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Demystifying Iran And The ‘Resistance Axis’

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Israel’s genocide in Gaza has unleashed a low-grade regional war that is gradually escalating towards what could become an all-out conflict. The central players in this simmering showdown are the members of the informal Resistance Axis, which include Hezbollah in Lebanon, a number of armed Palestinian groups including Hamas, the Syrian and Iranian governments, the Houthis or Ansarallah in Yemen, and Iraq’s armed Popular Mobilization Forces. Numerous strikes against Israeli and US military and commercial targets have already been carried out by these groups across the region, from US military bases in Iraq to Israel-linked commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

As the possibility of a regional conflagration looms, corporate media outlets are turning their attention to the Resistance Axis—and often regurgitating stale, Orientalist narratives that have been deployed for decades to justify US and Israeli aggression in the region. Central to this media narrative is the presentation of Iran as a kind of puppet master overseeing and coordinating the activities of the Resistance Axis. What this narrative fails to take into account is that it is not Iran that created the Resistance Axis, but decades of US and Israeli aggression. Journalists Rania Khalek and Nima Shirazi join The Real News for a conversation on the media narratives spun around the Resistance Axis and Iran, and how such portrayals have primed the US public to support forever wars in West Asia for decades.

Rania Khalek is a Middle East-based journalist for Breakthrough News where she hosts the show Dispatches. Her work has also appeared at The Intercept, Truthout, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Al Jazeera, The Nation, Salon, AlterNet, Vice and more.

Nima Shirazi
 is the cohost of Citations Needed, a podcast on the media, power, and politics.

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Studio Production: Maximillian Alvarez
Post Production: Alina Nehlich


Transcript

Maximillian Alvarez:  Welcome everyone to this special episode of The Real News Network Podcast. My name is Maximillian Alvarez, I’m the editor-in-chief here at The Real News.

Ju-Hyun Park:  And I’m Ju-Hyun Park, the engagement editor at The Real News.

Maximillian Alvarez:  It’s so great to have you all with us. We are recording this episode on Thursday, February 29. By the time you hear this, Israel’s genocidal war and full-scale ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Gaza will have crossed the five-month mark, though the violence of Israel’s occupation of Palestine and the armed resistance to that occupation goes back many, many decades – 75 years to be exact. But since October 7, various actors in the resistance axis outside of historic Palestine, have staged armed attacks against US and Israeli military and commercial assets, from the Houthis’ blockade of Israeli shipping in the Red Sea to the attacks on a US base in Jordan this January that claimed the lives of three US soldiers.

Ju-Hyun Park:  Today, in part one of this two-part podcast series, we’re going to talk about the resistance axis and how Western media portrays this alliance of state and non-state actors in the Middle East confronting Israel and the US which includes Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Ansar Allah or the Houthis, and more.

Maximillian Alvarez:  We’ve got two very special guests on the pod today who are going to help us break it all down. We are honored to be joined on The Real News Network Podcast today by journalist Rania Khalek of BreakThrough News, and Nima Shirazi, co-host of the Citations Needed podcast.

Ju-Hyun Park:  By and large, corporate media outlets here in the US have been running with the story that all the eclectic groups that make up the resistance axis are nothing more than Iranian proxies at best, or terrorist organizations indistinguishable from ISIS, at worst. Rania and Nima are here with us today to cut through the propaganda and get to the facts. Who exactly are the people and groups comprising the resistance axis? Why are they throwing down so hard for Palestine right now? How is the media portrayal of this axis, its contingent groups, and Iran shaping how we understand the politics of the Middle East, the war in Gaza, and the implications of a broader regional war?

Maximillian Alvarez:  Before we get started, I wanted to quickly begin by thanking you, our listeners, for your continued support of The Real News. We take a lot of pride in what we do and we know none of our reporting would be possible without you and your help. So whether you are a longtime supporter or a newcomer to our channel, we’re touched to know that you trust us to keep you informed, expand your worldview, and make your workday a little more bearable.

Ju-Hyun Park:  But making independent media costs money. We know times are tough out there, believe me, we’re feeling it too. We’re desperately trying to expand our coverage and improve the quality of stories we can bring you, but we need your help to do it.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Listen, we do this because we believe in the power of independent media and because we ultimately believe in you, our listeners, and your power to change the world when you are armed with the right information. So please help us help you. Head over to therealnews.com/donate right now and become a monthly sustainer of our work. If you want to stay in touch and get regular updates about the latest and greatest stories from us, then sign up for our free newsletter by heading over to therealnews.com/sign-up.

Ju-Hyun Park:  Now, without further ado, Rania, Nima, welcome to The Real News.

Rania Khalek:  It’s great to be on with you.

Nima Shirazi:  A pleasure to be with everyone today.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Yeah. Man, this is the crossover that the people have been itching for. I am so, so excited to have all of us on the call right now and grateful to you guys for making time for this; I know you’re incredibly busy, but we have a lot to dig into here. We wanted to get your guys’s thoughts specifically for part one of this two-part episode which Ju-Hyun and I laid out in the introduction just now.

