Iran’s Faux Dissident: The Curious Case of Akbar GanjiMay 22nd, 2015
By Hamid Yazdanpanah, 22 May 2015
Akbar Ganji is on a mission, not as the voice of Iranian dissidents, but as an apologist for the regime in Tehran
Iran’s dissidents are in a bind. As the international community focuses on the nuclear issue, the plight of Iran’s dissidents goes uncovered, as they face increased censorship and incarceration. Despite this atmosphere of repression and isolation in Iran, one supposed “dissident” seems to have no trouble getting press, and for all the wrong reasons.
Akbar Ganji, belongs to category of Iranian “dissident”,who do not oppose the regime in Iran in its entirety, but instead favor a specific faction in this regime. Under the guise “dissidents” and “Iran experts” Ganji and his ilk act as de facto spokesman for certain elements within the ruling regime, whose interests align with theirs.
Far from using their platform to discuss the lack of political freedom in Iran, or to call for support of dissidents, Ganji acts as a connoisseur on the regime for the West and an apologist for Iran’s nuclear program.
Ganji is often referred to as a “dissident”, yet little attention is paid to his past involvement with the brutal theocracy in Iran, nor is his current stance scrutinized. Far from being a champion of democracy, Ganji, like many so-called “reformists” in Iran are not opposed to the regime’s nuclear ambitions or its hegemonic policies in the region.
It comes as no surprise that Ganji has cooperated with individuals like Trita Parsi of NIAC, including coordinating their activities to call for an end to the State Departments Democracy Fund on iran. Ironically, these individuals clearly stand to gain by promoting a certain agenda and faction within the regime. This type of service is profitable for these so called “dissidents”. This includes working closely with business interests like the Koch brothers, who have made millions doing illicit business with Iran. In 2010, the Koch brothers awarded Ganji with a $500,000 award via their Cato Institute.
Incidentally Ganji is very careful never to mention his past activities or his involvement in the regime’s dirty work.Ganji’s own past includes stints as a commander in the Revolutionary Guards in the 1980’s, during the peak of Iran’s international terrorist activities and domestic repression. Ganji also held a position in the Iranian embassy in Turkey in the 1980’s, an era in which the Embassy served as the base for many illegal operations including the kidnapping and assassination of dissidents.
All of this information is swept under the rug, and instead we are left with the impression that Ganji is some type of liberal reformist. However, all one has to do is read between the lines to understand Ganji’s true intentions.
Ganji recently penned an article entitled “Why Tehran Fears the Iraqization of Iran on Nuclear Inspections”, in which he states the reasons why the Iranian regime is afraid of allowing UN inspectors free reign inside of Iran. What is remarkable about Ganji’s piece is not the banal solutions he gives, but his sudden reinvention as a spokesman for Iran’s nuclear demands. Taking a page from the playbook of Javad Zarif, Ganji claims that Iran’s refusal to comply with nuclear inspections, “… is not clearly understood in the West…”
Ganji uses a tactic that is tried and true for the regime and its apologists. Blame it on American imperialism. Ganji brings up the case of the Iraq invasion of 2003, and claims that Iran is leery of repeating the same mistakes. Putting aside the disaster which was the Iraq war, one has to wonder how Ganji can make the argument that refusing to cooperate with inspections is a coherent strategy to prevent a repeat of such a war?
Ganji has made outlandish claim in the area of human rights as well. Last year, in an interview with Al-Monitor Ganji had the audacity to claim that human rights in Iran were improving. This comes in the face of numerous reports, including by the UN that the human rights situation in Iran has in fact worsened.
In 2013, Ganji wrote an extensive piece for Foreign Affairs on Ali Khamenei, in which he discusses among other things, Khamenei’s love of Western Novels. No mention is made of Khamenei’s role in the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran, which sent thousands to the gallows with no due process. Of course any such discussion may raise the question as to what Ganji was doing at the time. He also fails to mention the fact that Khamenei was not initially lined up as Khomeini’s successor. Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, who was Khomeini’s chosen successor fell out favor based on his criticism of the 1988 massacre, forcing Khomeini to seek an individual who had the stomach for political violence.
Instead of talking about the reality political life under a “Supreme Leader” like Khamenei, Ganji presents a myriad of quotes from Khamenei in various contexts to supposedly “uncover” his mindset for the Western audience. But to what end? After spending considerable time formulating a portrait of Khamenei that can be easily consumed, Ganji gets to the crux of his argument.
“The administration would also be well advised to take a comprehensive approach to the region and embed discussions of the Iranian nuclear program in a broader framework of regional security, bringing Washington’s allies on board and minimizing those allies’ desire to play the spoiler.”
The United States must accept the regime’s legitimacy, even if it has none with its own people. Secondly, it should expand the negotiations to include broader talks on regional security, and bring “allies” on board.
In other words, the United States should not only accept Iran’s nuclear program, but it should take steps to bring neighboring countries inline with accepting Iran’s hegemony in the region. In other words, trust Iran on its nuclear program while acquiescing on the regimes regional expansion, and lift sanctions while you’re at it.
Ganji is masterful at taking Khamenei’s strategic goals and dressing them up as the inevitable steps necessary for compromise and peace.
Ganji also fails to mention the fact that Khamenei controls an empire that is worth nearly 100 billion, utilizing the state to seize and expand his financial holdings. This reality, which has turned Iran into a fascist state in which the revolutionary guard act both as a paramilitary group and an economic mafia, cannot be blamed conveniently on the West. As a result it is not worth mentioning.
In point of fact, Ganji’s entire article is centered on the assumption that Iran is a country under threat and as a result, freedom can be sacrificed in the face of a “foreign threat”. These justifications are repeated everyday in the judiciary of the Islamic Republic as dissidents are charged with aiding foreign powers, or endangering national security. Yet Ganji has no problems in reiterating them, and in fact justifying them.
Instead of being a voice for dissidents, we see Ganji’s endgame quite clearly. It is not unlike that of Trita Parsi and the regimes lobby in the West. The first step is to cast Iran as a mysterious and misunderstood actor, which has been the victim of poor policy decisions by the West. Then explain how the West can vindicate itself by removing sanctions and recognizing the Ayatollahs a necessary partner in the region. Throw in a few fancy words about democracy and patience and dialogue and you are sure to leave the Western reader feeling great about your policy solution. Just don’t mention the reality for real dissidents in Iran, that might raise questions that Akbar Ganji can’t answer.
Hamid Yazdan Panah is an attorney focused on asylum and immigration in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is also a human rights activist focused on the Middle East and Iran.