The BBC News website published numerous reports concerning the death of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on January 8th and a common feature in all that content was the promotion of the notion that Rafsanjani was a ‘moderate’ and a ‘reformer’.
“In recent years, our correspondent says, he has been a central figure in the reform movement that has been trying to have a moderating influence on Iran and Ayatollah Khamenei.”
“Seen as “pragmatic conservative”, Rafsanjani was a leading member of the Iran’s religious establishment who gained popularity in later life among the country’s moderates. […]
He went on to be openly critical of Mr Ahmadinejad and became a key supporter of his reform-minded successor, Hassan Rouhani.”
“…in recent years he has been instrumental in pushing a line of moderation in Iran, influencing…a moderating influence in Iran. And in recent years again he became gradually a top figure in the Iranian reform movement. So his death is going to leave a big hole in the reform movement and that moderating influence that they were trying to push.”
“…but his political allegiances later shifted towards reformists…”
“At the same time his death has left a big hole in the confidence of the moderates and the reformist movement in Iran. […]
Although he began politically as an Islamic hardliner, Rafsanjani had increasingly moved to the centre of Iranian politics in the last two decades, and in recent years, he became a champion of the reformists and a strong moderating influence, gaining huge popularity.”
“But over the decades, the wily politician who held almost every major position in government became known for his pragmatic approach to Iran’s theocracy.
He pushed for a greater rapprochement with the West and more social and economic freedoms.
His credentials gave him the courage and the clout to speak out. The reformists he backed, including the current President Hassan Rouhani, have now lost a key ally in their incessant struggle for power against the hardliners.”
“Some were chanting opposition slogans, and others carried placards emphasising Mr Rafsanjani’s links to the moderate and reformist camps. […]
“The circle became too closed for the centre,” said another, using a quotation from Persian poetry to underline the growing distance in recent years between Mr Rafsanjani and Iran’s hardline political establishment.”
BBC audiences are of course no strangers to similar framing of the current Iranian president as a ‘moderate’ and a ‘reformer’ even though Rouhani’s record does nothing to support the employment of such portrayals. As the Jerusalem Post’s Seth Frantzman noted:
“Then former Iranian president Akbar Hashem Rafsanjani died on Sunday at age 82. Western media once again sold us a story of how this was a “big blow to moderates and reformists,” as CNBC reported. Rafsanjani was the “most influential supporter” of reforms among the Islamic establishment. Now the non-existent “reformers” have another excuse why there are no reforms. […]
Reading news about Iran it almost seems every western news agency and major media outlet receives talking points from some unseen super-news media word database. “When writing about Iran there are two political parties, the reformers or moderates and the hard-liners, use these key words when describing everything. […]
The reality in Iran is that the choice is not between reformers and hard-liners, but the extreme religious right and the extreme nationalist religious right. There are no liberal leaders in Iran. There are only militarists, theocrats, nationalists, extremists, the extreme right, the populist right, the fundamentalists, the fundamentalist right, the Inquisition leaders, and floggers and executioners. […]
Every time journalists parrot this “moderates” story they feed a false regime-supported narrative.”
At the Wall Street Journal Sohrab Ahmari writes:
“Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was the original Mr. Moderation. Western observers saw the former Iranian president as a sort of Deng Xiaoping in clerical robes: a founder of the Islamic Republic who was destined to transform the country into a normal state. Rafsanjani, they thought, was too corrupt to be an ideologue.
Yet Rafsanjani, who died Sunday at 82, consistently defied such hopes. His life and legacy remind us that fanaticism and venality aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s a lesson in the persistence of Western fantasies about the Iranian regime. […]
Khomeini’s death in 1989 occasioned Rafsanjani’s worst political misstep. Thinking he could puppeteer events behind the scenes, Rafsanjani successfully promoted his archrival, Ali Khamenei, as the next supreme leader. But Mr. Khamenei, far more assertive than Rafsanjani had imagined, soon consolidated power.
The regime’s Western apologists framed that rivalry as a genuine ideological conflict between the “hard-line” Mr. Khamenei and the “pragmatic,” “moderate” Rafsanjani (along with others, such as current President Hassan Rouhani). President Obama’s nuclear deal was premised on the same fantasy: Rafsanjani had accumulated vast, ill-gotten wealth—here’s someone with whom we can do business.
Yet Rafsanjani never failed to follow the “Line of the Imam,” not least in foreign affairs. […]
Still the illusions die hard. Minutes after Rafsanjani’s death was announced, the New York Times’s Tehran correspondent tweeted that it “is a major blow to moderates and reformists in Iran.””
While the BBC is clearly not alone in having bought into the notion of ‘moderates’ and ‘reformists’ within the Iranian political establishment, one would of course expect that a media organisation obliged to provide its funding public with accurate and impartial information which will build their “understanding of international issues” could do considerably better.