Is Iran's government sponsoring an Internet site that extols the German Nazis, their history and achievements, including the antisemitism that the current Iranian regime also supports? Or is it merely permitting one to operate in its highly censored communications' system?
Here are the facts. There is a discussion group site entitled IranNazi that has an Iranian internet URL. It is written in Persian and seems to have begun on August 24. All the material on the site is pro-Nazi and features pictures of Adolph Hitler, the swastika, and goose-stepping German soldiers. There is an English-language part as well.
This site pretends to be an association for the research of Nazism and to be "completely historical and scientific."
کاملا پژوهشی و علمی تاریخی است
It includes such topics as claims that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the well-known antisemitic forgery is true; insistence that the mass murder of Jews by the Nazis never happened and is in fact a lie; makes the prediction that Israel will collapse in five years; and highlights cartoons and satire ridiculing the Holocaust. All four of these positions are also taken by the Iranian government and official media.
The main page includes the following message:
این تارنما طبق قوانین جمهوری اسلامی ایران و تحت نظارت کارگروه رسانه های دیجیتال وزارت فرهنگ و ارشاد جمهوری اسلامی فعالیت می کند .
In English it means: "This website is under Islamic Republic of Iran laws and it is under the supervision of the working committee on Digital Media of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance."
The site is registered to this place under the IRNIC, Iran's domain manager and an arm of the government. It is owned by a company in Isfahan. There is also evidence, however, that the site goes through a server in Arizona. The Phoenix hosting company is called Atjeu.com. This doesn't prove, however, that the site is not sponsored by the Iranian government. It does go out on the state-controlled server and is allowed to claim government sponsorship.
Iran does not have freedom of speech and certainly not freedom of the Internet. Given the tight censorship in Iran and the fact that all sites are closely monitored, permission to publish--especially to claim government sponsorship--is evidence of state backing.
So is this, then, a state-backed site, showing just how far the regime has gone in boosting Nazism historically and antisemitism or a private initiative by some Iranian immigrants in the United States who are supporters of the Iranian regime? Is the statement on the site, which has not been suppressed by the government, accurate? It isn't completely clear.
A very well-informed and highly credible Iranian notes that the fact that it isn't blocked "is a significant indication that the government at least does not have problem with it." The deputy minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance is Muhammad Ali Ramin, who was President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's advisor on Holocaust issue and founder of Holocaust Institute in Tehran and the president of the conference of Holocaust; A Global Perspective, which denied that the mass murder of Jews never took place.
A reader asked me whether anyone would be surprised to see something like this happen.
Obviously, one more Internet site doesn't prove anything huge. Yet the fact that it is in line with the Iranian government's public positions is a reminder of just what these stances are and what they signify.
Well, except for the explicit boosting of the German Nazi regime itself--rather than just denying its crimes and basically endorsing its policies--this is not really different from the regime's positions. It is shocking, but more on a symbolic than a substantive level. If this is a private group lying about its sponsorship that point should be made clear, but it still reminds us of what the current Iranian regime is saying...and doing.
My broader answer is that while many observers won't be surprised, given the regime's hatred of Jews as well as of Israel, the national home of the Jewish people, there are others who will be genuinely shocked.
The conventional wisdom in many quarters that Iran's regime is a rational government that looks only to its national self-interest. There is something to be said for this view. We have seen times when Iran's rulers--some if not all--exercised caution and showed that the regime's survival was their highest priority. The decision to end the war with Iraq in 1988 and avoiding direct aggression or armed conflict with other neighbors provide examples.
On the other hand, Iran has been able to be more provocative without incurring armed conflict because the other side, including the United States, is so reluctant to counter its actions, including state sponsorship of terrorism and covert, indirect attacks on American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Certainly, the answer is not to launch an armed attack on Iran. But the proper answer has been to exert sufficient threats, pressure, and support for Iran's foes to deter, contain, and frighten Iran into being more cautious.
The Iranian regime is a radical Islamist government, not a Nazi or fascist one, though there are points in common. But also as I've written elsewhere, Iran's government is the closest thing we've seen to an irrational, ideologically motivated ruler since the fall of Germany in 1945. There have been other such rulers--Idi Amin in Uganda, the Cambodian Communists, the Afghan Taliban come to mind. But we have seen how these regimes have behaved and how many people they've murdered.
And none of those others, including Nazi Germany itself, had nuclear weapons.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com/.