Iran's lady ninjas strike back (in a respectful, nonviolent fashion)

Iran suspended accreditation for Reuters today, but not, as one might expect, over reporters prying into the country's nuclear activities or besmirching the good name of the Supreme Leader. Instead, Reuters is reportedly being sued by a group of female Iranian ninjas, like the one pictured above.

A video produced by Reuters about the thousands of women learning ninjutsu was unfortunately titled, "Thousands of female Ninjas train as Iran's assassins." The inference that the women -- whose interest in the ancient martial art is primarily motivated by "staying fit," according to one participant -- are violent marauders offended the athletes, who are overseen by the Ministry of Sports' Martial Arts Federation.  In case it wasn't obvious, you don't want to offend a highly-trained cadre of Iranian ninjas. Anger these black-belted beauties and they'll ... take their legitimate complaint to the appropriate authorities who will suspend your press credentials. Hiiiii-yah!

Reuters released a statement about the gaffe, saying, "We acknowledge this error occurred and regard it as a very serious matter. It was promptly corrected the same day it came to our attention." The agency is currently in negotiations with Iran to regain accreditation (There are 11 accredited Reuters employees in Iran). However, the ninjas argue that the damage has already been done.    

"It can harm our chances to travel to other countries to take part in global tournaments and international championships because Reuters is considered by many to be a reliable source," Raheleh Davoudzadeh told PressTV, Iran's semi-official news agency.

While the assassins line might not seem like the highest order of business for a country facing sanctions and potentially an armed attack, glibly labeling a group in a way that plays into stereotypes about violence is no laughing matter. As poll after poll shows, language matters tremendously when people are asked to consider military action. 

Don't believe us? Why don't you tell her that.




North Korea's Cage

Shin Dong Hyuk is the only known escapee of a North Korean concentration camp. Born there in 1982, he spent his early years mining coal, scrounging for food, and, like his peers, snitching on prisoners who disobeyed camp rules. When he was in his twenties, Shin first heard about the existence of China, South Korea, and television from a prisoner transferred into the camp. Shin, who had starved all his life, wasn't much interested in these things; he just wanted to hear stories about grilled meat.

Blaine Harden, the author of Escape from Camp 14, and a former Washington Post East Asian bureau chief, spent three years working with Shin and coaxing him to tell his story, which he did in short, intense intervals. "He distrusted everyone," Harden said in an interview:

"He let me march around in the darkest corners of his life for quite a long time, and it made him uncomfortable. (In the book) I used the image of a dentist drilling without anesthetics, and I think that's a pretty accurate image.

I didn't know how to interview him, how to get him to trust me. And sometimes he'd just leave. He'd say he was sick and leave. We had rounds in Seoul, Southern California, and in Seattle, from 2008 to 2011. He just doesn't like to talk about the terrible things that happened, particularly the terrible events surrounding his mother, so it took time.

There's no one like him. There's no one else who was born in an open air cage and then moved to the West and tried to regain his humanity. I was able to understand him better after he told me the story of his first couple days outside of the North Korean prison camp where he had spent his entire life. It was the dead of winter in a small town. He saw that people could laugh, and wear bright color clothing, and could live without the fear of guards hitting them. That was his context."

Escape From Camp 14 is a fascinating look inside one of North Korea's prison camps, part of a chain of gulags that no outsider has ever seen; an excerpt of the book, including the story of Shin watching his mother die, is available here.