Iranian activist Ghazal Omid was kind enough to spend some of her valuable time chatting with me on the phone recently. She conveyed her desire to educate the world about the true message of Islam, her admiration for the American people, and her frustration at the false images of Americans portrayed in the media. She also asked me to share the following letter, which she sent to President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice:
Dear Secretary Rice, I recently read an article citing your statement that the United States subsidizes Voice of America and Radio Farda with an $85 million budget. I am an Iranian born, Canadian citizen, author of Living in Hell, I have appeared on more than 160 radio and television shows in the US and Canada denouncing the barbaric mullahcracy that is destroying the Iranian people and threatening the world. I have appeared on Voice of America and Radio Farda many times in English, Farsi, Kurdish and Afghan. You should be made aware that both censor my anti-regime comments, cautioning me off-air to be respectful to the Iranian authorities. Many of the people running VOA and Radio Farda left Iran after the revolution as political refugees. Some of them travel to Iran frequently via their Iranian passport while working, as a US citizen, for VOA in the United States. Many have lives and businesses in both countries and are trying to keep their feet dry in both places.
VOA and Radio Farda, use entertainment and pop music and culture to gain the wrong kind of popularity among the youth; it may sell an album but will not sell a nation. The message being broadcast of Iranian society outside Iran is perceived as a hedonistic lifestyle of party goers, night clubbers and sinners who know nothing about Iran, have no respect for true freedom or religion and will never be able to help the future of Iran. They believe that the people of USA, by paying for the programming, approve of the VOA broadcasts.
VOA, Radio Farda and many other Iranian radio and television stations generously subsidized by the United States teach the wrong way to fight the Iranian regime. For instance, in an article in Time magazine about the youth resistance in Iran, the writer asked dissident Iranian youth how they were fighting the government of Iran. They said they demonstrated their opposition by drinking home made whisky on the streets, listening to pop music, dancing the night away, speeding 120 km per hour in the busy streets and smoking marijuana. Is this the image of freedom we want to portray to Farsi speakers of Iran, the Persian Gulf and the Middle East? I do not believe we can fix a problem by creating a new one.
While in Dubai during the month of January 2006, as I watched these images broadcast via satellite, I wondered if the people of USA know how their own media is portraying them. The images of stripper/singer/pop-culture musicians give the government of Iran a tool to fight the West. They use your own funded TV and media to teach hate and convince generations that the US and its people are not only anti-God but have no morals, no conscience.
US soldiers should not die because false images of freedom are being broadcast in Iran and the Middle East. Men and women in uniform, who fight and die for freedom deserve better.
True freedom is not about wearing makeup, being scantily clad, drinking and smoking pot. It is the other side of freedom that is not been properly publicized. The US funded media is exploited by the Iranian regime; telling Iranians that US freedom is nothing but a whore wrapped in a USA flag. This image does not help the fight against terrorism, Iranian regime and hardliners. We need to show respect for each other’s beliefs, morality and religion to gain the respect of the average person.
If we are trying to help the Iranian people, we are sending the wrong message. Iranian people have no choice but go against the culture of sinners. Who can blame them for not liking a grim and false representation of the true nature of people of United States and its Persian population?
Should there be an attack on Iran, these stations will not become a trusted podium for the USA true messages of freedom. By continually being portrayed as out of touch with reality and more concerned about its own existence and life style, the US is working counter effectively to its goals and wasting a lot of taxpayer money.
You have a great chance to educate Iranians and Middle Easterners and help them stand up to evil. You are losing that opportunity by letting the negative part of US culture to be blown out of proportion. Middle Easterners accept your TV as a synopsis of the life of the real people of America. You have a chance to let them know who you really are and what you can do to help them.
Ghazal Omid is the author of Living In Hell, as well as three forthcoming books: Islam 101, Iran and Its Future, and Poverty in Paradise. Keep reading Dreams Into Lightning for more information.