Friday, September 18, 2009

It's All About The Imam, Ma'am

At the annual Quds Day rally called by Iran's regime to express solidarity with Palestinians, thousands instead protested the tainted presidential elections. In the run-up to Oct. 1 talks which will include the U.S., President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad again denied that the Holocaust occurred. Andrew Sullivan has details from Iran of apparent attacks on reformist and opposition leaders by pro-regime thugs. Meanwhile NBC's Ann Curry got an hour-long interview with Ahmadinejad yesterday. Watch the whole thing and decide whether he is a menace or whether we can do business with him. I fear we can't.

Before he answers the first question, Ahmadinejad prays for the return of the hidden 12th imam, which, in the light of his previously reported expectation that this moment would occur in his lifetime, sounded like an invocation of the end times. Not an encouraging start. He then says grandiosely that Iran's decision to participate in talks with the Security Council powers had actually inaugurated a new dispensation. "The movement around the world," he says, "is moving in the direction of our ideals." So right off the bat you're dealing with a fellow with a healthy self-image who seems to imagine himself as a character in an Islamic Left Behind, which is the essence, of course, of U.S. and Israeli concerns about a nuclear-armed Iran.

Curry spends several minutes trying to get Ahmadinejad to say that Iran would never under any circumstances develop nuclear weapons, as though Iran's weapons program were not already well underway. You get the feeling she thinks that his refusal to make a blanket disavowal will be deemed significant in Jerusalem and Washington. Actually, a leader, whether governed by reason or not, should never answer such an open-ended hypothetical question. Although Curry presses him pretty effectively on nukes and the possibility of Iran provoking an Middle East arms race, if a yes or no answer was so important to her, she might have said bluntly, "Are you developing a nuke right now?"

She asked him twice if he'd stolen the recent election. A clear "no" again evaded him. Given the mortal risks Iranians are taking to challenge the results, his stonewalling and ritualistic denunciations of British and U.S. devils were sickening. When he asked if Obama had stolen the 2008 election, Curry didn't say anything. Perhaps she shook her head; the editor didn't cut to her at that point. I wish she had said, "President Obama didn't steal his election, and the whole world knows it. But the world thinks you stole yours." Curry's best moment: "The question has to be asked: Where was your compassion for your people?"

This was no Dan Rather-Saddam Hussein lapdog interview. A tough reporter with a relentlessly gracious mien, Curry was rarely derailed. But I wish that in 63 minutes she had found time to confront Ahmadinejad about denying the Holocaust and about his anti-Semitism. Israel, he said, is an "illegal, murderous regime [which is] being influenced by parties which are in Europe and in the U.S. in political corners." Isn't there something in Mein Kampf about rats scurrying in corners? For more on the whole range of durable vermin metaphors, see the first scene of "Inglorious Basterds." These Jews and Jew-lovers, Ahmadinejad implied, are "connected with the arms-industrial complex" and "certain U.S. capitalists... certain officials." (One can't tell whether the unmistakable "I'm talking about Jews" emphasis was added by the translator.) Another golden oldie: As for the "Zionists which are lobbying inside the U.S....If conflict continues, their pockets will be lined." Does anyone seriously wonder why his having a nuclear weapon is an impossible scenario for Israel?

As for whether Ahmadinejad plans to use his bomb to ignite Armageddon, he strictly ruled that out. He denies ever having said that the 12th imam would return in his lifetime; more lies by his international enemies. Besides, he added, all that will happen whenever the imam arrives is that peace and tranquility will reign -- which made me wonder about his opening claim that he had personally inaugurated a new global movement toward peace and disarmament just by planning to sit down with the great powers.

Perhaps he really does think he's the agent of the divine. And yet don't all people of faith think that way? When Curry asked about his personal conversations with the still-hidden imam, he turned the tables:
"[I]t's roughly the same as the relationship which exists between Christians and Christ. They speak with Jesus Christ, and they are sure that Christ hears them and responds...
I hope so. One of my prayers is that the international community, acting as one, will encircle and deter Iran until it has the leadership it deserves (and perhaps elected in June).

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