To get us rolling, get the blood boiling, and get the analysis going, we want to pull a page from Adam Johnson and Nima’s playbook on the Citations Needed podcast which everyone should go listen to. You also should go support BreakThrough News, check them out, subscribe, and all that good stuff. But we’re going to pull a clip from a Wall Street Journal explainer video that does the work for us of packaging all the propaganda tropes about the resistance axis and the puppet master Iran, into a tight minute and a half. So I’m going to play that for us now, and then Nima and Rania, we want to jump right into your reactions. So let’s go ahead and tee up this clip from the Wall Street Journal which was published on YouTube on January 5 of this year.

[AUDIO CLIP BEGINS]

Iran-backed groups form a land bridge across the Middle East and connect in an alliance that Tehran calls the “Axis of Resistance.” Its focus, to oppose the West. It can both transport equipment and personnel, but can also use these positions to attack US interests or threaten Israel closer to its borders. The alliance has been brought into focus amid the Hamas-Israel War as the groups are mobilizing on multiple fronts at the same time. So here’s how Iran built out the network across the Middle East and what it means for the US and Israel.

So to show you where Iran’s so-called Axis of Resistance works in the Middle East, we have Iran over here, and then, of course, Hamas in Gaza over here on the Mediterranean. There’s another group that Iran supports in Gaza called the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is actually a closer ally of Iran ideologically, but also working out of Gaza here and also in the West Bank. Iran’s most important militia ally is Hezbollah here in Lebanon. Aside from that, they also have Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, here, and various militant groups in Iraq. And then, finally, they also have an alliance with the Houthis in Yemen down here south.

These connections allow Iran to expand its influence in the Middle East and make it easier for the country to transport military equipment, personnel, and weapons through the region. One of Iran’s aims in the Middle East is to always keep the fight, the military fight, as far away from its own borders as possible, and the presence of these military allies and the land bridge kind of helps it do that.

[AUDIO CLIP ENDS]

Okay, let’s go ahead and stop there. Harrowing, harrowing shit, really intense stuff, guys. Thank you to the Wall Street Journal for breaking that all down for us. So, okay, this is what we are working with – And for folks who are listening to this, I want to impress that the video, which we will link to in the show notes for this episode, literally has this Wall Street Journal journalist laying out the puzzle pieces on a map like he’s explaining this grand risk military strategy.

So Rania, and Nima, I want to turn this over to you guys, and let’s unpack this for our viewers. What conclusions are already being made for us in the very framing and presentation of this one piece alone? It is very much representative of the larger narrative coming out of corporate media and Washington DC right now as it pertains to Iran, the “Axis of Resistance,” its contingent groups, and Israel and the US’s role in all of this. So I’m going to ask the very leading question: What is wrong about this framing to you, or what do you think needs to be seriously qualified for people in the West who are hearing this kind of thing?

Rania Khalek:  Well, first, I think the Wall Street Journal needs to open up the purse strings a little bit and spend some money on graphics because that was pitiful. The guy had a paper map and little dots that he was moving around. But you know that he does know what he’s talking about because he has a British accent. But in all seriousness, in all seriousness, the first thing that came to mind seeing that is something that’s very typical of the way that mainstream corporate media covers this issue of the resistance axis: The idea that Iran is somehow some foreign player who is inserting itself into a place it doesn’t belong and where there are US interests at risk because of Iran’s presence and Iran’s support for these various militia groups when it’s completely backward.

You notice that map… For those who are listening, there was this map, it was just of the Middle East and North Africa. So you didn’t hear the guy say, oh, and the US is all the way over here. There isn’t even space for the US on that map because the US is on the other side of the world. So it completely glosses over the idea of, wait, what is the US even doing in this region? In reality, Iran is a part of the Middle East. It is supporting actors in the region. It has a partnership with actors across the region that have similar interests to Iran, and that is to fight US imperialism and to protect their own sovereignty in various ways, depending on which part of the region they’re from. Iran has way more reason to be involved and invested in its region, especially against such an aggressive actor like the US, than the US and its settler colony of Israel do. So that’s where I’ll start. Go ahead, Nima. Love to hear your thoughts.

Nima Shirazi:  Yeah. It’s hard to add much to that, Rania, thank you. Yeah, there’s this overwhelming Orientalism that pervades all of this propaganda. There’s the assumption that US troops and CIA agents and military contractors are indigenous to the Middle East, and as Rania said, they’re just going about their business besieged from all sides by big bad Iran, the maligned foreign force, and somehow it’s just been there forever.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Well, and I don’t want to cut you off, I know it’s more complex than this, but the thing that keeps jumping out to me is when companies like Amazon here will hire outside union-busting consultants to come into the warehouse and tell workers the union is an outside force. So it’s like, motherfucker, what are you?

Nima Shirazi:  Yeah. No, exactly. There’s this pathological insistence throughout our politics here in the US and our media that the US and its allies should control the world and that any idea contrary to that is met with incredulity and outright hostility. So the guiding principle here, as we just saw in the Wall Street Journal clip, is that the region of the world is the victim of Iranian aggression and hegemony, rather than, as Rania so rightly said, it is exactly the inverse.

When the video lays out where certain military interests lie in the region, there’s one little chip for the US to have an ally in Israel. One little chip for the US having allies in Saudi Arabia and across the Gulf; Each one of those chips represents thousands, if not tens of thousands of American troops, and dozens of military bases. The overwhelming military support, intelligence support, and diplomatic cover – For impunity, for war crimes exacted upon the people of the world, and certainly in that part of the world, specifically – Are completely glossed over, if not 100% omitted. There are these conflagrations of violence that come from nowhere, except they’re not from nowhere; They’re from the big bad mullahs in Tehran, exacting their devious plan. So much of this can be traced back to the way that Iran is viewed in the American mindset and has been for now for decades at least. But much longer in terms of the orientalist, colonial, and imperial nature of the way that the “West” views that part of the world.

