I have been able to catch four of the five or six interview/question/presentation sessions with the president of Iran: his interview with Charlie Rose on PBS, his presentation and question session with 20 or so of our principal media people at the National Press Club by TV transmission from the UN, the Columbia encounter, and his presentation to the UN. I caught a snippet of his exchange with the anti Zionist rabbis, and look forward to the interview with Christiane Amanpour scheduled for 9 p.m. tonight on CNN.
Various knowledgeable commentators have pointed out that whatever his personal characteristics, President Ahmadinejad is no dictator. His powers are limited. He cannot even appoint his own cabinet officers. Iran is run by a cabal of religious figures currently battling apparently between a liberal and conservative wing for control of the nation.
A friend sent along comments from the “Iranian academic society [that] condemns Lee Bollinger remarks.” It is worth quoting at length in that it presumably reflects the Iranian response to the unfortunate Columbia encounter:
ISNA – Tehran
Service: Foreign Policy
TEHARN, Sep. 25 (ISNA)-In response to the insulting remarks of the Columbia university president against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s university presidents raised their objection to Lee Bollinger.
Ahmadinejad was elected in a free two-level election and by the nation’s direct votes they announced in a letter to Lee Bollinger.
“Your insulting words to the president of 72 million people who have 7000 years of rich civilization and culture is embarrassing. Although apparently you have stated those hateful words under great pressure of the media it is disgraceful and surprising to see that the Media direct university president’s words.”
In this letter they have put 10 questions to Lee Bollinger with the purpose of clearing up the ambiguities between the two countries.
1-Why did American media put you under pressure to call off Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia University? Why do they broadcast hours of programs and news against him and do not allow him to answer the accusations? Isn’t it against freedom of speech?
2-Why did the U.S. government oust the nation-based government of Mosaddegh with the aid of Iran’s dictator, Shah in 1953?
3-Why did the U.S. support Saddam who used chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers and even his own nation during the imposed war?
4-Why doesn’t the U.S. recognize Palestine’s government which was elected with Palestinian’s vote? Why does it pressurize the Palestinian’s government? Why is the U.S. against Iran’s proposal on solving the 60-year old problems of Palestine through referendum?
5-Why couldn’t the U.S. army find Bin Laden despite all of its equipments? How do you justify the old friendship between the Bin Ladens and the Bushs and their cooperation on oil? How do you justify Bush’s spoiling the investigations over the 9/11?
6-Why does the U.S. government back the terrorist group of Mujahedine Khalq Organization (MKO) while it has claimed responsibility over many bloody bombings in public places of Iran and Iraq? Why doesn’t it allow the Iraqi government to evacuate the MKO base in Iraq?
7-Did the U.S. invade Iraq based on international vote and with the permission of international organizations? What was the real purpose of occupying Iraq which has left hundred thousands of its people dead? Where are the weapons of mass destruction which the U.S. claimed were stored in Iraq?
8-Why are the extremely undemocratic states with absolute monarchy regimes the U.S. best friends in the Middle East?
9-Why did the U.S. disagree with the “Middle East free of nuclear weapons project” issued in the board of governors while all countries agreed with it but Israel?
10-Why is the U.S. displeased with Iran and the IAEA agreement and why does it disagree with negotiations within the framework of international regulations for solving Iran’s nuclear issue?
At the end they have announced that they were ready to host Columbia University president and other faculties who were interested in seeking the truth to know about this nation without the filtering of the West media.
News Code: 8607-02107
This response picks up what would have been some of my own questions. Having watched the sequence of interviews with Ahmadinejad which began with the orderly questioning of Charlie Rose, proceeded on to penetrating questions posed by members of the National Press Club, I was disconcerted by the disjointed Columbia fiasco which was the only one quoted at length by our media. Bollinger’s 14 minute assault was unsettling to all and students and faculty seemed relieved that Ahmadinejad recovered his equilibrium well enough to answer the foreshortened questions “one by one.” The applause by the audience for him as he regained his poise was to my ear louder than that for Bollinger’s diatribe.
One cannot ever be sure what goes on in the head of a political figure under pressure, but my overall impression was that Ahmadinejad is deeply committed to religion and to ‘family values’ (to judge from his first point presented to the UN). He is puzzled that Americans are not aware of the decades of abuse of Iran by the U.S. starting with our CIA overthrow of the Mossadeq government in 1953 and our institution then of the brutal Shah, support of Hussein’s war on Iran in which he used poison gas against the Iranians, our failure to accept responsibility for launching al Qaeda in Afghanistan, our abuses of the very standards that we claim as Americans in our secretive and abusive incarcerations of Muslims in this country (as “material witnesses”), our torture and abuse of random captives at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and renderings to other countries to do the dirty work for us.
Ahmadinejad’s stress throughout was on achieving peace. I do not think he fears our threatened bombing attacks on Iran so much as deeply regrets the perpetuation of human suffering of which he has presumable seen enough. He, as many of us, seems to see a fork in the road lying ahead. One route could lead to world peace, the other, to catastrophe.
He claims that Iran wants nuclear power, but that a nuclear weapon capacity would be stupid. I have to agree with him. A nuclear threat made by Iran would be met by massive retaliation from either Israel or the U.S. or both. I would tend to trust the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) to keep an eye on things for us. We had the same access to Hussein before our neocons launched our ungodly war on Iraq in 2003.
One final observation here is in order. Shia and Sunni are not allies and the U.S. confusion on this matter is astounding. Iran is not al Qaeda. We seem unable to keep straight in our pronouncements, for instance, whether it is Sunni Syria or Shia Iran that is interfering in Lebanon. Possibly both, but the conflict between the two should be manifest.
I appreciated for the first time seeing and hearing directly the enemy characterized by the Bush administration and others as evil. He seemed to me to be most human.
“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)
Ed Kent 212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]