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Writer in NYT arrested on charges of being an agent of Iran : How many Indian liberals are foreign agents?

Why are these people telling you that New Delhi has turned into Pyongyang? Why are they telling you this far fetched ridiculous story?

Tell me this. While reading an article by an Indian liberal, have you ever had the feeling that something just isn’t right? I mean, it’s okay if they don’t like Modi. That’s their democratic right. Even if they are driven by obsessive, all consuming hatred against the Prime Minister, that’s okay too. Even somewhat funny. After all, these people have lost a lot of privileges since Lutyens changed hands. Believe me, if you had that much unearned privilege and it was suddenly taken away, you would be just as angry.

I’m talking about something else. While reading some of their articles, have you wondered if the person writing even cares about India? Does it feel like some of their stuff isn’t dissent, but paid propaganda by foreign agents?

That’s because it might actually be. Consider this:

Afrasiabi allegedly sought to influence the American public and American policymakers for the benefit of his employer, the Iranian government, by disguising propaganda as objective policy analysis and expertise,” Acting U.S. Attorney DuCharme said.

What is going on? In January, the US government arrested one Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi on charges of secretly being a paid agent of the Iranian government. Apparently, Afrasiabi used to call himself a “political scientist” and go around disguising propaganda as “objective policy analysis and expertise.”

Sound familiar? I will let the Assistant Attorney General speak for himself

For over a decade, Kaveh Afrasiabi pitched himself to Congress, journalists, and the American public as a neutral and objective expert on Iran,” Assistant Attorney General Demers said. “However, all the while, Afrasiabi was actually a secret employee of the Government of Iran and the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations (IMUN) who was being paid to spread their propaganda.

Neutral and objective expert! Do we know any people like that in India?

So who gave this person the platform for presenting his “neutral and objective” views?

In 2018, The New York Times published an opinion piece co-written by Afrasiabi that called for a meeting between then-President Trump and President Hassan Rouhani of Iran. The Times described Afrasiabi as “a former adviser to Iran’s nuclear negotiation team.” The Times also linked to a book written by Afrasiabi, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office now accuses him of simply pushing propaganda. ….

Afrasiabi also wrote a 2012 opinion piece published by the Times which claimed world leaders gathering in Tehran for a summit would “elevate Iran as the movement’s new president for three years and enhance Tehran’s regional and international clout” but “the United States … adopted a purely negative approach toward the Tehran summit.

Ah, the New York Times! The venerable newspaper of record. The keeper of the democratic conscience of the United States and all formerly colonized countries around the world. If it isn’t in the New York Times, it might as well not be true at all.

So, how would the New York Times feel about a situation like this? They must be so crushed, so ashamed. Wondering if they are really the best people in the world. Even Mother Teresa doubted herself, at times. As Foxnews noted on Jan 28,

The New York Times did not immediately respond to a request for comment. … As of Thursday morning, the Times did not add any type of disclaimer to Afrasiabi’s columns informing readers he is accused of illegally working on behalf of Iran.

Never mind. This is America’s internal affair and I don’t want to play nosy. I just hope we can take some lessons from the story and apply it to what is happening in our country.

Indeed, not every article that disagrees with the government has to be foreign propaganda. Being paranoid is not helpful.

At the same time, we cannot be clueless about things that happen around us. Our open democratic society allows us to express dissent against the policies of our government. At the same time, we must realize that enemy regimes and powerful special interest groups see this as an opportunity. They will use every means to undermine our country. And in a democracy, that begins with subverting public opinion.

Indeed, they will use same information highways that we use; books, newspapers, TV channels, news portals, to plant their propaganda. And they will disguise it as everything from expert opinions to dissent.

Of course they won’t make it easy to tell the difference. Do online scamsters tell you in advance that they are scamsters? So what do we do? Stop using the internet? No! But we can use the online scamster analogy to draw two simple lessons about foreign propaganda.

First, you have to admit to yourself that the scam exists. The information channels are out there. Our enemies are out there. Like the internet, the enemies would be crazy not to use them against us. So you should be suspicious of anyone who tells you there is no need to look out for anti-nationals. Would you trust someone who tells you there are no internet scams out there so please give your passwords to anyone over phone or email? Would you trust someone who says that literally everyone arrested on accusations of highway robbery or online scams is actually innocent?

Then, why would you trust a class of people who insist that anyone ever arrested on accusations of subversion in India is innocent?

Second, use common sense. If it sounds too far fetched to be true, it probably isn’t true. Could it really be that some dying general in a distant country wants to leave you $100 million in gold for safekeeping? Similarly, Nazi, fascist, Taliban, ISIS … what haven’t they said about the current government of India? Not once or twice, but on a coordinated international scale. Just like I bet your spam folder collects 10-20 emails per day informing that you have won hundreds of millions of dollars.

Take a look around. If you were to walk to your neighbor’s house right now and criticize Modi, what do you think would happen to you? If you were to tweet against him, what would happen? Or if you walked into a police station right now and said you want Modi to resign, what could they do to you? You know perfectly well that nothing would happen. Do you really think that is how it used to work under Stalin or Hitler or the Taliban?

There are people who have made million dollar careers sitting in Delhi or Mumbai criticizing Modi as the worst ever. Do you think this is how it works in Pyongyang?

So why are these people telling you that New Delhi has turned into Pyongyang? Why are they telling you this far fetched ridiculous story? Like the dying general who wants to send you $100 million in gold right away. What are their motivations? They must want something. They won’t say upfront what it is. But you can sense that they are trying to cheat you somehow.

So, watch out! A spam folder might help.

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Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee is a columnist and author.  

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