On Saturday, Le Monde (Paris) published this article, datelined Tehran, reporting on the mood of Iranians in the face of the gathering crisis.[1]  --  Marie-Claude Decamps had trouble finding Iranians willing to speak openly about the possibility of war.  --  Media treatment of the subject is muffled, and the online newspaper Baztab was "filtered" for a week for having criticized the government's handling of the nuclear issue....


[Translation from Le Monde (Paris)]

Near East

By Marie-Claude Decamps

Le Monde (Paris)
February 24, 2007


TEHRAN -- A few days ago Iranian newspapers reproduced a BBC story according to which the United States is preparing not only an attack on the country's nuclear sites, but also on military bases. Since then, there's been nothing.

Publicly, no one is mentioning this possibility. On Fri., Feb. 23, the first holiday since the delivery of the report, which for Iran was crushing, of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the streets of Tehran, given over to the craziness of weekend traffic, remained mute. There was not even any outpouring after Friday prayer at the great mosque, the traditional site of political diatribes in periods of crisis: neither burned American flages nor a demonstration, as often happens.

The main speaker, former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, kept his head down. Concentrating on a critique of the poor management of the economy, he added only a few sentences about "arrogant powers" who "fear the vitality of Islam." Even as he called for dialogue to be resumed, he warned the United States, which, "if it pursues its policies, will create new problems for itself, the region, and the entire world." "Attack? The Americans have neither the courage nor the capacity for it," said a young soldier. An old man raised his cane toward the heavens: "Allah will destroy them!" A mullah answered by shrugging his shoulders, and a young couple refused to say anything.

Could it be that this is a taboo subject? Almost, but in private, Iranians are asking themselves questions. "To see foreigners in my store reassures me, because they haven't been evacuated from a danger zone," a shopkeeper in the bazaar confided. Another quietly admits to "not being able to keep from looking upward when a plane flies over the city at low altitude." "We're hostages, we, the Iranian people, of this extremist policy. The official message is 'Don't think about anything, we're thinking for you and we're ready,'" says Zarah, a student, with some bitterness.

As the week began, when the American carrier strike group led by the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis joined the one led by the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Gulf, the television showed, one after the other, without commentary, images of military maneuvers organized in the sixteen Iranian provinces, dwelling on the 750 missiles and smart bombs that were fired to repel a simulated air attack.

Even to criticize not the substance but the manner in which the Iranian nuclear matter has been handled is not without risk. For having done so, the online newspaper Baztab (228,000 visitors a day in normal times), has been "filtered" for the past eight days, though the site has nothing reformist about it. "In the name of the realism that has saved the Islamic Republic for twenty-eight years, we criticized President Ahmadinejad's rigid positions on nuclear policy. Being obstinate solves nothing," said Fouad Sadeghy, one of the founders of Baztab in 2002. And he went on to say that in Iran, the élites are taking the possibility of an attack seriously.

Baztab published articles explaining the nuclear stakes and lists of "sensitive" sites. "Not to scare people, but to warn them just in case . . ." expains Mr. Sadeghi. The newspaper also told the story of a secret meeting fifteen days ago between Mr. Rafsanjani and members of parliament. Mr. Rafsanjani is supposed to have told them of a meeting between the Supreme Leader of the Revolution (Ayatollah Khameini) and Mr. Ahmadinejad. As the latter was saying, "There's no danger, they won't attack," the Leader is supposed to have replied curtly: "No, this is serious."

Other high officials have issued warnings, including two generals and a group of grand ayatollahs, who are said to have sent a letter to the government from the holy city of Qom. "Every day at Baztab we receive thousands of e-mails," said Fouad Sadeghi. "A majority say that they don't want Iran to find itself in a situation where it's confronting the rest of the world. Some of them add that if the Europeans understand the situation, they should make an effort to defuse it."

Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003
Phone: 253-535-7219
Home page: http://www.plu.edu/~jensenmk/
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