The one coined as the “dark prince”, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, died. His death was mourned by many western outlets, terming him a “moderate” and a “reformer”. It seems that when it comes to Iran, everything is relative. Even universal values are relative.
The life of Rafsanjani, the moderate, was riddled with violence, extremism, militancy and betrayal.
The highlights are support of terrorism, support of the raiding of the American Embassy, American and European hostage taking, providing weapons and support for assassinations and terror organizations, support for the continuation of the conflict with Iraq even after Iraq withdrew from Iran, mocking western values, building Iran’s nuclear program, empowering the IRGC, brutal oppression of the students’ protest for free speech, betrayal of the reform movement behind Hatami and oppression of human rights. Only when he lost to President Ahmedenijad did he become an opposition force. Only then, did he, all of a sudden, become a voice calling for more personal freedoms, better relations with the West, a nuclear compromise and warning against “Islamic fascism”. He was part and parcel of that Islamic fascism until his political interests changed. For a fuller cover of his biography see weeklystandard, nytimes and washingtonpost.
The press coverage of his death was wide spread, and also most revealing. More revealing about the relativity of moralism, than about Rafsanjani.
Press coverage split according to approaches.
Some recognizing Rafsanajani for who he was, and spotting the phony “moderate” image he displayed. Understanding that this fake image is “part of the game” that the entire leadership of Iran sometimes plays, with this so called gap between hardliners and moderates. Articles representing this approach are for instance washingtonpost and wsj. The title of the WP article is most astute – “A legacy of terror and repression behind a façade of moderation”.
Others of the press, falling hook, line and sinker to this phony image, lament the demise of moderation in Iran. The most expressive of this viewpoint is most probably the nytimes editorial titled “the untimely death of an Iranian Pragmatist”, calling him a moderate and an “advocate for personal freedoms”. Others, like the reuters article, continue this path by warning of a “blow” to Iran reformers. For them, opportunist moderation is fine enough for Iran, because it is the best you can get.
One thing is agreed by all – the future trends in Iran are not rosy. Despite the nuclear deal, and the promises of moderation that accompanied the deal, the extremists and hardliners are strengthening. Moderation is on the downfall. Not because of Rafsanjani’s death, but because the myth is no reality.
The danger behind not learning from the past, is that you repeat your mistakes. When the nytimes editorial regards Rafsanjani as a “valued ally” of Rouhani, it is obvious that they are conveying the Rafsanjani myth to Rouhani. It is true – Rafsanajani is a valued ally to Rouhani. Not in the way that the nytimes intends, but in the “façade”, which has successfully duped senior media outlets.