Is the Iranian 'Hulk' going to fight IS group? Not even close!
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Several media outlets have presented a story about an extravagantly muscle-bound Iranian man, Sajad Gharibi, going to Syria to fight against the jihadists of the Islamic State (IS) group. The story is appealing, but the truth is significantly different. Gharibi has in fact never claimed that he is planning to go fight in Syria.
The bodybuilder, 24, is proportioned like a giant and boasts 156,000 followers on Instagram, where he posts photo after shirtless photo of himself. This week he drew attention from media around the world, which have given him the nicknames "Iranian Hulk" and "Persian Hercules." He posted with pride about these titles on his social media accounts.
Some articles have used a photo of Gharibi in which he appears in military garb, and have suggested he has plans to go fight his country's enemy as soon as possible.
What Gharibi really said
So where did all these reports come from? In an interview published Wednesday on Tarafdari, an Iranian sports news site, Gharibi made a point of setting the record straight – he's not training to go fight in Syria – and explained how the rumour started.
The weightlifter explained it all began with an interview with an Iranian tabloid that was doing a profile of him. The reporter asked him about a rumour going around in which he was presented, via a doctored photo, as a torturer working for the Islmaic State group. He explained:
At the time, I told the tabloid: 'Not only am I not a member of Daesh (a transliteration of IS group's Arabic acronym) but I'm also a defender of my country. If it was really necessary, I'd go to Syria and I'd fight against Daesh, because I hate them. If one day I were to go to Syria, I'd do it without fanfare, without contacting the media. And I'd do it only after making sure my family was taken care of financially.'
It's because of these few sentences, pronounced during an interview that wasn't focused on the topic, that Gharibi has found himself tagged as a "future fighter against Daesh".
A video taken out of context
Disregarding Gharibi's explanation, international media have continued to report the false story, making particular note of a video he posted to Instagram. In it, he can be heard saying that he's "always wanted to be a soldier for [his] country," notably mentioning major general Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, the elite special forces unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guards.
What exactly did Gharibi say, though? We watched the full video, which Gharibi posted to his personal account on the application Telegram. Here's a translation of what he says in Farsi:
First of all, I want to say that I'm a defender of my country. General Soleimani, all the martyrs and the selfless people who give their lives for our country are my heroes, and we have them to thank for the peace in our country. I will always be a soldier for my country ... The second thing is that, after Ramadan, I hope to start up my training again and reach my goal, in two or three years, to be in good enough shape to be of service to my country.
So, no reference whatsoever to any war zone or any desire to go to Syria, but rather, through the use of the word "soldier," a bit of nationalist fervour, and some references to his future athletic accomplishments.
In a long denial published on his Telegram account, Gharibi explains that his words were twisted. We've transcribed a small section of the text below.
To bring an end to the rumours, Gharibi posted a message to his Telegram account in account in which he explains:
I've never spoken about Syria [in my videos], and my goal isn't to garner buzz. I've said that, above all else, I defend my country like a soldier, like anyone else. Whenever my country might be in danger, I'd sacrifice my life for it. I'd be at the service of my country. There are lots of rumours that are dishonouring me ... but I forgive the people who have spread these rumours.
He added that one of the photographs in which he can be seen in military garb, cited by Internet users to affirm that he was ready to go fight in Syria, was in fact taken during the filming of an Iranian short film, for which he'd had to dress up as a soldier.