Can I just mention that in August of 1979, the way that the US understands the world was put into a diplomatic cable, a confidential cable, that was leaked only about a decade ago, by WikiLeaks. The confidential cable was from August of 1979, so after the Iranian Revolution, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi – The Shah of Iran and US ally – Has been kicked out. There is a new interim government in place before the new constitution is voted on by the entire population of Iran, and in that time, a confidential cable is sent back to Washington from Bruce Laingen, the chargé d’affaires in Tehran. In this cable, the American diplomat talks about the discussions that he’s been having with his Iranian counterparts. He analyzes in this cable, “The underlying cultural and psychological qualities” of the Iranians, stating in a diplomatic cable “Perhaps the single dominant aspect of the Persian psyche is an overriding egoism” and continues that this is manifested in “An almost total Persian preoccupation with self and leaves little room for understanding points of view other than one’s own.”

He then continues to write that Iranians suffer from extreme paranoia and “A pervasive unease about the nature of the world in which one lives” and the neurotic belief that “Nothing is permanent and that hostile forces abound.” The diplomat ascribes this to what he calls, “The bazaar mentality so common among Persians, a mindset that often ignores longer-term interests in favor of immediately attainable advantages and countenances, practices that are regarded as unethical by other norms.” So the idea is that Iran and Iranians, by virtue of their DNA, are devious, don’t understand the world, are preoccupied with themselves, will do anything as long as it gets them short-term gains, and they don’t care about the world around them. Somewhere else in the cable, it says there’s a “Persian aversion to accepting responsibility for one’s own actions.”

Rania Khalek:  Persian aversion [Max laughs].

Nima Shirazi:  Indeed.

Rania Khalek:  Sounds like a game.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Wait, that’s our new band name, Persian Aversion.

Rania Khalek:  Game night. We’re going to play Persian Aversion.

Nima Shirazi:  So thank you for giving me the time to lay some of that out because it speaks to the way that the US government – So offended, so humiliated by the Iranian Revolution in 1979 – Changed the dynamic of US hegemony in that part of the world and the vengeance that the US has exacted upon Iran because of that revolution ever since. So much of it does stem from this idea that Iranians are a certain type of people who cannot be trusted, who do not operate by the norms of society – Those norms laid out and followed to a T by noble Americans, always – And so this lays out the framework in which we understand the way that our politics and our media really describes Iran, talks about Iran, thinks about Iran, and how these perceptions then pervade a more public opinion about Iran. Which comes back to projecting American issues with itself and the overriding egoism of American hegemony and exceptionalism onto those that we hope to dominate and are very frustrated when we’re not able to.

Rania Khalek:  Okay. I wanted to butt in when you were talking and say, projection for a thousand, Nima, because so much of that sounded like projection. I want to add to what you’re saying because I know that you wanted to have a discussion here also about the rest of this resistance axis beyond Iran. A lot of what Nima described, the blatant racism, this racist framework that’s used to understand Iranian thought, Iranian decision making, those sneaky Persians, it behooves Iran in some ways for the US to view the Iranian government that way. It’s just not understanding your enemy and one of the worst things you can do is misunderstand your enemy when you’re involved in a long war like this. But when we talk about the rest of the region, a lot of that is then projected onto the way the US and DC have come to look at the people they have framed as Iranian agents across the region in the way that they look at Shias.

That’s what you saw happen over the last couple of decades, especially with the rise of a group like Hezbollah, for example. Then getting the Gulf states involved and being the counter to a group like Hezbollah, with the whole war in Syria, and then also with what took place in Iraq post-occupation and especially in the pre-ISIS years, it became this conversation about the big bad Shias. This view was imposed on the region in many ways through Gulf-funded and Western-funded media by portraying Shias in Iraq and Lebanon as being agents of Iran. In Lebanon specifically, that is how Hezbollah is described; Not as what they are, which is a group of Lebanese people who are a product and an outcome of Israel’s invasion and occupation of Lebanon in the ’80s; Fighting that occupation in the south of Lebanon and successfully kicking out the Israelis in 2000, and then defeating them in 2006 when they tried to do a ground invasion and failed in a humiliating, miserable, pathetic way for supposedly one of the most powerful armies in the world.

But that said, that Persian orientalist view has then been projected onto Shias in Lebanon, specifically those affiliated with Hezbollah, and the same goes for groups in Iraq that fought the US occupation and that went on to form certain units in what’s known as the Hashd al-Shaabi or the Popular Mobilization Units when ISIS took over a huge portion of the country. A lot of Shias joined the call to join the Hashd al-Shaabi to fight the Popular Mobilization Forces to fight the threat of ISIS. Then it gets complicated though. You’ve got Hezbollah and Lebanon made up of Lebanese people, not Iranians – But allied indeed with Iran because they have similar interests – You have the Hashd al-Shaabi in Iraq, and we’re talking about some specific units in the Hashd al-Shaabi, not even the whole thing, that are involved and now fighting.

