if you spied with your little eye the front page of the National Post last Friday, you were probably shocked to see a headline announcing that Iran was soon to adopt a system of coloured badges to identify religious minorities. After some confusion for the rest of the day as your average joe struggled to determine the truth of the story, it gradually became apparent that the headlines were mostly hype based on partial information.
On Friday, Canada’s National Post put up a story claiming that the government in Iran had just passed a law requiring all religious minorities to wear coloured badges to identify themselves. The story was picked up and swirled around by just about everyone including Yahoo, MSNBC, and others. Now, based on information from, well, just about everyone in the world, it seems that it all came out of a draft law aimed at encouraging Islamic dress. And while many are worried about the law in its current form, there is no mention of religious minorities in it.
Among those who stepped up to clarify the situation were numerous Western journalists based in Iran, as well as Iran’s only Jewish member of parliament. The National Post’s follow-up story to the (now-defunct) original story cites Sam Kermanian of the U.S.-based Iranian-American Jewish Federation with regards to the alleged marking of religious minorities:
[Mr. Kermanian] said in an interview from Los Angeles that he had contacted members of the Jewish community in Iran — including the lone Jewish member of the Iranian parliament.
They denied any such measure was in place.
Mr. Kermanian said the subject of “what to do with religious minorities” came up during debates leading up to the passing of the dress code law.
“It is possible that some ideas might have been thrown around,” he said.
“But to the best of my knowledge the final version of the law does not demand any identifying marks by the religious minority groups.”
Strong reactions were quickly felt across the globe after news of the story spread; The Globe and Mail reported that the Canadian Ambassador to Iran was summoned to the Iranian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday. The Post’s current editor-in-chief, Douglas Kelly, ran a column in Wednesday’s paper explaining what happened and apologizing for the error. From the AP/Yahoo story (see also the Reuters story on the same topic):
“We acknowledge that on this story, we did not exercise sufficient caution and skepticism, and we did not check with enough sources,” Kelly wrote. “We apologize for the mistake and for the consternation it has caused not just National Post readers, but the broader public who read the story.”
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed relief at the clarification of the badge story, while maintaining a sense of concern regarding Iran’s stance on Israel, among other things. The Globe and Mail caught up with him at a speech on Wednesday (same link as above):
“I’m glad to hear that the government of Iran is not considering this,” he said.
That fact alone doesn’t reassure him that his concerns over Iran are unfounded, Mr. Harper said.
“That doesn’t make me any less concerned about the comments that the government of Iran has made on issues like Israel’s right to exist, on denial of the Holocaust and these kinds of positions,” he said.
“We continue to take issue with the government of Iran on these matters.”