The British sailors who were seized by Iranian authorities for 12 days nearly became a new disastrous war on its own; however, it ended abruptly with a highly politicized media performance that was broadcast globally.
From the start of the crisis, Iran was careful to document the sailors’ arrest, confessions and footage of them eating, while the only female captive amongst the sailors, appeared wearing a headscarf.
The pinnacle of Iran’s television performance came during President Ahmadinejad’s final speech where he spared no theatrics for over two hours.
Appearing in front of the world’s television screens wearing a pale suit and an uncomfortable smile, the Iranian president in a surprise move pardoned the captive sailors. The president’s announcement coincided with a lot of smiles, kisses and comments – supposedly nice ones – before the world’s cameras.
In his lengthy speech, Ahmadinejad criticized Britain for sending a female sailor, who is a mother, on a patrol mission, all the while forgetting last months incident when Iran jailed more than thirty women’s rights activists who staged a peaceful protest demanding Iranian women’s rights.
Of course, we were never shown images of that particular demonstration and therefore do not know what happened to those activists. Cameras did not capture whether or not they had hot meals in their cells like the British sailors. We were not shown images of them of under arrest to see if the were spared from beatings and torture, a fate which did not escape reporter Zahra Kazemi, who died as a result of a severe blow after her arrest in Tehran four years ago.
Obviously, Ahmadinejad sought to show his wit before the cameras, joking with one sailor: “How are you? So, you came here on forced leave!”
Such wit turns into an unbearable burden when we remember that Iran has turned into the Middle East’s largest prison for journalists.
Since Ahmadinejad took over, antagonism has escalated for members of the media and intellectuals. Restrictions on academics’ travel to Western countries have been tightened and censorship of books and the remaining newspapers intensified, where since 2000, Iran has barred more than 200 publications and more journalists and intellectuals have been sent to prison.
During the sailors’ crisis, Ahmadinejad enjoyed the global media’s favor that he sought. There is undoubtedly Arab enthusiasts for Iran’s power to set off their lack of such power; however, this power, which took a poor dramatic turn, last week, is in fact a power of suppression, ignorance and darkness.