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September 25th, 2007 at 4:29 pm (it's happening now, politics)

I am increasingly disturbed at the American response to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian president is in New York for the UN General Assembly and was invited to speak at Colombia University.

He landed to waving placards and protestors proclaiming him to be “evil” and “the Hitler of Iran”. The New York Daily Times headlined with “The Evil Has Landed” and the New York Post with “Madman Guest of Dishonour”. New York City councilman Anthony Weiner referred to Ahmadinejad as a “snake slithering through the streets of New York.”

Although an invited guest of Colombia, he sat through a 10-minute introduction by university president Lee Bollinger who described Ahmadinejad as “a cruel and petty dictator” and also said, “Why are you so afraid of Iranian citizens expressing their opinions for a change? Frankly, in all candour, Mr President, I doubt you have the intellectual courage to answer these questions… When you come to a place like this, this makes you quite simply ridiculous. You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated… I feel the weight of the modern civilised world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for.” Earlier quizzed as to why Colombia invited Ahmadinejad in the first place, Bollinger was quite open in stating that it was purely to put the Iranian president in a high-pressure situation where he could be quizzed, criticised and challenged in a situation from which he could not escape.

Am I the only person who is appalled?

Despite what you may think of him as a person, despite what you may think of his policies or his country, the fact remains that he is a democratically-elected national foreign leader. As such, he is due the same respect as any other foreign leader. He is not a terrorist, he is not a dictator, he is not a murderer and he is not a criminal.

America champions personal freedoms and freedom of speech. This is why Bollinger has carte blanche to say whatever he likes. I do not object to Bollinger exercising his right to criticise Ahmadinejad. I DO object to the contempt he has displayed towards Ahmadinejad, I object to the entrapment he has executed by inviting Ahmadinejad for the express purpose of “putting him in a situation from which he cannot escape” and I object to Bollinger cheapening an opportunity to express diverse and contrary opinion into an insult-fest.

I find America’s hypocrisy distasteful. I’ve seen American civil libertarians defend the right of neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members to express their beliefs (and these same people themselves vigorously defend their own rights under free speech), abhorrent though most acknowledge these beliefs to be. Yet Ahmadinejad is treated like the Antichrist, even though he is also only expressing his own beliefs, abhorrent as they may be to some.

And what are Ahmadinejad’s beliefs? He has reportedly denied the existence of the Holocaust, although Ahmadinejad has himself denied he said that. But lets assume the worst and say he really is a Holocaust denier. Ahmadinejad has agreed to meet American-Jewish survivors of the Holocaust if they so desire it. This could present an excellent opportunity to bring the horrors experienced by the Jews in the war to Ahmadinejad and it shows, on his part, a willingness to be confronted with people who will obviously disagree with his opinion (as does his agreement to attend Colombia University). More than I can say for some foreign leaders.

Ahmadinejad also believes that Iran doesn’t have any homosexuals, an expressed opinion for which he has been crucified and laughed at. Although I agree that Ahmadinejad’s position is laughable, is his opinion any worse than the Pope who forbids homosexual contact otherwise you’ll burn in hell, or of Bush who promotes abstinence instead of safe sex and whose Administration has refused to fund safe sex programs in Africa because it clashes ideologically with Bush’s ultra-Christian belief? Both are equally ludicrous positions. Yet are the Pope and Bush being ridiculed at a formal, public assembly?

The Sudanese government denies there is a crisis in Darfur. Ahmadinejad denies that there are homosexuals in Iran. Both positions are, in my opinion, deeply erroneous. But, of the two, which is the more dangerous? And yet, of the two, which is currently being more heavily criticised and personally attacked?

Ahmadinejad has been painted one-dimensionally as a Muslim terrorist yet this is the man who, domestically, has set up the 1.3 billion Reza’s Compassion Fund (financed through oil profits) that helps Iran’s poorest to find jobs, buy homes and afford to get married. This is the man who legislated to allow women and children to attend sporting matches, previously banned (unfortunately, he was overruled by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is the true leader of Iran as he has the final say in domestic and foreign policy). This is the man who does not force women to wear the hijab and who harshly criticised the Ayatollah when Khamenei’s forces began a crackdown on women with “improper hijab”. But this is also the man who is criticised domestically for focussing too much of his energies on criticising America and for scrapping family planning policies at a time of economic struggle in Iran.

The truer picture of Ahmadinejad is therefore more multi-dimensional. He is a flawed man, who may doubt the Holocaust and who is conservative about sexuality. He is socially progressive towards women, however, and legislates to help the poor. He has allowed himself to focus too heavily on foreign policy, to the possible detriment of the Iranian economy.

Let’s compare this to Bush: he is a flawed man, who is also conservative about sexuality. He is not socially progressive about anything but has instituted a “no child left behind” policy to improve educational standards among the poor. He has allowed his term as President to focus too heavily on foreign policy, to the almost-certain detriment of the American economy.

Is there much difference?

I also find America’s broader hypocrisy towards Iran and other like-nations equally distasteful, particularly as it relates to nuclear programs.

Iran has stated a desire to begin a nuclear program for (they say) energy purposes. America has dismissed this as a thinly disguised plot to develop a nuclear weapons program and, as a result, tensions have risen to the point where the (remote) possibility of war has been discussed. Iran is facing heavy sanctions, embargos and international censure as a result of Ahmadinejad’s desire for a nuclear program, which he insists is only for peaceful purposes.

Is there any recent, compelling evidence for the world not to believe Iran? Is there any reason why India has been allowed to develop actual nuclear weapons, even though they are not part of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT), with nary a harsh word from the international community, yet Iran is not allowed the possibility of a peaceful development of nuclear enrichment?

I am not naïve enough to say that Iran is not considering the possibility of nuclear weapons. But you can’t have one rule for one nation and another rule for another nation. If India is allowed to develop nuclear weapons without international condemnation, then you can’t justify rounding on Iran with pointed fingers.

What makes it worse is that America has the second-largest stockpile of nuclear weapons; chooses not to progress with nuclear disarmament, in defiance of it’s NPT obligations; and remains the ONLY nation in the world to use a nuclear weapon against another nation, yet IT is the one wagging the finger at everyone else, insisting other nations are the ones who are risky. America also shows unceasing support for Israel, a country that refuses to acknowledge it even has a nuclear program – peaceful or otherwise – even though it is reliably estimated by the Natural Resources Defence Council and the Federation of American Scientists to be in possession of anywhere between 75 and 200 nuclear weapons, is not a signatory of the NPT and is in open warfare with Palestine and Syria. Not only does America not condemn Israel, it provides it economic and martial support. How is this justified?

Israel OK, Iran not OK. India OK, Pakistan not OK. What’s the difference here? It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it’s the Muslim nations who are feeling the bite of international sanctimony more than others.

Finally, I do not understand the American horror at Ahmadinejad wanting to pay his respects to Ground Zero. Americans have reacted to this by referring to “sacred ground” and the abomination it would be to have Ahmadinejad visit. Why exactly? Ahmadinejad/Iran were not responsible for the September 11 attacks. They did not harbour the terrorists for the September 11 attacks (any more than you can say New York harbours IRA terrorists in its Irish communities… it may very well do but the state of New York is hardly responsible for that) and Ahmadinejad has not expressed any pro-September 11 sentiment. In fact, the only link between Ahmadinejad and September 11 is that he’s a Muslim and the attack was perpetuated by Muslims. HARDLY a justifiable reason for the horror expressed by Americans. This equates to pure discrimination based upon religion, something that is abhorrent to Americans… unless, it seems, it’s Islam.

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