They fired some rockets at the American bases and near the American embassy in Iraq, post-genocide in Gaza. They’ve been portrayed as agents of Iran because they’re Shia but then you’ve got Hamas which is a Sunni organization. That’s where things get complicated and that’s where that Persian narrative falls apart. It goes back to the same old Islamophobia. Hamas and Gaza, plus Islamic Jihad, and a bunch of other allied forces are a huge part of the resistance axis because they’re in one of the most important locations. They’re fighting the most belligerent, depraved arm of US imperialism in the region – That being the Israeli army.

I won’t say much about Syria because Syria’s been decimated by years of war, but the government’s still intact, and Syria is part of the resistance axis. It’s a means to move material to the organizations it needs to go to, though it’s not so much involved in the fight anymore after a decade of attempted regime change and then horrific sanctions that have decimated the economy. But all of these organizations, are not Iranian organizations. They are simply allied with Iran because they have similar interests in their own countries, and that’s what’s so amazing. Nobody ever talks about the other side. Who is the other side? It’s the US, it’s Israel, it’s the Gulf states, it’s Egypt, it’s Jordan, and it’s these monarchies. It’s these monarchies and dictatorships in police states that are completely beholden to US interests and act as extensions of America in brutal ways like we’re witnessing right now.

Even when we talk about who the maligned actor is here, you don’t have to love Iran, but objectively speaking, there is one side opposing a genocide and another side arming and giving it cover. In my opinion, I don’t care where you stand on any of these issues in a more complicated way, there’s one side we should all be on, and that’s anti-genocide. And by the way, I didn’t mention the Houthis in Yemen. The Houthis in Yemen are also a very important part of the resistance axis. They’re imposing material consequences on the Western world and Israel because of this genocide, and as a result, they’ve been re-designated as terrorists. What upside-down world do we live in when the Houthis and Yemen are terrorists for blockading ships to intervene against a genocide? A genocide. Then the Israelis are considered the humane actors and Iran as evil? It’s completely absurd.

Ju-Hyun Park:  Yeah, absolutely. We’re looking at an upside-down, funhouse mirror-style situation when we look at the real situation on the ground and then compare it to this media coverage and this long arc of a historical narrative that’s been implanted into the minds of everyone in the West. It’s not just about this moment; This is decades and decades of propaganda that’s accumulated over time. I appreciate what you’re both bringing to the table because this is how the US operates all around the world. It’s also how the West has operated throughout the entirety of its colonial history. When we look at the narratives that are being espoused about the resistance axis and Iran, we can find parallels going back centuries. This Persian aversion stuff, this is what the Spaniards said about Indigenous people in the Americas in like 1500. All of these people, they’re not responsible. They don’t have morals. They can’t make decisions on their own.

Rania Khalek:  The OG Persian aversion.

Ju-Hyun Park:  Exactly, yeah. If I were more clever, I would come up with an appropriate rhyme for it. But yeah. Getting back to what I was saying, this is also about naturalizing the US presence. They construct this giant, big, bad, villain out of Iran which is part of the region. Iran will always be a neighbor to the rest of the countries in the Middle East or the Arab region, no matter whether anyone likes it or not. And yet they talk about it as if Iraq is Ohio and the US is trying to protect Cincinnati from Iran-backed militias. So it only takes a second to think about the basic facts of the situation to understand that we are being duped here. I appreciate both of you for spelling out so clearly the racism, the assumptions, and the arrogance that go into the projection that goes into this media narrative. I want us to also start to fill the space with facts because it’s one thing to point out the propaganda, to dispel the illogical basis that it’s always rising from, but then we have to fill in that vacuum too.

Rania, I appreciate you getting into some of the basics and the fundamentals of the resistance access. I’m thinking let’s dive a little bit deeper, and let’s think particularly about the case of Iran because so much of the way this media narrative works is around the dominant images of Iran that we’ve been bombarded with since 1979. Once we tear down this idea that’s been constructed of Iran as this inherently evil entity, let’s fill in that space a little bit more and talk about what is the political character of Iran at this point and its political project. What are the interests that it’s seeking to defend? How does that intersect with the interests of other actors in the regions – As Rania was getting at earlier – When we think about the strivings of people in these other countries to be free from US imperialism?

Maximillian Alvarez:  Also, like you were saying, Nima, how does the constant projection and depiction of Iran decades over, what political ends does that serve both in the minds of the population here and the broader foreign policy of the US?

Nima Shirazi:  Yeah. Iran is a large country with 80-plus million people. It has its own interests as a nation-state. Its government has its own interests domestically and internationally. There are all manner of different political persuasions and different perspectives on things within the country and within its people. To say that Iran has one thing that it wants to do is a way to flatten reality so that we can somehow after the Cold War ended, have a new, big, bad puppet master enemy. You don’t have the Soviet Union anymore, you don’t have communism in that way anymore, therefore, the political narrative switches to worrying about Iran and worrying about Islamism.

But so much of what this does is self-perpetuating because by casting Iran, its government, and also its people – And let’s be clear about this – The US and its allies and affiliated media arms love to do this thing where there’s the government and then the people. No, we’re not talking about the people; We love the people, we’re just talking about the government. But then everything we do is attacking the people. Every sanction, every missile strike, every drone attack attacks people. So that is a way to disassociate and dismiss out of hand, this idea that our interests, US interests, and Western interests are not fully bent on domination. They care about the freedom, love, and peace of people around the world. Okay. But with that in mind, this constant drumbeat of Iran can’t be trusted, Iran is our enemy, Iran is in charge, Iran is in control. One of my favorite terms herein that Wall Street Journal piece is the “land bridge.” You mean like, earth? [Max laughs] Okay. Cool.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Also known as land [all laugh].

