Archive for July, 2008

Ear To The Enemy

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

Lately as I’ve been roaming the web looking for a news and punditry, a quote made famous in the old Godfather movies (and actually a translation from an ancient Chinese warrior) shows up again and again: "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer."

While the more complex wisdom behind this adage is really beyond the argument of this post, the main point is accurate enough. You should keep an eye and an ear on your enemies (Or on those who are chosen to be your enemies.) And if you live in America, there’s no doubt which government our rogue executive branch has targeted as our nemesis– The Islamic Republic of Iran.

You’d think the U.S. would have its hands full occupying Iraq and Afghanistan under more than hostile circumstances. And the fact that a few thousand Americans lives (and exponentially more local innocents) have been lost in our savage efforts to maintain order in those countries might put the brakes on pending plans to destroy another nation. And if the whole idea sounds absolutely insane, it should. But that hasn’t stopped Cheney & Bush before. According to the most recent article (in a series) written by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker, another onslaught of shock and awe (on Iran this time) is shockingly likely in the next few months. According to Hersh, there’s already plenty of super-secret undercover cross border mischief to get the mess in Iran warmed up and ready for our fireworks. The potential of literally setting the world on fire before or just after the next election here is quite real.

Sounding the alarm, Seymour Hersh has been making the rounds on the talk show circuit lately, and appeared on Air America’s Ring of Fire last week in an interview with Robert Kennedy Jr. Have a listen.

Seymour Hersh on Ring of Fire 07-05-08  18:14

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The United States has a big propaganda presence on both medium and short wave frequencies in Iran, with "Radio Farda" where American-made "information" is stuffed between hits for the kids (for a country where 70% of the population is under 30) for seven and a half hours each day– programming described in a staff memo at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty regarding the launch of the service: "a combination of popular Persian and Western songs aimed at attracting young Iranians to Farda’s news products." There’s also some semblance of a Persian service of Voice of America that’s still broadcasting for the Iranian grownups as well as VOA satellite TV service that’s attracted an audience (despite the fact that receiving satellite television is illegal there).

On the other hand, Iran has a much more difficult time attracting young Americans (or any Americans) to their official "news products." Last year, they started their own satelitte TV service in English for the U.S., it seems doubtful that its getting much viewership stateside. If you don’t have a dish (or can’t get it on yours), your not going to see much of "Sahar English TV." I’ve yet to see any videos show up on the web or Usenet, and their website is pretty minimal. The fact is, right now for most of us (outside of text gleaned from the web) the only viable media outreach from Iran that we can experience in English and unfiltered by U.S. media and the government is via shortwave. It’s a daily hour they call "The Voice of Justice."

It’s not uncommon to hear aging shortwave listeners bemoan the "old days" when the cold war made the hobby more exciting (I plead guilty…). Part of the reason is that back then we still lived a relatively bigger world (unlike today’s tightly networked reality) and intercepting communiques from overseas was a more exotic experience. And although there was no law against it, there was always a little thrill of the taboo– tuning in voices from behind the "iron curtain." And unless you sent away for a program guide or something, nobody in our government would be any the wiser of your listening habits.

Now in the age of Bush, instead of the iron curtain we have the hyperbole of the "axis of evil" (Iran, Iraq and North Korea) and John Bolton‘s "beyond the axis of evil" trio (Syria, Libya and Cuba). And I almost forgot Condi Rice and her "outposts of tyranny" and Dick Cheney‘s "Funky Four + 1"… (actually I made that last one up), but you get the idea. Since 2000, we’ve been governed by an administration that needs enemies, just like the in the good old days. And when it comes to making enemies, it’s one of the few ways the Bush regime is unquestionably proficient.

While almost any American with a shortwave radio ought to be able to pick up the English service of nearby Radio Habana Cuba at night, the broadcasts from the other "enemy" countries aren’t so easy to hear. In fact, the only official enemy nation I’ve been able to hear in English on shortwave in recent years has been Iran. And often the reception has been problematic at best. However, when I’ve been away from my Brooklyn RF noise nest I’ve been able to pick up their hour of English language programming on the 31 meter band at 9495kHz. When I recently spent a weekend at the Jersey shore I heard some dramatic old-fashioned propaganda that sounded remarkably like the old school cold war histrionics that we’ve all missed. However, a small error on my part (forgetting to release the pause button on the recorder) voided my chance to capture that little bit of theater to share with you.

Then I was passing along my tale of woe to fellow shortwave enthusiast David Goren (who happens to have better equipment and a better listening location than I), and he offered to record one of Iran’s next broadcasts to the U.S.A. and sent over a recording. And now, I can share the hour he recorded with you, here.

Iran’s Voice of Justice 9595kHz  0130 UTC  58:33

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I know the audio is shady at the beginning of this clip, but it drastically improves if you’re patient. And for starters, you can tell Iran isn’t any ordinary country. Kind of like Baptist dry counties in the American south, the whole country of Iran is a theocracy with democratic elements. After the comforting intro music the a few verses of the Qur’an are sung, and then spoken in English:

In the name of God, the most gracious, the most compassionate. Therefore declare openly what you are bidden and turn aside from the polytheists. Surely we will suffice you against the scoffers. Those who set up another god with Allah; so they shall soon know. And surely We know that your breast straightens at what they say; Therefore celebrate the praise of your Lord, and be of those who make obeisance. And serve your Lord until there comes to you that which is certain.

