Inviting Ahmadinejad – good or bad?

EuropeNews September 28 2007

See also Analysis: For Ahmadinejad in NY, a job worryingly well done & Column One: Ahmadinejad’s overlooked message

The recent lies by Iranian president Ahmadinejad about the non-existance of homosexuals in Iran sure caught some headlines. While Ahmadinejad and his government are certainly doing their best to eradicate gays, exterminating the entire segment of their population sounds unlikely. I don’t believe they’ve done that, and have documentation to prove it, here by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

That aside, president Bollinger of Colombia University had some unusually harsh words for his prominent guests. It looks like Bollinger had taken heed of the demonstrations and other protests accompanying the visit, decided to set aside the usual polite “Nice weather in Iran?” talk and get straight to the point, chalking up a veritable catalog of misdeeds and crimes committed by the Ahmadinejad regime. Intellectual honesty at its finest.

But was it even a good idea to invite Ahmadinejad in the first place? There are some significant problems inviting known criminals and treat them like dignitaries, let them speak at the United Nations etc.

First, it lends legitimacy to his government, as heavily edited video cuts and transcripts are used by the Iranian administration and media to present Ahmadinejad as a leader on equal footing with other world leaders. Increasing his standing at home and blaming the outside world for being unfairly rude has the potential of deepening the conflict betweehn Iran and the rest of the world, not least in an important matter as the nuclear issue.

The question of legitimacy is interesting, and seems not to be well comprehended. One of the greatest scandals in this area was created by the United Nations in 1974. Here, PLO leader Yasser Arafat was speaking to the UN General Assembly, just two years after a branch of his Fatah organisation had killed 11 athletes at the Olymic Games in Munich. These games, which were meant to heal the wounds of Nazi exploitation of the 1936 games (note the ‘legitimacy’ theme again), suffered the bitterest of ironies, the return of political violence against innocents, one of the worst possible violations of democratic values.

Letting Yasser Arafat take the floor in the United Nations not only lent legitimacy to terrorism as a political tool. It also established Fatah and Arafat as the undisputed leader of the Palestinians, making terrorism inseparable from the Palestinian cause. The result, as is well known, is a failure. Over 30 years have been wasted without creating a viable peaceful Palestinian state, nor even the democratic climate to support it.

Before getting too sidetracked, back to Ahmadinejad. He is no fledling leader of a terrorist movement looking for legitimacy and power. He has both already, as far as the Iranian regime can be considered legit, of course. Ahmadinejad is the leader of one of the largest Middle East countries, with significant oil & gas reserves, nuclear ambitions of unknown scope, and a record of supporting Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist movements. He is big already.

Lending legitimacy to Ahmadinejad would not give him power. It may prolong is stay in power, or it may not. The direct assault on him by Bollinger is a useful way to counter this, and Ahmadinejad obviously had no useful response. Bollinger knows his material, the systematic brutality of the Islamist regime in Iran, and he knows that pointing to the sore points of this regime hurts. One of the most important missions in this context would be to keep Iran out of committees etc. working with human rights issue, simply because Iran is such a significant violator. Bollinger’s direct address just might achieve this, thus revoking the legitimicy gains by Ahmadinejad’s UN address.

A distinct problem is that of giving Ahmadinejad access to the world media. His message of deligitimizing the state of Israel, aiming at its ultimate destruction, is well known, and letting a person with this message speak at the UN is a disaster. Not an irrevokable one, fortunately, as issuing clear affirmations of the legit nature of the Israeli state would nullify such effects. Unfortunately, not many seem to have taken the time to get this detail right, while continous military action keeps painting an image of Israel as being a militaristic state, in particular in left-leaning circles who do not understand the need to respond with force to the continuing rocket attacks on Israel. Guilt by association.

Worse, Ahmadinejad got the opportunity to stand as a counter-Western icon right in the limelight. To quote David Horovitz:

But his successes in New York went far beyond the assault on Israel. At the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, he mounted a concerted assault on the post-World War II global hierarchy, and set up Iran as an alternative world leader, falsely depicting his regime as the exemplar of humane, fair-minded governance.

This is not exactly what we need. We had the luck that Ahmadinejad exposed himself as an outright liar, but the hope in the Middle East for someone to challenge US world domination is potentially a problem, in particular if people pitch their hopes on Ahmadinejad. Who, BTW, only sees himself as a precursor for the really important overlord, the 12th Imam.

To quote Horovitz again:

On Tuesday at the UN, the Iranian president sketched out a vision not merely of a world without Israel, but of a world without democracy.

Ahmadinejad has a beef not only with Israel, which, as we know, is merely the ‘Smaller Satan’, but with the entire Western lifestyle, its openness, democracy and secularism. That’s as outspoken as any German politician in the 30’s.

The question, of course, stands: How do we react?

First things first, clear and unconditional support to Israel is very useful. His thoughts of wiping this small, democratic state off the map should be shown to be vanity, not reality, and we cannot permit Ahmadinejad to make us take his idea seriously. We don’t wipe nations off the map for no particular reason. We do not even want to discuss the issue. Solidarity with and support of democratic countries everywhere is more important now than it ever was. Anyone who harbours the thought that throwing Israel to the wolves would appease them is seriously misguided – more demands and more trouble are sure to follow.

Supporting underground movements in Iran is good. Sharing any information on regime brutality, like on a bloggers’ level, is useful. Supporting apostacy, to whatever religion, undermines the credibility of the regime. Christianity appears to be doing particular well, while little is heard of the original Persian Zoroastrian faith. When considering the support, however, it is important not to overdo it. It is support, not foreign intervention.

Broadcasting sattelite television to Iran is being done, and is important. Giving Iranians real news about their regime and the world around them is good, as is giving educational programs about history, science, other religions, sociology, family life, drug problems etc. All those things that the regime does not deliver – wether it be due to neglect, resources spent elsewhere, moralism or censorship. Empowering people with knowledge is the best precondition for improvement.

And, we need to be independent of Iranian oil. At the moment we are conducting foreign policy with one hand tied to our backs, and have severe problems standing firm on our principles, to a large part because we are dependent on oil. Switching to alternative forms of energy, including nuclear power, would enable us to be much more confident in face of complex challenges like the ones from Iran.

So, the initial question – good or bad? All things considered, my leaning is on ‘bad’. But nothing that a principled and concerted effort cannot set right. Two really good things came out – Bollingers couragious speech, and the exposure of Ahmadinejad as a blatant liar. These have milestone quality and, if used properly, can be very useful.

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