Nima Shirazi:  Yeah. Like, okay. The land bridge between New York and Los Angeles is ripe with Americans [Max laughs]. Whoa, it’s fucked up. They built a land bridge. So all of this serves the purpose of not only refusing to change the perception of an enemy state to keep that threat ever present. So that American interests, American actions, Israeli interests and actions, and Saudi interests and actions can be perennially justified. Anything they do can be justified. It is reasonable to act in this way because of big, bad Iran. But also what that does, much in the way that we see the US political machines and media talk about Latin and South America, when there are socialist governments challenging American hegemony, those countries have been under threat. Their governments and their people have been under threat and under attack for so long and never allowed to fully realize the nation-states that they could have, with the popular representation that they could have, with the aspirations of the people enacted in the way that the people get to decide because they are constantly under threat.

Being constantly under threat serves a real political purpose not only for the US threatening those countries but also within those countries. Because the people and governments of those countries are always under siege, and therefore, what you see is this idea that what Iran could be is not allowed to be realized on purpose because it is constantly under sanction and under threat. The fact that Iran still maintains this terrifying persona in the American political power structure psyche is a real testament to how much resistance Iran has been able to maintain, that it has not been regime changed, it has not been occupied. So it’s important to realize that this threat narrative not only threatens people within those countries and whatever spectrum of political interests they have for aspirations of stronger democratic representation, of different relations with other countries in the world, that is done on purpose; Exacted from the outside onto those countries to stifle the natural course of the way that nation-states evolve.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Rania, I want to get your thoughts on this as well. But really quick for people listening to this who have been stewing in that Western propaganda for decades, as I have; I’ve admitted many times I grew up very conservative. I told Chris Hedges in this studio that my family was one of the ones who thought you were a nutjob 20 years ago. I’ve come a long way and I know all the people listening to us have as well. What I beseech you all listening to consider is, is what Nima’s describing here any less plausible or ridiculous than the thought that there’s some deeply genetically encoded, politically distinct evil in Iran that’s leading to all the narratives that the US presents about Iran to be true? I would ask you to consider that this is what the US as an imperial power is doing around the world, including a hundred miles away from our own border.

The continued blockade on Cuba is expressly designed to punish the people of Cuba so that, as government officials here in the US have said, they eventually rebel against the socialist government and overthrow it. That is the expressed point of the blockade. Much like the ways that Nima describes, the US does, can, and continues to apply these pressures, these sanctions, and these supporting coups in Latin America and around the world to get its way, thus creating an internal situation that the US media likes to pretend the US has no role in. Sorry, Rania, I wanted to throw that out there. Hop back in here.

Rania Khalek:  Yeah. This applies to the entire region. I want people to recognize too, I’m talking to you from Beirut right now, a place that is a part of a country, a part of a region that has endured so much violence because of US imperialism. And why? Why does the US want the Middle East so bad? Why does it need to control it? It has a huge amount of oil. It’s about controlling resources. It’s very simple. In Iran specifically, before the Iranian Revolution in 1979, why was there a revolution? Because there was a horrific dictatorship that the US and the UK imposed on Iran after overthrowing a democratically-elected leader in 1953 to extract Iranian oil for almost free. That is what imperialism is; It is about the US and its imperial allies going around the world – Particularly the ruling elites in these countries – Stealing resources from the Global South and putting in place local leadership that will allow them to steal the resources so that the people in these countries remain poor.

There are a few countries that are able to develop and do well. Everybody has their place in the imperial hierarchy. But imperialism is the way capitalism is organized on a global scale, and the US is at the top. Right now, what we’re seeing, we’re in a historic moment. The Iranian Revolution in 1979 came at a time when the Soviet Union started to fall and there was an ideological vacuum around the world where it was a huge… The fall of the Soviet Union was a huge defeat for communism and for the left on a global scale, whether you liked it or hated it. The Islamic Revolution in Iran gave a lot of new motivation ideologically across the region for revolution with an Islamic flavor.

There are a lot of groups across the region you wouldn’t have, had it not been for the Islamic Revolution in Iran. That’s not to say that Hezbollah is an Iranian group, but the people of South Lebanon were inspired by the revolution in Iran because whether it had a religious flavor or not, it did have a religious flavor and it was a revolution against imperialism. It kicked out the imperialists and took back Iranian resources for Iranians, and then those resources were used to develop Iran and go back into the pockets of the people of Iran. This is about sovereignty and this is about allowing people or giving people a chance in their countries to use their land and their resources for themselves. That’s what pushing out imperialism means. Hezbollah is all about liberating Lebanese land and protecting the territorial integrity of Lebanon. And that is what they did; They liberated Lebanese land on more than one occasion. It was a huge defeat for the US.

