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- New York Post: Columnist, 2002-present
- Gatestone Institute: Columnist
- Wall Street Journal: Op-ed contributor
- CNN: Commentator
- Jeune Afrique: Former editor in chief
- London Sunday Times: Former Middle East editor
- International Press Institute: Former executive board member
- Kayhan: Former editor in chief
Amir Taheri is an Iranian-born writer and pundit based in Europe who is known for his hardline anti-clerical views on Iran. A longstanding contributor to the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post as well as other outlets in Europe, the United States, and the Middle East, Taheri has also written several books, some of which have occasionally been the subject of accusations of fabrication. His most recent book is the 2009 volume The Persian Night: Iran under the Khomeinist Revolution.
Taheri’s hawkish approach on Iran has made him a favorite of neoconservatives in the United States. He is a past client of the now-defunct Benador Associates, a neoconservative public relations firm that publicized the work of several leading neoconservatives during the George W. Bush presidency, and has been a columnist for the “Islamophobic” Gatestone Institute, a spin-off of the Hudson Institute led by anti-Islam activist and philanthropist Nina Rosenwald.
Taheri’s columns typically cover issues in the Middle East from a rightist and interventionist viewpoint. Taheri has been adamant, for example, that the United States and Europe should intervene in Syria’s civil war. After President Barack Obama suggested in August 2012 that Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” for the United States, triggering an unspecified response, Taheri responded that “Assad has already crossed quite a few of the red lines he could cross.” Taheri accused Assad, among other things, of fomenting Kurdish attacks in Turkey and sectarian violence in Lebanon, as well as “reactivating” sectarian militias in Iraq—a country that has generally backed the Assad regime. “The case for taking meaningful action to topple Assad is more than made already,” he concluded. “No need to wait for mass murder by chemical weapons to make the case for us.”
Taheri has adopted a hawkish “pro-Israel” perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, arguing in a July 2012 column that the “two-state solution” to the conflict rested in part on the “questionable assumption” that “Palestinians regarded themselves as a nation in a world of nation-states and wished to create a state of their own.” Taheri suggested that what Palestinians actually wanted was not a sovereign state but, depending on the particular faction, either to “revive the global caliphate” or merely to ensure “the destruction of the Jewish state.” In a June 2012 commentary posted on the Gatestone Institute’s website, Taheri surmised that Israel’s critics amounted to a coalition of “traditional anti-Semites, Stalinist Cold Warriors, useful idiots, pan-Arab hegemonists, anti-Americans of all stripes, and Islamist revanchists.”
Much of Taheri’s work concerns Iran, the country of his birth, where he once edited Kayhan, a publication described by the Huffington Post’s Shawn Amoei as “one of the Shah’s primary propaganda arms” before the fall of the U.S.-backed monarchy in 1979. Since then, Taheri has been a vocal opponent of the Islamic Republic, echoing many other regime-change enthusiasts with his insistence—contrary to the assessment of both the U.S. and Israeli intelligence services—that Iran is building a nuclear weapon and is abusing the diplomatic process to buy time to complete its work.
Criticism and Controversy
Taheri’s work on Iran is perhaps best known for its history of misrepresentations and outright fabrications. “Amir Taheri is one of the strangest ingredients in America's media soup,” wrote Jonathan Schwarz for Mother Jones. “There may not be anyone else who simply makes things up as regularly as he does, with so few consequences.”
Most famously, in 2006, Benador Associates placed a piece by Taheri in the right-wing Canadian National Post, which alleged that Iran had passed a new law requiring the country’s Jews—the largest such community in the Middle East outside of Israel—to wear yellow insignia in the manner of European Jews living under Nazi control during the Holocaust. According to the Nation, although other journalists had quickly exposed the piece as “wholly concocted” by Taheri, the story spread virally throughout wires services and the right-wing media universe. Taheri eventually issued a statement through Benador claiming that he had intended that claim to be “opinion.” “Interestingly, the Islamic Republic authorities refuse to issue an official statement categorically rejecting the concept of dhimmitude and the need for marking out religious minorities,” he wrote. “I raised the issue not as a news story, because news of the new law was already several days old, but as an opinion column to alert the outside world to this most disturbing development.”
In a review of Taheri’s 1989 book Nest of Spies: America's Journey to Disaster in Iran for The New Republic, Persian expert Shaul Bakhash exposed a number of lapses in Taheri’s journalistic practices. Bakhash “detailed case after case in which Taheri cited nonexistent sources, concocted nonexistent substance in cases where the sources existed and distorted the substance beyond recognition when it was present. Taheri ‘repeatedly refers us to books where the information he cites simply does not exist,’ Bakhash wrote. ‘Often the documents cannot be found in the volumes to which he attributes them…. [He] repeatedly reads things into the documents that are simply not there.’"
In 2007, prominent neoconservative writer (and then Rudy Giuliani campaign adviser) Norman Podhoretz penned an op-ed for Commentary magazine called “The Case for Bombing Iran,” which argued that revolutionary Iran was immune to nuclear deterrence. As evidence Podhoretz cited a quote, allegedly from the late Ayatollah Khomeini: “We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. … I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.” Finding the quote strange, Bakhash traced it to another book by Taheri. But Bakhash could find no record in the Library of Congress for the book Taheri cited as his source, nor any record of the quote in any collection of Khomeini’s speeches.
In June 2012, the Huffington Post’s Shawn Amoei called Taheri’s review of a new biography of Mohammad Mossadegh—the democratically elected leader of Iran who was ousted by the Shah in a U.S.- and UK-backed coup—“fraught with inaccuracies too numerous to address here.” Amoei writes, “In one case Taheri claims, ‘Even Mossadegh himself never challenged the shah's right to dismiss him as prime minister.’ Aside from the obvious absurdity of the statement to anyone familiar with the history, [biography author Christopher] de Bellaigue quotes Mossadegh as saying, ‘I do not accept that in a constitutional country the Shah can sack the prime minister.’" According to Taheri, de Ballaigue claims that “Mossadegh liked to say that 'anyone forgetting Islam is base and dishonourable, and should be killed.' The problem with this quote,” Amoie adds, “is that it simply doesn't exist. It's a falsified version of something different.”