Journalism of Certitude

Dear Shri Shekhar Gupta,

In mainstream media it is common to espouse words like Unbiased, Truthful, Objective, Informed, Factual, Independent, Free, Professional, —- the list goes on —; while painting a self portrait. It is good to remind oneself of these sterling attributes again & again as a source of inspiration and as a worthy standard to follow. Yet, there is a real danger in chanting them again and again like a mantra, because one then starts honestly believing them to be the qualities of one’s character or endeavours, rather than wisely seeing them for what they are — touchstones for testing one’s work.

I recall your editorial of 06 September, ‘Rafsanjani, an Iranian pragmatist, is back in the reckoning. Might that be a cause for hope? ‘. In it you choose to describe that ‘Iran is more complex than the hysterical outpourings of its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘. No one would fault the first proposition that Iran is complex. Life is complex and therefore full of promise; until in someone’s vision, that someone who matters, it is rendered in to a too simplistic caricature of itself, a stark black & white divide of Good & evil, of freedom & tyranny, or of we and they. I would even have readily agreed with you in October 2005 that Ahmadinejad is hysterical, when, you & I, like countless others, were subjected to the Reused, Recycled and Reduced ( remember : ‘simplistic caricature’ ) phrase by him that ‘Israel must be wiped off the map‘. Actually, I would have gone further. I would have held him a fanatical looney. Fanatical, because he entertains thoughts of obliterating a whole community of people by holding them responsible for the acts of Israeli state / government. Looney, because he publicly voiced such thoughts when USA, the mightiest military power ever, was looking for, and is still looking for, just such an opportunity to attack Iran.

But in September 2007, almost 2 years later, should not we be wiser than silently and meekly swallowing the distortions and lies that are fed to us; when we have the benefit, at least in hindsight, of an article by Arash Norouzi published on 20 January 2007? You may look up the whole article at I have appended excerpts from it at the end.

What Ahmadinegad did in fact say in Farsi was “Imam ghoft een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad“. Translated directly in to English it means : “The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time“. Poor Ahmadinegad was merely rooting for a Regime change in Israel.

Is it justified to wish for a regime change? Bush wished for a regime change in Afghanistan & Iraq. Bush wishes for a regime change in Iran & Korea, and may be Venezuela & Sudan. Probably, he dreams of a regime change in China. No one would fault him for wishing. Everyone harbours wishes. Fortunately, everyone does not have the might of American Military-Industrial-Media’ empire behind him like Bush has and Bush has unblinkingly and eagerly used it to deadly effect in Afghanistan & Iraq. Afghanistan was targeted for providing refuge to Osama and Al Qaeda. According to even Bush both are still at large. Iran was targeted for WMD and for sponsoring terrorists including Al Qaeda. Both were proved to be lies. Yet, why is the so called free world lovingly indulgent towards Bush and American government, but blindly hostile towards the likes of Ahmadinejad and Iran. The answer lies in our habit of attaching convenient templates to phenomena and then interpreting the events from the comforts of these templates.

1. America is democratic. Democracy is good. Therefore, whatever Bush does must be for the good. After all American people are overseeing him. But, are they really? And is he heeding? Isn’t Bush’s worldview fundamentalist?

2. Iran is fundamentalist. Fundamentalist are bad. Therefore, Ahmadinejad, an epitome of fundamentalism, can do no good. When he wishes for a regime change, he must actually be calling for the obliteration of the Israeli people. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is a pragmatist and would bring some sense in to hysteria. Wasn’t Saddam Hussein a pragmatist during 81-88 Iraq – Iran war? An ally of USA, worthy of a handshake with Rumsfeld in 1983 and of supplies of arms & ammunition for use against satanic Iran, and a recipient of nerve gas that he promptly used on Kurds in full knowledge of Bush senior & Reagan. He became brutal dictator for the media only when he became inconvenient for the American government on invasion of Kuwait.