What I’m getting at here is that as we come into the 21st century, 2003 was a very different time for the Middle East. The US was able to invade and occupy Iraq with no obstacles really, no obstacles. It is now 2024 and there is a resistance axis, there are groups across the region that fight back, and they’re allied with Iran. This is why the US hates Iran. The US hates Iran because it partners with, funds, trains, and arms groups that stand in the way of the US looting resources from the Middle East. It’s as simple as that. The Palestinian resistance groups want to liberate their land. That’s what they want. The Yemenis, the Houthis, and Ansar Allah want sovereignty and liberation from imperialism. That’s why they fought an almost decade-long war against a Saudi-led, US-backed genocide in Yemen. And you know what? They won.

What I’m getting at here is that the US is increasingly losing. Am I saying that what’s happening in Gaza is some big win for the resistance? No, it’s horrific. It’s a loss for all of humanity, but people are fighting back. What happened on October 7, should not be dismissed as anything other than people from the Global South firing back at their oppressors. That’s the most basic way to look at it. That terrifies the US, it terrifies Europe, and the only way to undo it is with genocide. This is a big deal, and you’re going to see the rhetoric amp up hard against Iran and all the actors that are currently involved and hitting back at Israel and Western interests over this genocide. It is the biggest fear of the Global North, especially as we begin to move into this increasingly multipolar world where all of the biggest anxieties of the US have to do with the rise of China, the rise of the Global South, and loss of control over the world.

Very soon we’re going to look back at this moment as a historical turning point. It’s pretty epic in terms of the downfall of Western imperialism. There’s a long way to go before it falls but right now we see the ideological apparatus behind it: The human rights, democracy, and liberalism. All these things, people see through them right now because the US is backing a genocide in Gaza.

Nima Shirazi:  Yeah. If you’re able to redefine popular movements for liberation as the brainchild of a few people in Tehran, then it is not an actual threat to the current world order. It becomes a political issue, a military issue, not a popular resistance issue that is supported by the vast majority of human beings living on this planet. Therefore, if it’s this axis of resistance led by Iran, you don’t have to grapple with the fact that these are anti-colonial, anti-oppression, and anti-genocide movements for freedom.

Maximillian Alvarez:  I appreciate this conversation and wish it could go for another hour, but I know we only have about 10 minutes with y’all. I wanted to hop in on that point and say that this is why we at The Real News – Along with other media-makers like yourselves who are trying to correct the decades of imbalance that we’ve been trying to unpack here in the way the media presents this to Western audiences – We’ve been working hard to give people more of a human sense of, who are the flesh and blood human beings we’re talking about here? Not just the masses of Brown people living in slums with that 24-color tint to everything, making everything look a little more like it’s a desert planet in Star Wars with a humanoid-type species that isn’t quite as human as us, but they look a little like us. It takes a lot of work to try to deprogram people who have been trained to see their fellow human beings as so much less human than they are to try to correct that.

I’m not going to say that any one of us is going to be able to do that, but I will say something is happening. We published a piece that is one of the pieces I’m most proud of since I got here at The Real News in 2020, which was a beautiful on-the-ground and harrowing documentary report by Ross Domoney, Nadia Peridot, and Ahmad Al-Bazz from Janin Refugee Camp, looking at the faces of the resistance and talking to the people in their homes who have been called terrorists for so long. This one quote that we used for the subhead for that piece sticks out, and I will encourage folks to watch this piece because it gives a picture of what we’re talking about here, but the quote from one of the people interviewing this piece is “They call us terrorists. Who planted terrorism? Wasn’t it they? As long as there is occupation, there is no future for the people. There will be no future unless they let us live.”

Not only is that important for people to hear but what struck me was that so many people here in the States were finally willing to hear it in a way that we have not been for the past 20 years, and so that is significant. I feel like the ideological armature of the post-911 era is, like you said, Rania, starting to break and people are pissed at the ways they’ve been misled. We are going to, in part two of this conversation, do a deeper dive into these resistance groups, the flesh and blood human beings that comprise them, the different local and regional and intersecting reasons that people are resisting, and so on and so forth.

But with the last 10 minutes we’ve got, Rania, you’re over there in Lebanon; Let’s start that conversation here. Let’s try to emphasize and end that we are talking about flesh and blood human beings here. We’re not saying you’ve got to like everybody here, we’re asking you to understand that we are talking about people, and the situation as it always is with people is more complicated than what the media is currently telling us. So I wanted to toss that to you guys with the last few minutes that we’ve got. What do you want to impress upon people listening about the human beings behind this “Iran-backed resistance axis” and what do you think that textured human understanding adds to the “conversation” that we are currently having here in the West?

Rania Khalek:  People in Lebanon, people in Syria, and people in Iraq are moms, dads, children, teachers, lawyers, and cooks; All of the things that exist in the US, those same things exist here. All the same, aspirations exist. People just want to live their lives. They want to be safe. They want to be happy. They want to love their families. They want to enjoy their moments. They want to raise their kids. They want to go to school. They want to have jobs that pay so they can put food on the table. They want to advance in life. They want all the same things that anybody anywhere else wants. They want to live in their countries. They want to live on their land. They want to have the freedom to do that without being bombed. A lot of people have been exposed to that because of all of this stuff on social media where they get an insider view of the raw emotion and lives of the people who are being decimated in Gaza.

On a personal level, I think that Israel has done a very big service to the world in showing the world what their society is. They are convulsing in fascism right now and it is on full display. They’re like egomaniacally celebrating denying food to children and murdering them and they’re saying it openly like that. They’re not even sugarcoating it because there’s no accountability or consequences. This is a society that is consumed by murderous hatred. It’s very disturbing to watch and it’s being livestreamed which is disturbing the world right now. That’s why you see a lot of people around the world traumatized by what they’re witnessing in Gaza and why you saw someone like Aaron Bushnell light himself on fire.

