Thursday, June 25, 2009

Huge news from Iran, thanks to The Hindu

I refer to this article (hat-tip: Rahul Basu).

In response, I just sent the following e-mail to the Readers' Editor at The Hindu:

Date: Thu, 25 Jun 2009 14:34:41 +0530
From: Rahul Siddharthan
Subject: The Hindu: information that nobody else carries

Dear Sir,

Old-timers in Chennai have always counted on The Hindu for information and enlightenment, and this morning you did not disappoint. I was amazed to know, thanks to your editorial pages and specifically to our former foreign minister, K. Natwar Singh, that the former Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and the current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are in fact one and the same person, whom Mr Singh refers to (twice) as "Ayatollah Ali Khomeini" (and also as "supreme leader", "great man" and numerous other flattering epithets).

So Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini did not die in 1989, as widely reported, but merely changed the spelling of his name and continues in power to this day. (One assumes that a person as eminent as Mr Singh, and a newspaper as prestigious as The Hindu, will not misinform the public on such grave matters.)

I believe this news is significant in today's context and should be more widely known: it could have grave international implications. I request you to carry it prominently on your front page, and disseminate it as widely as possible.

With best regards,

Rahul Siddharthan

UPDATE: The Hindu has a correction/clarification today, and I sent the following in response.

Date: Fri, 26 Jun 2009 10:50:20 +0530
From: Rahul Siddharthan
Subject: Today's correction Re: The Hindu: information that nobody else

Dear Sir,

(Ref: my mail yesterday, quoted below)

I am disappointed that the conflation of the two "supreme leaders" in Mr Natwar Singh's article yesterday was a simple error. However, the explanation that he was referring only to Ayatollah Khomeini and not to Ayatollah Khamenei is rather puzzling.

Mr Natwar Singh, as you observe, uses present tense throughout for Ayatollah Khomeini; and this is not a general habit with him in referring to deceased people, for he uses the past tense in referring to Mr Rajiv Gandhi. ("Ayatollah Ali Khomeini has a magnetic personality. If one is eye to eye, you blink first... Rajiv Gandhi too had uncommon charisma.")

Later, he writes:

"The Ayatollah is still the supreme leader. The West and Israel would be unwise to take him on.

"I have related this memorable episode to highlight the fact that the Iranian leader is no run-of-the-mill leader...."

But Ayatollah Khomeini is not still the supreme leader. The memorable episode, according to your clarification, features a man who died in 1989 and it is not relevant today whether or not he was a run-of-the-mill leader. This is similar arguing for caution in dealing with Gordon Brown because Margaret Thatcher was no
run-of-the-mill leader.

Here is the alternative explanation that I had thought of before your clarification: today, international conferences are attended by Iran's President, not the Supreme Leader. So the person whom Mr Natwar Singh met at the NAM summit was probably the President, who at the time was Ali Khamenei. Perhaps his 1982 anecdote also refers to Ayatollah Khamenei (who was the president throughout the 1980s). He was not the supreme leader then, but he was an important man; and if Mr Natwar Singh was referring throughout to Ayatollah Khamenei and not to Ayatollah Khomeini, and the error was due to his own mistyping or due to sub-editing errors, his article makes much more sense. (It is still doubtful whether there is any useful content in the article, and whether it is worthy on its merits of being published, but this is a separate topic.)

But your clarification, I'm afraid, raises more questions than it answers. If what you say is true, on what basis was this article published? Perhaps Mr Natwar Singh's advanced years are to blame in what he sent you, and one should not be too harsh on him, but how could such flagrant errors pass your editorial desk?

Sorry if I seem to be belabouring the point, but I think this case is symptomatic of a large number of problems I see in The Hindu lately.

With best regards,

Rahul Siddharthan


km said...

Ha ha, good catch. Zombie-Ayatollah could be such a cool premise for a geopolitical-horror-action thriller.

Kapil Hari Paranjape said...

In the US news media this confusion (between Khameini and Khomeini)
is quite common. The demonification of the USA by Iran is on par with
the demonification of the late Khomeini by the Western media. So the
conflation of the two is probably a deliberate ploy to enhance the
anti-Iran feeling in the US public.

Space Bar said...

:-) yes, i caught that this morning. singh's practically senile; what's the hindu's excuse?

Anonymous said...

Do you think The Hindu would apologise for this error?

km said...

Kapil maybe on to something.

PBS' travel guy Rick Steve commented on the Khomeini demonification business on his recent show about Iran. He said he was surprised to learn many Iranians worship Khomeini and actually view him as a moderate, reasonable man.

SB: Singh is Senile - very uncatchy movie title.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

anonymous: yes, the Hindu posted a correction and my reply to the RE is above.

Kapil, km: I suppose Khomeini was demonised in the US because of the hostage crisis (Americans conveniently ignore the fact that they had propped up a dictator for a quarter-century after deposing a democratic government); and he was demonised in the west generally after the Rushdie affair. I suspect the fatwa was partly due to Khomeini's old age and his need to make himself seem relevant (both in his own country and outside): he himself died soon after. But he seems to have been a very serious scholar, not only of Islamic theology but also of Western philosophy. Very far from the "mad mullah" stereotype.

km said...

Rahul Siddarthan - keeping newspaper editors, linguists and washing-machine manufacturers honest since 2009 :))

Unknown said...

The fatwa was a bit of keep up with the Joneses. Rajeev Gandhi's government banned the book first.