Disinformation ploy targets Iran

A story authored by a US neo-conservative regarding new legislation in Iran allegedly requiring Jews and other religious minorities to wear distinctive colo-ur badges circulated around the world this weekend before it was exposed as false.

The article by a frequent contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Iranian-American Amir Taheri, was initially published in Friday’s edition of Canada’s National Post, which ran alongside the story a 1935 photograph of a Jewish businessman in Berlin with a yellow, six-pointed star sewn on his overcoat, as required by Nazi legislation at the time. The Post subsequently issued a retraction.

Taheri’s story, however, was reprinted by the New York Post, owned by media baron Rupert Murdoch, and picked up by the Jerusalem Post, which also featured a photo of a yellow star from the Nazi era over a photo of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The story comes at a moment of rising tensions between Iran and both Israel and the US over Tehran’s nuclear programme which, according to the latter two, is designed to produce nuclear weapons. Both the US and Israel have suggested that they may take military action against nuclear-related targets in Iran unless ongoing diplomatic efforts to freeze Tehran’s programme bears fruit.

A former US intelligence official described the article’s relatively obscure provenance as a “real sign of a disinformation operation”.

Taheri’s original article, entitled “A Colour Code for Iran’s ‘Infidels’”, dealt primarily with new legislation that it said was designed to ensure that Iranians wear “standard Islamic garments” that removed ethnic and class distinctions and that eliminated “the influence of the infidel” — presumably meaning the West — “on the way Iranians, especially, the young dress”.

But it also noted in passing that it would “envisage” separate dress codes for religious minorities — Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians — who will be required to adopt distinct colour schemes to make them identifiable in public “so that Muslims can avoid shaking hands with them by mistake, and thus become najis (unclean)”.

In particular, he explained, religious minorities will “have to wear special insignia, known as zonnar, to indicate their non-Islamic faiths. Jews will be marked out with a yellow strip of cloth sewn in front of their clothes, while Christians will be assigned the colour red. Zoroastrians end up with Persian blue as the colour of their zonnar,” he wrote. While Taheri did not evoke the Nazi precedent in his column, the National Post asked its readers at the end of the piece, “Is Iran turning into the new Nazi Germany?” The US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, who, however, denied any specific knowledge about the alleged measure, called it “despicable” and reminiscent of “Germany under Hitler”.

In fact, however, the legislation contained “absolutely no mention of religious minorities”, according to Hadi Ghaemi, the chief Iran researcher for Human Rights Watch, who said it included “only generalities with regard to promoting a national dress code and fashion industry that should be subsidised and supported by the government”. The article was unfortunate, he said, because “it plays into the hands of the Iranian government that wants to discredit human rights issues that are raised at the international level”. — IPS