What I’ll say about the way I feel and the conversations I have with people here is, that I grew up with a family that had no nice feelings for Israel because they were always bombing them. I’ve grown up very much despising Zionism and despising settler colonialism in this region and all around the world and what it’s done. I’ve never heard anybody or felt myself that I want the children who live in Israel to die, I have never. I still don’t want good things to happen to the Israelis committing genocide right now but I would never wish death upon their children ever. Nothing could make me feel that way about babies anywhere. I have this conversation with people here all the time. We’re all completely struck by confusion and horror that this is how they feel about us, and they’re the aggressors. No one I know feels that way about their children. I don’t know if that helps humanize people here in any way but I wanted to share that.

Nima Shirazi:  Yeah. Fear and loathing are very, very powerful and those have been deliberately instilled in consumers of media, pop culture, and in anyone who pays attention to politics or not. These feelings pervade and saturate every aspect of how Americans and people living in the ” West” are led to think about, as you put it, Max, the sepia-toned savage. So to Rania’s point, the images that people are seeing… Tragically, we’ve all been doing this long enough that we know that decade after decade there are new horrors, new genocidal acts, new war crimes, new crimes against humanity, and we always think this time it’s going to change. This time people are going to wake the fuck up. This time the images are so horrific that this will not be allowed to go on anymore, and time and time again, they do.

Power, whether economic, pop-cultural, military, or diplomatic, is a hell of a thing. What we are seeing now is the breakdown of some of that narrative power. Yes, some of that real-life power but also some of that narrative power through the images that are being able to be shared across the world in real-time. And this is not to boost social media platforms that are also incredibly toxic and horrible but there’s a reason why a lot of corporate media is terrified that they are not controlling this narrative in the way that they would want to. It’s the reason why the Wall Street Journal is going to put that video together because they need to try and maintain the fear and loathing, the othering of the human beings who are on the slaughter-end of the bullets, of the missiles, and white phosphorus.

What we’re seeing right now is amid genocide, hopefully, a way for this to never happen again. We will see what happens but that’s what the people of this world should be coming together to do and what a lot of them are; Despite the incredible barriers, the incredible pushback, and the incredible oppression that they are facing in doing so. I’ll leave us with this: I do media criticism as a part of the way that I spend my day, and I am consistently struck by the fact that people far smarter than myself have already laid out everything that is already happening. If you read James Baldwin or Edward Said, you don’t need to listen to Citations Needed. That said, please listen to Citations Needed.

Rania Khalek:  [Laughs] You’re terrible at marketing, Nima.

Nima Shirazi:  Yeah, I’m the worst.

Rania Khalek:  Wow.

Nima Shirazi:  I’m the worst. It’s the anti-capitalist in me. But I will leave us with this, describing media coverage of Iran at the time of the hostage crisis – Late ’79 and throughout 1980 – Edward Said wrote this about the way that the media was covering things. He wrote, “Cliches, caricatures, ignorance, unqualified ethnocentrism, and inaccuracy were inordinately evident” in the media that he was seeing about Iran. He called out one of our favorite topics and targets on Citations Needed: The New York Times. The “Gray Lady” paper of record for the Western world. He called out the New York Times and their reporting saying that what they were doing formed “A collection of attitudes displayed for the benefit of suspicious and frightened readers.”

We are seeing that time and time again, whether it’s the Wall Street Journal‘s little six-minute video, Joe Biden doing Rose Garden speeches, and everything in between. Maybe those aren’t that far apart, maybe there’s not much in between, but what we are seeing is the constant promotion of suspicion and fear. Because those motivate so much dehumanization, xenophobia, and racism that allow the bombs to keep falling and allow politicians to sometimes hand-wring, oh, well, we wish that Israel would do nicer war crimes. Not that we need to immediately stop this but if they could be a little nicer, we could sleep a little more soundly.

Rest assured, those people are already sleeping soundly every single night funding and arming a genocide and then saying that the real threat is not their own bombs – To the flesh of babies and their parents and doctors and journalists – But rather that the threat somehow emanates from big, bad Iran, and so let’s keep our vision there. Let’s keep our Sauron eye on Tehran while this other stuff is going on, but don’t worry about that because it’s all done in service of maintaining freedom and democracy for the world. That if there’s an axis of resistance, it’s us, not the Iranians. Casting that perspective is very deliberate. It needs to be meticulously and constantly maintained and we’ve seen that for decades now. And the consequence is more invasion, occupation, apartheid, and genocide.

Ju-Hyun Park:  Couldn’t have put it any better. As we close out, it’s important to emphasize that this is an ongoing process; This narrative, these images are being actively constructed every single day as we’re going through this. But we’re also at an important inflection point. As the military power, the political power, and the supremacy that the US has enjoyed for a number of decades are being contested, so is its power to define. The US, for so long, has had a monopoly over how we define the actors in the region and how we define the people in the region, overall, as well. A lot of that is coming to a head at this moment. What we’re seeing is that in response, they’re only becoming more nakedly brutal and inhumane in everything that they’re doing.

