Larry Beinhart has Crowned Himself the Prince of Persia…

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie

…and he can kiss my Iranian ass.

Last weekend, Larry Beinhart posted a piece for AlterNet entitled, “Report From Iran: Should We Really Bomb These People?”

There’s a whole lot wrong with that question, as many of the article’s commenters pointed out. In fact, I wish I’d waited awhile and just let them write this article for me—but, uppity bee that I am, I started writing as soon a I read the title.

After a title like that, you’d think Beinhart would try to come off a little better. But just the second sentence riled me up: “It’s good to get out of gray, smoggy Tehran, one of the least photogenic cities in the world, where black is the new black, from the hejabs on down.”

I have a hard time believing that Beinhart is really in the Tehran that most Iranians know. Smoggy? Yes! We won’t deny it. But this isn’t just boasty ethnic pride talking: just do a Google search on Tehran and you’ll see some beautiful pictures of the Alborz mountains, the Azadi Monument, Tehran in the spring, Tehran in the winter…An excellent place to check out pictures of Tehran and its denizens is Tehran 24, a blog dedicated to photography of Tehran.

And black everywhere? Once again, my dear readers, I’ll direct you to Google image search: type in “Tehran” and “women,” and you will see for yourself that black is not necessarily de rigueur.

Why can’t he get his stereotype of Iranian women right? Now they’re in black, black, and more black, but then, several paragraphs down, he states, “Because we were in public, the women wore the required headscarves but managed to make them fashion accessories. They constantly adjusted them with graceful gestures that drew attention to their beauty and femininity.” Racism and sexism, all tied up in a pretty little hejab. Ew. How can they be considered fashionable if they’re all in big, black chadors? Fashionable young, urban Iranian women prefer a mix of colors, and color coordination is incredibly important to those interested in fashion (this is my thesis topic—it’s been my life for the last several months, trust).

He then states, “It is worth pointing out that while women in Iran are not as free as in America or Western Europe, they have more freedom and participate more fully in public life than in the rest of the Islamic World.”

I wonder what Beinhart means by freedom. Because if he means the right to marry, divorce, work, and go to school with almost no restrictions, then he has forgotten Turkey. The Turkish are predominately Muslims, and Turkey has the most egalitarian divorce laws in the Islamic world. Women are heads of companies there just like they are in Iran or Syria or the West. And how about Tunisia, which has heavily westernized its civil code? It seems that Beinhart’s definition of the Islamic World includes only Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia.

He also forgets that women who live in rural areas in most countries (Iran included) have fewer freedoms than women who live in urban areas do. What’s this with the blanket generalities, then?

From this silliness we move on to some more racism. “In the first ten minutes of almost any conversation with an Iranian, he or she will point out that they are not Arabs, they’re Persians. They may even say that they don’t like Arabs, or, more emphatically, ‘I hate f**king Arabs.’”

Whoaaaaaah. Nitpickiness first: someone from Iran is Iranian. “Persian” is not a nationality (though it is sometimes used as one to take political edge off). Persian is more of an ethnicity, which is also problematic: Iran isn’t full of just Persians, but also Turks, Kurds, Azerbaijanis, Arabs, Baluchis, and other ethnic groups—something he himself points out a few paragraphs later. So…does he just not know the difference or does he assume that everyone he talked to was 100% Persian stock?

Second, putting forth the idea that all Iranians hate Arabs is incorrect and inflammatory. Beinhart paints all Iranians as disliking all Arabs, without also pointing out the heavy infrastructural and societal racism in Iranian society and the history (like the Arab invasion in the seventh century and the Iran-Iraq war, both of which are regarded as incredibly debilitating and detrimental periods in Iran’s history by many Iranians) between Iran and its Arab neighbors that might help clarify—though not assuage—such statements.

Racism against non-Persian ethnicites in Iran is prevalent and socially acceptable; it’s not possible to present or talk about it the same way that racism is discussed in the U.S.—it’s not even on the radar with all of the other societal problems that Iranians face. So putting forth a statement like, “Iranians hate Arabs” without contextualizing it or examining the social forces behind it really just further demonizes Iranians, something that Beinhart is (inadvertently?) doing really well for an article that’s aiming to humanize us.

Beinhart’s entire article reeks of good, old-fashioned Orientalism. From glorifying Iran’s pre-Islamic-Republic history to demonizing everything that came after. Referring to the “lovely” people he met as if they’re antiques: “Those lovely people that I had dinner with will likely die. If not them, their parents, children, brothers and sisters. The student of English who sat and talked to me about Hafez for two hours. The man who makes the hand-printed table clothes in the bazaar. The mason working on the reconstruction of the great mosque.”

I became incredibly tired with Beinhart’s use of disturbingly-off irony refuting reasons that the U.S. should bomb Iran. He says that Iranians are gracious and lovely, but then paints us as racists who are corrupt and addicted to drugs. When he writes this way, I have a hard time remembering that he’s against attacking Iran. Especially when he makes wild statements about history: “People…were arrested, harassed, beaten, and thrown out of windows, and lost their jobs and careers, and went to prison.” (My emphasis)

There are historical accounts of arrests, harassment, beatings, blackballing, executions, and unlawful incarceration…but throwing people out of windows? I’m just not buying it.

I can’t help but wonder how often Beinhart used little embellishments like this, especially when I read the following paragraph: “So the argument goes back to intentions. That Iran is more dangerous than Russia, more of an enemy than China, more unstable than Pakistan, more warlike than Israel, and more likely to have aggressive leaders who will launch a pre-emptive war than the United States.”

Again with the wild statements that have no backing! How is Iran more unstable than Pakistan? What evidence does he have to support his claim that Iran is more warlike than Israel or more likely to have aggressive leaders that will launch a pre-emptive war than the U.S.? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills here, people. Did anyone else read the words “pre-emptive war” and think about what we did Iraq, instead of what Iran might do to another country?

Beinhart is the author of Wag the Dog and Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin. Is this entire piece one big joke? As a Sultan of Spinning, is he purposefully painting Iran to look alternately hellish and idyllic for his own amusement, to kid around with us? If this is Beinhart’s idea of a “positive spin,” Iran could do without it.

The only thing I liked about this piece was that Beinhart infused it with a varied history of Iran, which is essential when trying to understand a 3,000-year-old country. It’s just a shame that all of the history research he did somehow didn’t fully sink into his perception of Iran as more than a two-faced country, caught between a glorious past and what he (and everyone else) paints as a dire, dangerous future.