Arash Azizi: Fake Leftist, Slippery Propagandist, Brazen Opportunist

Introduction

If you follow Iran and Iran-related affairs you may have had the misfortune to encounter the name Arash Azizi. Even if you haven't, in all likelihood you will one day soon - he's quite the attention seeker and prone to pontification. He has an ill-informed and poorly constructed opinion on nearly everything and he's more than happy to share and plaster them all over the internet.



Azizi is currently a second year PhD student at New York University and a 'journalist' working with the news site Iran Wire and the London-based television channel Iran International. The first is funded by the United States' Department of State, while the second, according to a recent report in The Guardian, is funded directly by the office of Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, who by almost all accounts ordered the brutal dismemberment of Washington Post journalist and Saudi defector, Jamal Khashoggi.

The Guardian's Saeed Kamali Dehghan has even speculated Khashoggi's discovery as his anonymous source regarding Iran International's funding may have played a part and contributed to the analyst's torture and assassination in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Well, you might say, there are plenty of opportunists and native informants in the Iranian diaspora, so why highlight the case of Azizi?

Well, the big difference is that Azizi has long sought to cultivate a brand for himself as a 'leftist' and 'communist'. In the age of neoliberal academia where branding and hollow gestures of radicalism have become commonplace, it should come as no surprise that Azizi has the audacity to work for a State Department-funded website and a television station linked directly to Mohammad bin Salman and his brutal henchman Saud al-Qahtani, while also speaking at Historical Materialism's London conference and proclaiming to all and sundry that he's a a communist.

This post will briskly run through Azizi's dubious history and associations with various Persian-language news outlets, most of which are exclusively dedicated to propagadizing against and demonizing Iran on a daily basis. It should be noted, however, that this is only the tip of the iceberg and hardly amounts to an exhaustive account of Azizi's well practiced double speak.

Iran International: MbS's Persian Propagandists

Not only does Azizi work with the newly-established Iran International, which operates out of Chiswick, West London, he's proud of his working relationship with the outlet and defends it publicly. Moreover, he continues to defend and attempt to exculpate the Saudi-funded channel in the aftermath of Khashoggi's death. He has taken on The Guardian's Kamali Dehghan on several occasions and tried his utmost to troll anyone who dares to point to the Saudi connection.



 Iran International's news coverage has generated several controversies of late. The first was when it provided live coverage to the People's Mojahedin Organization's annual conference in Paris. The same organization which is not only known as a vicious cult, which fought alongside Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War, but is today funded by Saudi Arabia, amongst others, and dedicated to the violent overthrow of the Islamic Republic. The same Mojahedin with extensive ties to neoconservative warmongers like John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, and Newt Gingrich, who it has paid on multiple occasions to speak at its events. 

The second incident was when Iran International invited on a spokesman for the al-Ahvaziyya separatist group following a terrorist attack on a military parade is south-western Iran. From the comfort of Denmark, al-Ahvaziyya's spokesman praised the attack on military personnel and innocent civilians including children, and there was even an extensive debate as to whether he openly admitted his organization's responsibility for the attack live on air (only to later retract it, realizing that open and unabashed support for terrorism is punishable under Danish law). 

The final and most recent case has been a soft-ball and fake 'town hall' with Reza Pahlavi, son of the deposed Shah, where the latter was surrounded by his dim-witted supporters and provided with sycophantic applause and high praise throughout, as the tubby 'prince' discussed his fantasies for regime change and the destruction of the Islamic Republic. 



It should be said that while Azizi isn't very bright, he isn't so stupid as to come out and defend Pahlavi or the Mojahedin openly, though it should be noted that his discourse in English and Persian are quite different and subject to a lot of double-speak. He knows that outright and open support for such reactionaries and imperial lackies will lead to instant delegitimation. But despite all of this, Azizi continues to defend the news channel Iran International and work with them on multiple projects, and he does it all under the 'liberal' defense of journalism, either denying that these media outlets have dodgy financial connections or that it even matters that they are funded by hostile foreign powers. Apparently, the millions and millions being poured into Iran International by the Saudis has negligible consequences for the content they produce and there is no agenda at work. It is all above board and abides by the highest 'journalistic standards'.



At other times Azizi will justify his working for foreign-funded media outlets by citing the example of Ayatollah Khomeini, when the revolutionary clergy based in Iraq received modest support from the Ba'thist regime for a radio station.