I want to bring in what’s going on at the New York Times at this moment. For listeners who may be a little bit out of the loop, there was a big story that was published about the claims of mass rape on the part of Hamas on October 7 a few months ago. It’s now coming out that the two authors of this story, Anat Schwartz and Adam Sella, not only did not have any serious writing or reporting experience before they published this huge flagship story for the paper of record of the US, but on top of that, one of them, Anat Schwartz, was a former Israeli intelligence officer, and these are the people who are being permitted to construct the narrative.

I want to bring in this tweet that Anat Schwartz liked. There was the one calling to make Gaza a slaughterhouse but there’s another one. This is a translation from Hebrew – I don’t speak Hebrew so this may not be an exact one – The translation of this other tweet that was liked by this author is, “Our goal is to establish a narrative according to which Hamas is ISIS Daesh (this is a familiar contemporary sentiment that scares Westerners) and not an organization of freedom fighters and it has no contribution to Free Palestine.” They are spelling out what they’re attempting to do here which is to take one of the most brutal, violent actors in the region in recent history and equate it with the popular forces that are fighting back against Zionism, and over 20 years of US war. They know that all they need to do to string it together is to point out that they’re both Muslim or that political Islam is playing a role here, barring the fact that Islam has 2 billion adherents across the world, so political Islam can never be one thing.

They’re counting on the ignorance of people like us, people in the West who only know about these countries as a scary place over there, maybe know like one or two trivia-style facts about the place, and they’re counting on that because that’s to their advantage. That then gives them the freedom of action to say whatever they want, create whatever associations they want, and construct whatever images they wish. This then justifies their freedom of military action in the real world which is now resulting in the deaths of over 13,000 children, over 30,000 Palestinians in total. I wanted to bring that in as a final point to drive this all home, tie it all together for our listeners, and thank you both so much for taking the time, sharing your knowledge, and for your accumulated experience for however many years you have both been at this. As we say goodbye, I wanted to give you the chance to close out for our listeners, plug yourselves, and let us know how we can keep up with you. Maybe some of our listeners already listen to you a lot, maybe they’re being introduced to you for the first time, so let them get that sweet, sweet BreakThrough News, Citations Needed nectar. Where can they find that?

Rania Khalek:  Well, since Nima is not good at marketing his podcast, I’ll start. No. So I have a show called Dispatches on BreakThrough News. I’ve had you on, Ju-Hyun. We did a good episode on North Korea 101, it was fantastic. But I feel very privileged that I get to have this platform where I can host people to talk about a lot of these topics that we’re covering and more from an anti-imperialist perspective, one that you certainly don’t see in the mainstream. So I do encourage people to go check that out and to follow BreakThrough News on all platforms. My colleagues have been doing amazing work even before October 7, but certainly after. You can find us @btnewsroom on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok, and BreakThrough News on YouTube. Thank you guys for hosting us. This was a fantastic discussion. I appreciate getting to participate in it.

Nima Shirazi:  Yeah, I appreciate this as well. It’s great to be with you, Rania. It’s been a while.

Rania Khalek:  It has.

Nima Shirazi:  Good to see you. And yeah, The Real News is doing incredible work. It’s a real honor and pleasure to have been asked to join you all. I co-host a podcast called Citations Needed with the brilliant media critic, Adam Johnson, and the team that puts that show together is fantastic. I mention that because it’s not just the two voices you hear on the show, it’s not just the host, it’s the whole team; Florence, Julianne, Trendel, Marco, and Mahnoor who help us put together every episode. So if media criticism is your jam, please check out Citations Needed. You can find that on Twitter @CitationsPod and Facebook @Citations Needed.

If you are so inclined to want to support the show, we are 100% listener-funded. We don’t run ads for snack packs and mattresses like a lot of podcasts do, and that is on purpose. It’s so that we can say what we want to say and not be beholden. And the way that we are able to keep doing that is because we are totally listener-funded which we absolutely do not take for granted. We are so, so grateful. We’re now into our seventh season. We started back in July 2017, and the fact that we’re able to keep doing this is a joy and continues to be a real privilege.

So thanks to anyone who has previously listened to the show, supported the show, or shared the show with folks that they love and trust or maybe that they hate and want to bring over to our side here. Endless gratitude for all the listeners, and for anyone who checks out Citations Needed. As always, to you all at The Real News, we’ve had the honor of hosting brother Max on the show a couple of times. It’s always a fantastic time.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Hell yeah. Well, Rania Khalek and Nima Shirazi, thank you both so much for joining us today on The Real News Network. It was a pleasure. Everyone out there, go check out BreakThrough News, go check out Citations Needed, and follow Rania and Nima; They are always doing great and important work. And please, before you go, head on over to therealnews.com/support and throw us some love too so we can keep bringing y’all more important coverage and conversations like this every week. My name is Maximillian Alvarez.

Ju-Hyun Park:  I’m Ju-Hyun Park.

Maximillian Alvarez:  And for The Real News Network, we wanted to thank you all so much for listening, thank you for caring, and please let us know what you think about this conversation. Stay tuned for part two where we’re going to be diving deeper into the Iran-backed resistance axis. We’re going to be looking closer at the local level about the history and humanity of these people and groups so that you can be better armed to navigate the propaganda that we’re all being bombarded with every single day. So for The Real News Network, this is Maximillian Alvarez signing off. Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Solidarity forever.

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