Meeting President Ahmadinejad and
Debunking the Axis of Evil
Americans have been conditioned to think in stark contrasts: good versus bad, righteous versus evil, and the just versus the unjust. As a result, beliefs are fostered that permit the United States to wallow in self righteousness and to justify its aggression around the globe. U.S. foreign policy makers, in concert with mainstream media, routinely portray any government or national leader that does not accept our imperial dictates as rogue, undemocratic or evil.
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been one of the most frequently demonized national leaders. As an American Iranian, who plans to visit Iran in the near future, I have been keenly aware of the repeated charges hurled at President Ahmadinejad. Foremost among these charges are the claims that Ahmadinejad wants to "wipe Israel off the map," or that he has denied the authenticity of the Holocaust.
Since 2005, when these statements were first attributed to Ahmadinejad, the American public has incessantly been fed distortions of what he really said. The accurate translation of what he actually said is, "the Zionist regime is doomed to fall off the pages of history, following the path of all oppressive regimes before it," not that Iran or Ahmadinejad would "wipe Israel off the map."
Two important points, almost never mentioned in the mainstream U.S. media, need to be highlighted here: (1) Ahmadinejad says the "Zionist regime," not Israel or the Jewish people, and (2) he uses the passive voice, referring to the historical imperative, not the active voice purporting a military action to overthrow Israel.
The "Holocaust is a myth" charge should actually read as "In the name of the Holocaust they created a myth." Ahmadinejad then doles out criticism against imperial powers as follows: "If you have burned the Jews why don't you give a piece of Europe, the United States, Canada or Alaska to Israel. Why should the oppressed people of Palestine be punished for it?"
Despite his unambiguous views regarding Israel and Palestine, the rallying cry portraying Ahmadinejad as a raging anti-semite has mushroomed across America, materializing in every corner from small town barbershop conversations to the televised U.S. Presidential campaigns.
As one who needs to see it to believe it, I jumped at the opportunity to meet President Ahmadinejad when he was in New York City for the United Nations General Assembly last month. My husband and I attended two events sponsored by various religious, peace and social justice organizations that were held in order to introduce President Ahmadinejad to the peace community in the United States. Hope was expressed that "the exchange of views will enable us to explore faith perspectives for dealing with global issues such as poverty, war and prejudice"-plagues that approximate what Martin Luther King Jr. aptly called the axis of evil: racism, poverty and militarism.
While the organizing sponsors should be commended for the monumental effort involved in pulling together events of this magnitude, and for their sincere search for peaceful relations with Iran, the questions and comments directed to President Ahmadinejad echoed the routinely propagandized biases that the majority of Americans have come to treat as gospel. Most questions were indistinguishable from those posed by Larry King the night before in an interview with the Iranian President.
Absent were questions or acknowledgements of imperialistic U.S. offences committed against Iran: orchestrating the 1953 coup against the Democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mohammed Mosadeq and appointing the dictatorial Shah in his place; imposing 29 years of economic sanctions against Iran after the Iranian people overthrew the Shah; orchestrating and supporting the eight-year Iraq war against Iran; the downing of Iranian passenger Flight 655 by U.S. missiles, killing all 290 passengers and crew, including 66 children; and sponsoring ongoing covert operations inside Iran and across its borders through allocation of hundreds of millions dollars, euphemistically called Democracy Fund, designed to destabilize the Iranian government.
Unwittingly, the organizers of the meeting with President Ahmadinejad harmed their goal of building bridges between our two nations when they missed the opportunity to apologize for, or even acknowledge, these acts of aggression. Just think what might be achieved for peace if squaring off with other countries began with a sincere "I'm sorry," the first lesson instilled in us as children, when our parents wanted to exact remorse after we pinched our baby sister.
After listening to President Ahmadinejad, I came to believe that the purported Iranian "threat" to the United States is rooted in Ahmadinejad's straight talk. He freely spoke of the plight of more than 5 million Palestinians whose lives and land have been illegally besieged for over 60 years in the U.S.-backed Israeli occupation that gnaws away at prospects for peaceful coexistence. President Ahmadinejad proposed that lasting peace will only be achieved through a free referendum where all the peoples of Palestine (including Jews, Muslims and Christians) determine their own fate, complying with the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations.
More simple truth that most American leaders and the powerful Israeli lobby are loath to face is Ahmadinejad's view, shared increasingly worldwide, of who really poses a nuclear threat. His forthright approach takes on new meaning when we own up to the plain facts: the United States has an arsenal between five and ten thousand (depending on the source of information) nuclear warheads and we are the only country to have used nuclear weapons twice, killing and maiming an estimated 199,000 civilians, innocent men, women and children.
Israel, decidedly the most influential U.S. ally, currently has approximately 200 nuclear warheads, funded largely by U.S. taxpayers. Given this indisputable evidence of our own government's culpability, I was embarrassed when a spokesperson posited to Ahmadinejad, "our government is concerned with Iran becoming a nuclear power."