Whether one thinks Khomeini's example is worthy of emulation or that the 1970s when Iran was ruled by an American-backed dictatorship is interchangeable with our present moment (the short answer is, it isn't) is another question for another time, but this game is all quite cynical and for the sole end of justifying his working relationships with deeply problematic media outlets. It also gives one an indication of the strange mixture of delusions of grandeur and cynicism which permeate so much of Azizi's interventions.

What makes matters worse is that Iran International isn't the only dubious media outlet Azizi has worked for over the years and continues to maintain extensive relationships with. 

These are not charges made lightly, but should draw our attention to a longer and sustained pattern of opportunism and willingness to work for the imperial propaganda machine. He's also clearly well-paid. Anyone who follows his Twitter or Facebook accounts, is quickly aware that he is constantly travelling and flying all around the world; clocking up air miles far beyond the means and budget of a lowly graduate student.

Manoto TV: The Early Years and Training of a Young Shill

Before Iran Wire and Iran International, Azizi worked for Manoto TV, perhaps the most reactionary and pro-monarchist Persian-language TV station on air. Moreover, he wasn't any old employee. He was one of their more prominent journalists and covered international affairs on a regular basis and laid claim to great popularity on the Iranian mediascape. The young man's ego and delusions of grandeur would only grow and balloon out of all recognition in subsequent years.

As shown in this short Al-Jazeera report about Manoto TV one can find a small glimpse of its mission to propagandize on behalf of the deposed monarchy and disseminate a false historical narrative about Iran's past and whitewash the Pahlavi dictatorship. This is while it repeatedly delivers a platform to the former crown prince, Reza Pahlavi, to advocate for sanctions and regime change. Like his father before him, Pahlavi has received backing from the U.S. government and has expressed his willingness to collaborate with the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel to overthrow the current Iranian government.

While working for Manoto TV, Azizi interviewed Alan Eyre, the former Persian speaking spokesman for the State Department. Not a single critical question was asked and the giddy Azizi is almost gushing with praise due to Eyre's ability to speak in Persian (badly).



Azizi is even quoted in The Washington Post for a puff piece about Eyre proclaiming 'Iranians love Alan'. It seems he can't praise U.S. imperialism's one-time propagandist-in-chief highly enough.

Another example is his interview for Manoto TV with Camelia Entekhabifard, who has written regularly for Saudi news outlets such as al-Arabiya and Arab News and more recently shamelessly defended Mohammad bin Salman's authoritarian putsch, just as she has incessantly attacked Iran, aping Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo's talking points, even denying Iran the status of a 'normal' country. Azizi routinely retweets her appearances on Iran International, where she is a regular, and clearly considers her an ally of some description. Entekhabifard is known to have extensive ties to leaders in the United Arab Emirates, where she resides, as well as Saudi Arabia. More recently, and to the dismay of many, she has reportedly been appointed as editor for The Independent's Persian-language edition that will be managed by a Saudi company, Saudi Research and Marketing Group. The latter is also said to have intimate ties with the Saudi government, sparking concerns about its editorial independence. With a fraud like Entekhabifard at the helm, we ought to have no doubts that it will become a platform for anti-Iran propaganda.











Below, Azizi is in actuality retweeting two friends and colleagues, Entekhabifard, and his former Manoto TV co-worker Pantea Modiri, who was recently taken to court and found guilty of providing illegal immigration advice. Funnily, enough Modiri has also since moved to Iran International and was the lead presenter for the risible Reza Pahlavi 'town hall' cum propaganda bonanza. It must be the mega-salaries which the Saudis are providing in order to lure in 'talent' from across the Iranian diaspora.





You get the idea. 

Azizi worked for Manoto TV for a number of years and continues to defend his one-time employer, whose funding is far from clear. Despite sustaining millions of pounds worth of losses year on year, its investors (which it refuses to disclose), continue to unqualifiedly back the project. In short, it is very likely that it is tied to a foreign government, we just don't know which one. It's very doubtful its wealthy boss, Kayvan Abbasi, is spending millions annually out of his own pocket, to keep Manoto's tawdry show on the road. The bizarre tale of Azizi doesn't end here. While he was propagandizing on monarchist Manoto TV as one of its well-known presenters, he was also a member of the Trotskyite, International Marxist Tendency, as he details (obviously no mention of his connection to Manoto TV is made here) in a blog of another notorious figure, Louis Proyect.

