Saturday, December 24, 2005

More Myths for Ahmadinejad

It's hard to believe that it was only this past summer when the U.S. was worrying that the new Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had participated in the 1979 Hostage Crisis. Since he took power in August, Ahmadinejad has worked quickly to make himself perhaps the most controversial head of state in the entire world. In October 2005, it was a speech he gave at a conference entitled "The World Without Zionism" in which he channeled Ayatollah Khomeini in calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map". This month, he has made repeated comments about Israel and the Holocaust, suggesting that the country should be relocated to the European continent and that the massacre of 6 million Jews during World War II was just a "myth".

A good friend of mine is a Shi'a Muslim who is unfortunately an unapologetic supporter of Ahmadinejad. I hope to convince him otherwise, and by using Al-Jazeera as a source for the president's comments, show that it is not just a case of Ahmadinejad's utterly loathsome remarks being misinterpreted by the Western media. I think Friday's column by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times lays out the best case against Iran's would-be hero, with Friedman in this excerpt addressing a couple of real myths:
But since Iran's president has raised the subject of "myths," why stop with the Holocaust? Let's talk about Iran. Let's start with the myth that Iran is an Islamic "democracy" and that Ahmadinejad was democratically elected.

Sure he was elected - after all the Iranian reformers had their newspapers shut down, and parties and candidates were banned by the unelected clerics who really run the show in Tehran. Sorry, Ahmadinejad, they don't serve steak at vegetarian restaurants, they don't allow bikinis at nudist colonies, and they don't call it "democracy" when you ban your most popular rivals from running. So you are nothing more than a shah with a turban and a few crooked ballot boxes sprinkled around.

And speaking of myths, here's another one: that Iran's clerics have any popularity with the broad cross-section of Iranian youth.

This week, Ahmadinejad exposed that myth himself when he banned all Western music on Iran's state radio and TV stations. Whenever a regime has to ban certain music or literature, it means it has lost its hold on its young people. It can't trust them to make the "right" judgments on their own. The state must do it for them. If Ahmadinejad's vision for Iran is so compelling, why does he have to ban Beethoven and the Beatles?

And before we leave this subject of myths, let me add one more: the myth that anyone would pay a whit of attention to the bigoted slurs of Iran's president if his country were not sitting on a dome of oil and gas. Iran has an energetic and educated population, but the ability of Iranians to innovate and realize their full potential has been stunted ever since the Iranian revolution. Iran's most famous exports today, other than oil, are carpets and pistachios - the same as they were in 1979, when the clerics took over.

Sad. Iran's youth are as talented as young Indians and Chinese, but they have no chance to show it. Iran has been reduced to selling its natural resources to India and China - so Chinese and Indian youth can invent the future, while Iran's young people are trapped in the past.

No wonder Ahmadinejad, like some court jester, tries to distract young Iranians from his failings by bellowing anti-Jewish diatribes and banning rock 'n' roll.

(Emphasis added by me.)

Damn, that was harsh. Ahmadinejad's jingoism and belligerence may work as a distraction to Iranians today, but it's not in their best interest to buy into it. And it's not in the best interests of the U.S. to just dismiss him as an idle talker. Charles Krauthammer recently sounded the alarm about Ahmadinejad's messianic ambitions, but it's more than just a neoconservative pundit's shrill cry involved here. Head nuclear watchdog Mohammed El-Baradei, chief of the IAEA and recipient of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, announced earlier this month that Iran was just "a few months" away from being able to produce a nuclear bomb. "Slam dunk" intelligence or not, in the hands of a guy like Ahmadinejad, there's a WMD I'm worried about!

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