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'F for Fake': The Not-So-Curious Case of the Fars News Agency

ICE Graveyard 19/04/2016 Hilmi M. Zawati
UNITED NATIONS © Guenter Fischer via Getty Images UNITED NATIONS

It is quite appropriate for me to indicate from the very outset of this piece that it is not an analysis of Orson Welles' 1975's film F for Fake--a documentary on Elmyr de Hory's professional career as an art forger and on the inherent nature of "authorship and authenticity". Sorry cinephiles! My piece is actually a repudiation of the recent plagiarism of my Huffington Post's Op-Ed, entitled Geneva III: The Stillborn Conference and the Endemic Failure of the International Community by Iran's state-run Fars News Agency.
Indeed, the last thing I might have expected when I wrote this piece on the UN Geneva III's conference, aimed at finding a political solution to the ongoing sectarian warfare in Syria, that an Iranian "journalist" would not only translate it into Persian without my permission, but plagiarise it, malevolently change its content in favour of the Syrian regime and its regional and international allies, and post it on the Fars News Agency's official homepage. The "journalist" in question, Hossein Molaei, removed all condemnations of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by the Syrian regime and its allies, particularly Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah. Adding the website of my Op-Ed in the margin, as a source, doesn't legitimise the plagiarization of any part of the work. It actually makes things worse as it presumes that my stolen article can be used to support the content of his paper. As an academic for more than 35 years, I've instructed my students not to summarize or paraphrase the ideas of others, nor duplicate their footnotes or references. This is Originality 101 or Plagiarism 101, depending on how you look at it.
The title of my plagiarised Op-Ed speaks for itself. It focuses mainly on the atrocious crimes perpetrated by the Syrian regime and its allies against Syrian civilians, as well as on the overriding failure of the international community to put an end to the ongoing bloodshed in Syria in the past five years. As I mentioned in my recent testimony before the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the House of Commons, it is disgraceful that the international community has successfully concluded an agreement with the regime in a very short period of time to remove its chemical weapons, while completely failing to save the lives of millions of innocent children, women, and elderly people since 15 March 2011. The overwhelming failure of the UN Security Council to pass a resolution under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter to stop war and to refer Syria's case to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is due to the failure of international political will and lack of interest. This reminds me of the marginal and negative role the international community had played in preventing and stopping the Rwandan and Bosnian genocides in the middle of the 1990s. Finally, the Op-Ed calls upon major players at the UN Security Council to rein in impunity, and bring perpetrators to justice.
By contrast, the Fars News Agency's forged article, turns my original text upside-down. It selectively plagiarises paragraphs criticising superpowers, particularly the United States for failing to prevent the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the mass killings in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It also allegedly claims that America is trying to "repeat Rwandan and Bosnian genocide in Syria". Moreover, the article discharges the Syrian regime from large-scale atrocities and ascribes them to the Syrian insurgents who are labelled by Molaei as terrorist groups.
This doesn't surprise me, hence why the "Not-so-curious" in the title of this piece. What can you expect from a government that--according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch--continues to suppress freedom of expression and association and where followers of ethnic and religious minorities are systematically subjected to permeative discrimination and oppression? What do you expect from a government that conducts secret unfair trials that lack minimal international standards of justice, deny the defendants' basic rights of due process, and lead to collective death sentences?
It is worthy of note that the plagiarization of my above Op-Ed was not an isolated incident but occurred in a broader context of abuse. A case in point is the distorted selective translation of my article Impunity or Immunity: Wartime Male Rape and Sexual Torture as a Crime against Humanity into Persian by another Iranian translator without my permission. However, what do you expect from a government that airs a live footage of a speech by a foreign dignitary (in this case Egyptian President Morsi), only to deliberately tamper with it when he began to criticize the Syrian regime by replacing "Syria" with "Bahrain"? This last incident obviously created a diplomatic kerfuffle between Iran and Bahrain.
As for me, I'm obviously no government. There are no ambassadors that I can summon nor do I have any ambassadors that I can recall. I have my pen and I choose to use it to repudiate Fars News Agency's lack of integrity. Maybe they should pick up the pen, retract the forged article and officially apologize. It is the least they can do...but, again, I might be expecting too much!

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