Friday, February 27, 2009

Same old, same old at the New York Times

Of today's selection of letters published in reaction to Roger Cohen's article in the New York Times (reprinted in the IHT) only the last seems to give an authentic picture of Jewish life in Iran. The newspaper continues a time-honoured tradition of denial and whitewash.

As political and media commentator Tom Gross said:

“Unfortunately this is just the latest in a long line of examples of the New York Times misreporting both Jewish matters – as they did most notably when they tried to cover up the Holocaust throughout World War Two – and of the Times trying to apologize for dictatorships.

“Cohen’s naivety (or is it duplicity?) is startling. It is a bit reminiscent of the
New York Times reporters in the 1930s who used to report nonsense about how happy the Ukrainians were to live under Russian rule at the very time that Stalin was starving them to death.”

Re “What Iran’s Jews Say,” by Roger Cohen (column, Feb. 23):

While I can appreciate that the Jews of Iran have existed there (and at periods, flourished) for thousands of years, I was disappointed by Mr. Cohen’s romantic picture of the Jewish experience there today.

Over the centuries, many Jewish communities have lived in harmony with their Muslim neighbors, working and playing together. But history cannot ignore the fact that positive personal relationships within the context of communities cannot be compared with a government with policies that specifically vilify and persecute its minorities.

Emily Loubaton
New York

Roger Cohen provides a refreshingly accurate sketch of the Iranian Jewish community. I am certain he will be excoriated by many who have no recent experience living in or traveling to Iran, and who are invested in denigrating conditions there.

But based on my more than 30 years of research in Iran, I believe that Mr. Cohen paints an entirely accurate picture in both this column and his other recent writings about his travels in Iran.

William O. Beeman

The writer, a professor and the chairman of the department of anthropology at the University of Minnesota, is the author of a book about how the United States and Iran demonize each other.

I was deeply saddened to read Roger Cohen’s column, as it is a reminder of the many centuries in which the Jews were minorities at the mercy of their host countries, tolerated at best and harshly persecuted at the worst.

It is sad to read that the small Iranian Jewish community, those few who didn’t emigrate to Israel or the United States, hung a banner congratulating the Iranian regime on the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, when the Iranian president denies the Holocaust and calls for wiping Israel off the map.

Rachel Kapen
West Bloomfield, Mich.

Roger Cohen offers a glimmer of hope in the midst of all the doom and gloom that surrounds the nuclearization of Iran, its support of terrorist organizations and its meddling in neighboring Iraq.

It is worthwhile to recognize Iran’s growing geopolitical clout in the Middle East, and its importance to stabilization and redevelopment efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan and to the search for peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Iran could play the broker between rival Palestinian factions to reach a reconciliation that could eventually lead to the formation of a Palestinian national government.

Iran has a rich culture, and it remains widely misrepresented in the West. The Obama administration should extend a hand of friendship to those who are prepared to unclench their fists.

Munjed Farid Al Qutob

I was a 9-year-old girl living in Tehran when my family fled to America as a result of the Islamic Revolution. We didn’t leave Iran because of the weather, but because of a second-class existence transformed into a nightmare of religious persecution, which the few remaining Jews that Roger Cohen found have sadly internalized and accepted.

For Mr. Cohen to suggest that Iranian Jews have anything close to religious freedom or free expression in Iran is to discredit the long history of Muslim oppression and to deny the experience of generations of Jews who locked themselves in their homes during the Ashura holidays lest they become the target of the frenzied Shiite masses who filled the streets, or who cringed when they were called a word meaning dirty and impure and told to wait at the end of the line to draw water.

What about the Jewish schools and institutions that were systematically shut down after the Islamic Revolution? Or the fact that while Palestinians and Israeli Arabs are free to shout “Death to Israel,” Iranian Jews are forced to?

We must never forget the true history of Jews under Muslim regimes — my history.

Mojgan Cohanim Lancman
Fresh Meadows, Queens

Read letters column

1 comment:

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

I have never been in Iran, certainly not as a prominent journalist cooperating with the regime, as was Roger Cohen. But I have spoken with quite a few Iranian Jews here in Israel. The accounts that they gave were not pretty. Prof Beeman's defense of Cohen demonstrates the insanity and irrationality gripping large parts of the academic faculties in the UK, USA, and elsewhere. Maybe Beeman can explain why so few Jews are still in Iran compared with the numbers before the Khomeini takeover.