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    • Mel Lehman

    Watching Iranian Television and Al Jazeera



    After the recent flare-up, the U.S.-Iran conflict has once again receded to the proverbial back burner. But, to continue the metaphor, the fire is definitely still smoldering and it could get very hot again very quickly. This time, let's get ahead of the curve. Instead of obediently answering the call to pick yet another fight in the Middle East, let's do our homework and try to understand a complex and faraway place before accepting the American Empire's call to arms.

    How might we ordinary Americans do that and get beyond the limited and biased coverage of Iran in our U.S. media? Here's a suggestion: watch Iranian television and, for balance, Al Jazeera television from across the Gulf in Qatar to see what people in that part of the world have to say for themselves. PressTV.com is broadcast in English from Teheran and is available simply by going to the website and clicking on "Live" and again on the image. It makes for fascinating — and challenging — television. (And, in contrast to reading, if you're busy you can partly watch and partly listen as you go about your daily chores.)

    There are a number of things about Iranian television that might surprise you: the considerable number of Americans being interviewed, the large amount of American news it broadcasts, the number of women anchors and correspondents, and the amount of world news you'll see that doesn't make it onto U.S. screens and newspapers. After watching Iranian television you may well feel like the American media is an international news desert and I think you'd be correct.

    One of the recurring things you'll see on PressTV is what they call "The Debate." It's never explicitly spelled out what The Debate is, but it is clearly Iran's response to the U.S.'s claim of moral superiority. The Debate is Iran's turn at the microphone to answer President George W. Bush's diplomatically foolish and spiritually incorrect decision to label Iran as one of three nations in the "Axis of Evil." We will not be able to fully understand how dangerous the current conflict between East and West is until we realize that both sides absolutely believe themselves to be morally superior to the other.

    Also from the Iranian perspective, the U.S. is the colonialist aggressor whose military presence in the Middle East is illegal and immoral and the root of so many of the problems there. There's a good chance you'll see a reference to the CIA- and British-backed overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Iran in the 1950's. And it's both illuminating and deeply troubling to see John Bolton ranting and raving about Iran as broadcast on Iranian television. He's the man Donald Trump said "would have started World War 6 by now" and it's easy to understand why Iranians would find his bellicose statements frightening.

    And from the Iranian perspective, the U.S. is a morally bankrupt place, full of poverty, homelessness and violence. A recent segment of a program called "We the People" examined the U.S. peace treaty in Afghanistan and concluded that America has suffered its third military defeat after Vietnam and Iraq. Interestingly, the program included a clip from the Daily Show in which Trevor Noah ridiculed the Pentagon for wasting millions of dollars to develop "forest fatigue" uniforms for troops in Afghanistan -- a country with no forests! If you're defensive about criticism of America, this will often make for difficult viewing. But if you love America in the best sense of the word — that is to say, as well as loving the rest of world — this is must-see television viewing.

    We need to hear the Iranian perspective that U.S. "maximum pressure" sanctions are preventing urgently needed medical supplies from entering the country to combat the coronavirus epidemic. And we learn that Russia is sending 50,000 coronavirus testing kits to Iran. Why don't we? Our Secretary of State, who publicly makes known his Evangelical Christian faith, might consider following the example of Russia and showing some compassion to the people of Iran at this hour of need.



    For balance you can watch AlJazeera.com that is broadcast from several hundred miles from Iran across the Gulf in Qatar. Bear in mind that oil-rich Qatar is one of our allies. It is the site of the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East and it's getting bigger, so you'll get a much more U.S.-friendly point of view.

    Our government has told us again and again in recent decades that Iran is our enemy and that we should be prepared to go to war with it. I disagree on both counts. Take a break from NPR. Here's your opportunity to see for yourself.


    Mel Lehman directs Common Humanity, a non-profit organization which does peacemaking through understanding, respect and friendship with the Arab and Muslim world.


    Note: Extra time on your hands these days? Discover the beauty of Middle East art by visiting our online gallery at CommonHumanity.org. In the chaos and violence following the U.S. invasion of their country in 2003, many Iraqi artists had to flee. By purchasing a painting you'll be helping Iraqi refugee artists preserve their nation's ancient artistic heritage.

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