THE BLOG

Who is Hossein Derakhshan?

01/01/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Nazila Fathi reported in the New York Times that Iran recently executed a man it claimed was a "spy" and has arrested another one also for "spying."

This second man, Hossein Derakhshan, is among the most famous Persian bloggers. Hossein is jailed and threatened with the same fate of execution by the Iranian government.

His crime? Trying to humanize Iranians and Israelis towards each other.

A couple years ago, he apparently defied a ban on travel by Iranians to Israel in order to explode stereotypes about Iranians to Israelis, and to report from his blog about ordinary Israelis to Iranians. As a Canadian-Iranian, presumably he figured he could get away with it -- and visited twice, then dared to return to Iran.

According to Abraham Rabinovich who wrote for IHT:

The object of his visit, Derakhshan said, was to show his countrymen Israel's human face and to detoxify relations between the two peoples after Ahmadinejad called for Israel's elimination.

"I want to humanize Israel for Iranians and tell them it's not what the Islamic propaganda machine is saying - that Israelis are thirsty for Muslim blood," he said. "And I want to show Israel that the average Iranian isn't even thinking about doing harm to Israel. I want them to see Iranians who don't look like Ahmadinejad."

The Iranian regime accused him of spying, as it conveniently does of any humanist who threatens the Iranian regime.

I felt a lot of anxiety when I first read about this story. After all, if Hossein indeed took such risks for the sake of humanity (and particularly for the sake of Iranians and Israelis who are turned against each other by divisive politicians), shouldn't we all (regardless of religion or political orientation) demand his release and stand behind him?

I read Hossein's blog and was struck at how much it pandered to Ahmadinejad. It has a weirdly pro-Ayatollah and pro-Ahmadinejad slant lately.

His last post, on October 6th, for example, states:

Ahmadinejad's brilliant strategy of dismissing Israel and smiling to the U.S. has divided the the U.S. in all levels and that's a big achievement comparing to Khatami's weak anf failed U.S. strategy that led to Iran being part of the 'axis of evil'. Now the same Bush administration has officially opened the diplomatic line. Please get over Ahmadinejad's scruffy look, prayers, and plain language and see these achievements.

So I am a bit perplexed, with four possible explanations for this:

a) He knew he was visiting Tehran and wanted to ingratiate himself with the Iranian rulers before his arrival.

b) These posts were written under duress by him, or totally fabricated.

c) He is a complex individual who really admires Ahmadinejad and is certainly recognized as an Iranian nationalist, even if he also is a humanist.

d) Nothing is as it seems and there is something else going on.

Initially I thought it my duty (and that of anyone who believes in freedom and justice) to try to bring attention to Hossein's plight. To contact every Muslim, Arab as well as Western and non-aligned politician, dignitary, academic, and business leader who has any possible sway over the Iranian government and urge them to release him. To reach out to Obama to ask him to ask the Iranian rulers for an act of good faith. To prod the Canadian government to seek the release of their citizen. To encourage human rights and peace groups to get behind a campaign which could not only achieve freedom for Hossein but also use his story to inspire others to disavow blind hatred of the other.

Does anyone have any thoughts or information?