The Iranian charm offensive has hit public radio in the United States in a big way. In a recent (Oct. 14, 2013) segment of The World produced by Public Radio International (PRI), substitute host Aaron Schachter interviewed Haleh Anvari, an Iranian artist and writer who lives in London and Tehran.
During the interview, (titled “This Iranian artist welcomes the kinder, gentler edge to Tehran’s diplomacy”), both Schachter and Anvari spoke in evasive and euphemistic terms about the antisemitic rhetoric that was one of the most salient aspects of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tenure as Iranian president.

Schachter asked Anvari to comment on the “difference in tone” coming from Tehran in light of Rouhani’s election. Tittering a bit, Schachter said, “Mr. Ahmadinejad was very bellicose and used [laughing] very colorful and sometimes frightening language.”

Ahmadinejad’s language was more than “bellicose,” “colorful,” and “frightening.”

It was genocidal.

During his time in office, Ahmadinejad repeatedly called for Israel’s destruction and spoke in hateful terms about Jews and Zionists. In one instance, he described Israel as a cancerous tumor that will soon be destroyed and in 2007 he led a chant “Death to Israel” before a large crowd.

This is not the type of rhetoric that responsible journalists should laugh at, as Schachter did.

Anvari followed Schachter’s lead and minimized the horror of Ahmadinejad’s speech. She said that Ahmadinejad’s “colorful” and “astounding” language violated the historical norms of Iranian politesse and promoted Iranians to embrace “a sort of feisty kind of street language.”

Calling for Israel to be destroyed is not “feisty.” It is incitement to genocide.

Things didn’t get any better when Schachter Anvari spoke of the alleged change in “tone” in Iran under Hassan Rouhani’s leadership. The man has recently called Israel a “wound” on the Muslim world. This comment, made in August, and which indicates that the goals of Iranian foreign policy remain the same – even with a new president – was glossed over by Anvari who said:

What I see now is… not what they’re referring to as a ‘charm offensive,’ which I also see as being a little bit cynical, but more a return to how I would expect my country to be presenting itself — to be representing me and this nation that is 3,000 years old with this incredible history.

The notion that there has been a substantive change in tone in Iran is undermined by the persistence of anti-American and anti-Israel propaganda in that country. The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has documented this propaganda at a recent military parade, held in late September 2013 – well after Rouhani’s ascension to the Iranian Presidency. During this parade, Iranian military equipment displayed signs that read “Death to America” and “Israel should cease to exist.”

These and numerous other data points (which Schachter and Anvari ignored) indicate that Rouhani is similar in many ways to the man he has replaced and president and that nothing much has changed in Iran.

And that’s nothing to laugh at.
UPDATE 10/16/13 — 2:45 PM:

There is another problem with Schachter’s interview with Anvari: It ignores the acceleration in executions that has taken place since Rouhani took power. On October 8, 2013, a week before the interview was aired on PRI stations, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran issued a press release that stated the following:


In the two weeks between September 11 and September 25, Iranian officials hanged a record 50 individuals, primarily for drug-related offenses.

“While Rouhani was promoting a softer image of Iran internationally during his visit to New York two weeks ago, it was business as usual on the domestic front with scores of prisoners put to death following unfair trials,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. “Since Rouhani’s inauguration, the increasing number of prisoners being sent to the gallows is indefensible,” he added.


The increase in execution numbers comes at a time when the release of several well-known political prisoners has raised hopes for substantive human rights reform in Iran. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani’s visit to the UN General Assembly in New York and his diplomatic overtures aimed at ending tensions related to Iran’s nuclear dossier have been widely seen as a new, more conciliatory phase in relations between Iran and the international community. Yet while Rouhani was elected on promises of change and human rights reforms, there have been at least
125 executions
 since his inauguration on August 4, with dozens of other prisoners sentenced to death or facing imminent execution.


Iran carries out more executions per capita annually than any other country in the world. So far in 2013, Iran has executed at least 402 individuals. It also carries out many of these executions in public, with 53 such public executions in 2013. (Emphasis added, links in original.)


Neither Anvari nor Schachter confronted this reality. Instead, Anvari painted an unreasonably rosy picture of the prospects for human rights in Iran, invoking the opening of a cinema in Tehran where directors can show their documentaries to fellow filmmakers as evidence of an improvement of conditions in the country. “We’re seeing quick, tangible results that are very heartening.”


The International Campaign for Human Rights sees things differently:


“The rapid pace of executions over the past month shows that while talk of human rights reforms has intensified with the release of high-profile political prisoners and promises for more pardons, there is still a long way to go in pushing change on the margins of society,” said Gissou Nia, executive director of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center. “The seeming trend for reform has yet to extend to Iran’s liberal application of the death penalty, which disproportionately affects ethnic minorities and the poor.”


Schachter’s interview with Avnari is an embarrassment.

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