Hypocrisy Surrounding Ahmadinejad's Visit Was Stunning

When you see one person and nation being demonised, you have to assume that it is for a purpose. It is time for some perspective: why should we take it for granted that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the supreme evil being and a superklutz at the same time?

The ungracious introduction to Ahmadinejad's talk by Lee Bollinger, the Columbia University president, read more like a plea to Fox News and the ADL to give him a break for not calling off the event. Think of all the people who took umbrage at President Bush's intellect and morals being belittled last year. Did Bollinger not realize that he was doing Hugo Chavez imitations?

As the born-again atheist author of Rum, and a not infrequent imbiber, I am no great fan of Ahmadinejad. But he was elected by a much clearer majority, with a much bigger turnout, than his equally religious, teetotalling colleague President Bush. And for those impressed by that sort of thing, the Iranian president volunteered for the front in the war against Saddam Hussein - in contrast to Bush, who dodged the draft, and most of the present White House team, who were then enthusiastic backers of Saddam.

Iran has not invaded any other country since the Islamic revolution. The Shah, who had his own nuclear programme, was a close friend and strategic ally not only of the US but of Israel, and apartheid South Africa. But we forgave him his part in maintaining apartheid, just as we forgave ourselves, and indeed Israel, for arming, financing and supporting a pernicious, evil and racist regime.

So, of what is Ahmadinejad guilty? He supports the death penalty? Anyone would think he was a Texas governor. Is the president of China ostracized for threatening to rain missiles on Taiwan, for not having elections, or for executing thousands of people a year? No, we give him the Olympics, and all the TV channels will be there.

The Iranian president does seem very obtuse about gays, denying that Iran had any. But homosexual acts still carry a 15-year prison sentence in many Caribbean islands that the more innocent cruise to so insouciantly. And only a few decades ago the US, UK and other European countries had similar penalties.

Ahmadinejad has been totally insensitive about the Holocaust, though at last in his speech, he certainly seemed to accept that it happened. But then he asked the very legitimate question of why the Palestinians should have to pay the price for European anti-semitism. It is a question that no one has, or can, answer satisfactorily without invoking divine sanctions.

Then there is the famous mistranslation of Israel being wiped off the map. It has been quoted so often now that it has attained, dare we say, myth-like proportions. But he did not say that. The original Farsi, as several more inquisitive researchers have demonstrated, did not have that apocalyptic flavouring. It meant that he would like Israel, as a state, to go away. Not genocide. Not massacring the population. Not even putting them on boats. At Columbia he seemed to be advocating a one state solution - which more and more Palestinians and even some Israelis are returning to in the face of Israel's continuing avoidance of a genuine, occupation-free two state solution.

Certainly Ahmadinejad has blood on his hands - mostly Iranian. But when Ariel Sharon came to town with the stench of sun-bloated cadavers from Sabra and Shatila lingering over him, many of the people demonstrating against Ahmadinejad had probably attended rubber chicken fundraisers with him.

And on both the death penalty and women: Saudi Arabia has the death penalty while Saudi women can neither drive nor vote. In fact Saudi men can't vote in any meaningful way either. Anti-semitism? Iran has 20,000 Jews who refuse to leave. Not many Jews can get into Saudi Arabia. But who says no to Saudi princes, oil or money, unless they support Palestinians?

And then we come to the nuclear issue. The IAEA Council, under ferocious American pressure, which included giving India a free pass on its overt nuclear weapons, in effect broke its own charter by saying that Iran could not refine its own uranium. And then it went to the security council to repeat the process. The Ayatollahs say the bomb is un-Islamic. I would love the National Evangelical Association to declare it to be un-Christian, or the chief rabbis of Israel to declare it un-Talmudic, but then the US and Israel are nuclear states.

Iran is a member of the non-proliferation treaty and allows inspections, and the IAEA thinks that its nuclear programme is under control. It is mystifying why the Iranians are courting disaster even if they are technically correct about their legal position. The nuclear issue only makes sense as brinkmanship, trying to get the US to talk. It is very dangerous and naïve, and perhaps underestimates the craziness of the people they are dealing with. Nixon used being mad as a tactic. Bush has made it a lifestyle option in international politics.

When we suddenly find Muhamed El-Baradei, the IAEA head, becoming an honorary acolyte of the axis of evil for Washington, it is déjà vu all over again. Some people want war with Iran, very, very badly. As much as they wanted it with Saddam Hussein.

Chavez is a thuggish populist, who was elected. Ahmadinehjad, a naïve, fundamentalist one, was also elected. I would not have voted for either of them. But I would not vote for war on them and their peoples either - not unless I wanted to consolidate their support and power.


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