All this is so neat and pretty, so convenient to write for you journalists and so light to digest for us readers. Both can move on to the serious job of living, our conscience clear and unblemished. Unfortunately, the life, in fact, is real messy, real painful, real degrading, real hell, for those who are not embedded in this neat & pretty picture, and have to face the full machinations and destructive power of few, who conjure and manage this neat & pretty picture for the free world.

If you have any other real and substantive reasons to call Ahmadinejad hysterical, or have facts that prove Arash Norouzi wrong, then I would welcome you to disabuse me of my notions. Otherwise I would have to conclude that Indian Express is no longer the ‘Journalism of Courage’. but is the ‘Journalism of Certitude’ as embodied in that famous adage “my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts”.


Sadanand Patwardhan

Cell : 94 225 25 225


Before we get to the infamous remark, it’s important to note that the “quote” in question was itself a quote— they are the words of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, the father of the Islamic Revolution. Although he quoted Khomeini to affirm his own position on Zionism, the actual words belong to Khomeini and not Ahmadinejad. Thus, Ahmadinejad has essentially been credited (or blamed) for a quote that is not only unoriginal, but represents a viewpoint already in place well before he ever took office.


So what did Ahmadinejad actually say? To quote his exact words in farsi:

“Imam ghoft een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad.”

That passage will mean nothing to most people, but one word might ring a bell: rezhim-e. It is the word “Regime“, pronounced just like the English word with an extra “eh” sound at the end. Ahmadinejad did not refer to Israel the country or Israel the land mass, but the Israeli regime. This is a vastly significant distinction, as one cannot wipe a regime off the map. Ahmadinejad does not even refer to Israel by name, he instead uses the specific phrase “rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods” (regime occupying Jerusalem).

So this raises the question.. what exactly did he want “wiped from the map”? The answer is: nothing. That’s because the word “map” was never used. The Persian word for map, “nagsheh“, is not contained anywhere in his original farsi quote, or, for that matter, anywhere in his entire speech. Nor was the western phrase “wipe out” ever said. Yet we are led to believe that Iran’s President threatened to “wipe Israel off the map”, despite never having uttered the words “map”, “wipe out” or even “Israel”.


The full quote translated directly to English:

“The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time”.

Word by word translation:

Imam (Khomeini) ghoft (said) een (this) rezhim-e (regime) ishghalgar-e (occupying) qods (Jerusalem) bayad (must) az safheh-ye ruzgar (from page of time) mahv shavad (vanish from).

Here is the full transcript of the speech in farsi, archived on Ahmadinejad’s web site


While the false “wiped off the map” extract has been repeated infinitely without verification, Ahmadinejad’s actual speech itself has been almost entirely ignored. Given the importance placed on the “map” comment, it would be sensible to present his words in their full context to get a fuller understanding of his position. In fact, by looking at the entire speech, there is a clear, logical trajectory leading up to his call for a “world without Zionism”. One may disagree with his reasoning, but critical appraisals are infeasible without first knowing what that reasoning is.

In his speech, Ahmadinejad declares that Zionism is the West’s apparatus of political oppression against Muslims. He says the “Zionist regime” was imposed on the Islamic world as a strategic bridgehead to ensure domination of the region and its assets. Palestine, he insists, is the frontline of the Islamic world’s struggle with American hegemony, and its fate will have repercussions for the entire Middle East.

Ahmadinejad acknowledges that the removal of America’s powerful grip on the region via the Zionists may seem unimaginable to some, but reminds the audience that, as Khomeini predicted, other seemingly invincible empires have disappeared and now only exist in history books. He then proceeds to list three such regimes that have collapsed, crumbled or vanished, all within the last 30 years:

(1) The Shah of Iran- the U.S. installed monarch.

(2) The Soviet Union.

(3) Iran’s former arch-enemy, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

In the first and third examples, Ahmadinejad prefaces their mention with Khomeini’s own words foretelling that individual regime’s demise. He concludes by referring to Khomeini’s unfulfilled wish: “The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time. This statement is very wise”. This is the passage that has been isolated, twisted and distorted so famously. By measure of comparison, Ahmadinejad would seem to be calling for regime change, not war.



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