Iran Wire: Imperial Propagandizing in the Defense of 'Journalism'

Azizi, it seems, is able to justify working for any and all media outlets, irrespective of the provenance of their funding and he is constantly defending them in the name of 'journalism'. Despite claiming to be on the left he basically denies such a thing as propaganda even exists and it's a rather strange coincidence given that Iran Wire's campaign 'Journalism is Not a Crime' is funded by the U.S. State Department. This is while the U.S. imprisons and prosecutes whistleblowers and persecutes journalists who dare to defy Washington's very own red lines. Indeed, Iran Wire is a perfect example of how the State Department weaponizes 'free speech' and 'journalism' for the sake of imperial ends, just as it has done with human rights, to justify sanctions and the ever-present threat of a full-blown military assault.

Of course, this is all in bad faith and he knows full well what he is doing, alongside his ultra-reactionary co-workers at Iran Wire, such as Reza Haghighatnejad, who has openly defended the British colonization of India (apparently the British empire was responsible for the education of the Indian masses!) and repeatedly defended Trump's Iran policy, and his boss, Maziar Bahari, whose own dubious links would require a post of its own; most recently he has accepted an award from the ADL and regularly cozies up to pro-Israel organizations in the U.S.



Iran has been subject to Western propaganda since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, and continues to be, and yet Azizi time and again aligned himself with or profited from his services to news services and TV channels funded by either foreign powers or highly dubious reactionaries. These include the BBC Persian Service (for which he briefly worked and which was until recently funded by the Foreign Commonwealth Office, but is perhaps the most 'credible' of all the foreign-based Persian media channels), Radio Farda (funded by the State Department as the Persian language offshoot of the infamous anti-communist Radio Free Liberty), Voice of America (again funded by the State Department and upon which he has been more than happy to appear), Manoto TV (whose funder continues to elude observers), and finally, Iran Wire, funded by IREX, which is also funded by the State Department.





Below is a partial list of those governments and organizations which fund IREX, which funds Iran Wire in turn.


Azizi's Iran Wire articles can be said to be something of a medley, including everything from pro-monarchy, revisionist takes on the 1953 coup to anything which chimes with U.S. propaganda about Iran and portrays the Iranian state in a negative light, to acting as stenographer for various U.S. officials. This is as he tries to create some distance and semblance of objectivity and a 'critical' stance. Of course this charade is all part of his efforts to retain 'credibility' and brand himself accordingly, while cashing the cheques from Iran Wire and Iran International.

Azizi has also made two 'documentaries' for Iran Wire; one in which he sets out to depict Iran as an 'apartheid' state akin to apartheid-era South Africa and another obsessively focusing on Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei's comments about the Holocaust. There is no denying that discrimination and bigotry exists in Iran, but it is clear that these efforts by Azizi contribute and conform to the U.S. and Israeli strategy of depicting Iran's leadership as ontologically disposed toward anti-Semitism and hellbent on the destruction of Israel. The logic that Iran should be maximally pressured, militarily confronted and/or isolated inescapably follows. It also clearly comprises part of tried and tested Israeli-apologetics and Zionist whataboutery which constantly points to Iran in order to distract from its ongoing colonization and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. Needless to say, Azizi has never published an article in Iran Wire even remotely critical of contemporary American imperialism or Zionist settler colonialism. Not one.

Hit-job on Derakhshan

Finally, if one wanted further proof of Azizi's general malevolence as a hack and hired pen, one only need look at the piece he wrote against controversial blogger, Hossein Derakhshan. Derakhshan is himself a highly divisive figure. But Azizi's hit-piece (most likely gladly written at the behest of his boss, Maziar Bahari) even disgusted many of Derakhshan's detractors. By way of backstory, Derakhshan, had been awarded a fellowship with MIT Media Lab and the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy based at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and Azizi's article was nothing less than an attempt to force Harvard's hand to retract it. It is based on the most flimsy evidence whereby it tries its best to depict Derakhshan as a collaborator and spy of the authorities within Iran's prison system. This of course doesn't absolve Derakhshan of his own indiscretions in the past, and similarly unethical snipes and attacks on journalists and activists, but it should nevertheless alert us to the caliber of Azizi's 'journalism', which is more than happy to attack and defame vulnerable individuals, if and when the orders come down from his paymasters currently undertaking a concerted propaganda campaign against an embattled Iran.

Not in the Name of Communism

To be sure, it appears Azizi is more than happy to ally himself with anyone who'll pay and provide him with a plaform. Azizi is free to feed Western and Saudi propaganda all he wants in New York or anywhere else in his State Department-funded jet-set lifestyle, but he isn't free to do it in the name of communism or the left, and must be challenged and repudiated at every turn.

Comments

  1. Just a correction. Arash didn't work for BBC Persian. At the BBC, he was with a department called BBC Monitoring.

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