I can’t tell you what that I actually means, but as a nonbeliever almost any quote from scripture read aloud with conviction can easily give me pause and make me a little uneasy. With sacred text, you may be free to take what you want from it, but you always have a sense there’s some political message intended when a particular passage is passed along by a group of believers. It always feels kind of personal. (Hmmm, I don’t think I’m a polytheist, but I have been a scoffer…)

But in the end this bit of sober Islamic text is less threatening than most Christian mumbo-jumbo I come across. The point is, although a number of Mideast states call themselves "Islamic Republics," but Iran is more serious about it than most. More than any other major state on Earth today, Iran is a theocracy– a state under the rule of (the alleged earthly representatives of) a supreme being. You don’t see much of that kind of governance today, but in ancient times it wasn’t out of the ordinary. And there’s plenty of strange people in far right Christian circles who are friends of the Bush regime would like to turn the U.S.A. into a theocracy.

And while I think that’s a really bad idea for this country, just because a nation happens to run their affairs that way it doesn’t inspire me to advocate killing people or overthrowing governments. But others disagree (like this spoiled little objectivist boy-man, just look at his picture on the right). But it’s not kooky American theorists driving the issue, It’s the spiteful U.S. neocons worked into a lather by Israel and their super-bully American lobby (AIPAC) who are practically demanding that the U.S. attack Iran. And who’s surprised that the executive cyborg Dick Cheney has a big hard on to roar through Zarathustra’s old stomping grounds with American bodies, weaponry and hardware.

So, combine all this war talk with a couple of messy U.S. occupations next door and American’s previous misbehavior on the Persian Peninsula, you’ve got all the makings of a paranoid nation. And their shortwave broadcast to America, "The Voice of Justice," is where you can hear all about it.

When I’m able to listen to shortwave in a favorable location in the early evening, the nightly English hour from Iran is high on my list of broadcasts to seek out. Since 2003 (the year the U.S. invaded Iraq), Iran has produced two English language programs a day, one for America and one for the rest of the world. The "Voice of Justice" is for our ears. When there was only one English language broadcast, I recall more features on Islam and Iranian culture. I assume the other IRIB English broadcast is similar. But the VOJ is all business, hard core political business. The cultural and religious stuff has been pushed aside to make way for opinion and news regarding Iran’s relationship with the "Big Satan" and the "Little Satan," as well as the warfare that may engender. And as always, reports on American military and foreign policy blunders throughout the Middle East.

Here the news leads with an old story. Twenty years ago to the day (July 3, 1988) US forces blew a civilian airliner (Iran Air Flight 655) out of the sky, taking the lives of almost three hundred people (including 66 children). It happened in the middle of a melee near the end of the Iran-Iraq war, and the U.S. government has always maintained that it was an accident (although we ended up paying out over sixty million in compensation for the tragedy), but they’ve never bought that idea in Iran. Ahmadinejad says it testifies to America’s "inhuman actions."

Most of the content of the first half of this broadcast is news and official Iranian government views on world issues, ending with their usual interview of a western expert/pundit who offers opinions with which Iran agrees. This evening it’s Dean Baker, a lefty economist trying to make sense of McCain’s confusing tax policies. The second half is a carefully coordinated cavalcade of western opinion represented and rehashed for dramatic political effect. If you care to follow along at home, you can find some of the op-ed pieces discussed and amply quoted by clicking here, here, here or here.

The last time I wrote about Iran’s English broadcast they had a live audio stream up and running. But from what I can tell, that’s no longer the case. On the IRIB English language home page they actually have a podcast link, but I fed it into my aggregator a week ago and it seems to be a dead feed. I don’t know why. Despite the sundry glories of the world wide web the only way you can actually hear from the governments of our country’s arch-enemies (like Iran and Cuba) is to use a shortwave radio.

It seems ridiculous that I feel like I should say this (but we live in stupid times), but I’m not a fan of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the Castro brothers. And I’d rather live here in America, and think in general we have a far better system of government, but… I’m far more concerned about an American government that is ready and willing to attack and occupy other nations and the freaky minority of people in the media and out on the public highways who are willing to encourage and support the mass murder, hatred, mayhem and despair that wars bring upon the world. Even after almost seven years of this kind of bloodthirst on display, I still find it shocking and depressing that it seems to have no end. International conflict has always made the shortwave hobby more interesting, but in this era where you would think people would finally know better. And then you realize that you inhabit and support the nation (or one of the nations) who are making the world so much worse, so quickly and so often.

It makes you want to snatch up the pasty-faced objectivist boy-man and all the haunted and owlish neocon chickenhawks and drop the whole bunch of them into a horrific and hopeless skirmish full of IED‘s and human bombs and let them all try to swim out of the gore, to try to crawl their way back up the pearled shores of Barbara Bush’s saggy breast up onto those craggy Republican cheeks. And then to find hero’s welcome in the cool marble confines of her beautiful mind. Or something like that. (Imagine the smell in there– at first a strong floral covering odor, and then…).

I wish Bill Hicks was still around. While The Voice of Justice is almost as critical of the Bush dynasty, it sure ain’t funny.