Monday, September 24, 2007

More Ahmadinejad Phobia

The Dean of Columbia Law School has released a statement of opposition to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speaking engagement at the university [emphasis mine]:

(Sept. 23, 2007) -- A controversy has developed about the invitation extended to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran by the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs. Although Columbia Law School was not involved in arranging this invitation, we have received many inquiries about it.

This event raises deep and complicated issues about how best to express our commitment to intellectual freedom, and to our free way of life. Although we believe in free and open debate at Columbia and should never suppress points of view, we are also committed to academic standards. A high-quality academic discussion depends on intellectual honesty but, unfortunately, Mr. Ahmadinejad has proven himself, time and again, to be uninterested in whether his words are true. Therefore, my personal opinion is that he should not be invited to speak. Mr. Ahmadinejad is a reprehensible and dangerous figure who presides over a repressive regime, is responsible for the death of American soldiers, denies the Holocaust, and calls for the destruction of Israel. It would be deeply regrettable if some misread this invitation as lending prestige or legitimacy to his views.

Our university is a pluralistic place, and I recognize that others within our community take a different view in good faith, and that they have the right to extend invitations that I personally would not extend. I know that we will learn from each other in discussing the difficult questions prompted by this invitation.

David M. Schizer
Dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law
Columbia Law School

Taylor Marsh:
It doesn't take a genius to understand why wingnuts don't want Iran's president to speak at Columbia. He might show up looking and sounding human, instead of the thugocrat he actually is, disguising his real thoughts about all things we hold dear. Columbia made a daring, important decision to invite Mr. Ahmadinejad to Columbia, and they should wear the outrage as a medal. Powerline is already declaring it's "Columbia's Disgrace - Part 8." What cowards.

Of course, David M. Schizer has the right to feel the way he does and to express those feelings, but how does he come by this expertise in discerning the presence or absence of intellectual honesty? No doubt Ahmadinejad is lacking in intellectual honesty but then, so is George W. Bush. So are most of the big names in the Bush administration, and for that matter so are most of the pundits who support the Iraq war. Bill O'Reilly? Rush Limbaugh? Michelle Malkin? Ann Coulter? Are any of these people known for their intellectual honesty? And if any of these were invited to speak at Columbia, would the dean of the law school object on the grounds that they are not interested in whether their words are true?

Most reasonable people would agree that Ahmadinejad is reprehensible and at least potentially dangerous, but absolutely without a doubt no less reprehensible or dangerous than the current occupant of the Oval Office. And this has been said and written countless times -- by former and current military and intelligence figures, by experts in international law, by national security professionals. It's what most of the people living on this planet believe.

Does Ahmadinejad want to wipe Israel off the map? According to Juan Cole, who speaks Persian, he said no such thing:
As most of my readers know, Ahmadinejad did not use that phrase in Persian. He quoted an old saying of Ayatollah Khomeini calling for 'this occupation regime over Jerusalem" to "vanish from the page of time.' Calling for a regime to vanish is not the same as calling for people to be killed. Ahmadinejad has not to my knowledge called for anyone to be killed. (Wampum has more; as does the American Street).

If Ahmadinejad is a genocidal maniac who just wants to kill Jews, then why are there 20,000 Jews in Iran with a member of parliament in Tehran? Couldn't he start at home if that was what he is really about?

I renew my call to readers to write protest letters to newspapers and other media every time they hear it alleged that Ahmadinejad (or "Iran"!) has threatened to "wipe Israel off the map." There is no such idiom in Persian and it is not what he said, and the mistranslation gives entirely the wrong impression. Wars can start over bad translations.

It was apparently some Western wire service that mistranslated the phrase as 'wipe Israel off the map', which sounds rather more violent than calling for regime change. Since then, Iranian media working in English have themselves depended on that translation. One of the tricks of Right-Zionist propagandists is to substitute these English texts for Ahmadinejad's own Persian text. (Ethan Bronner at the New York Times tried to pull this, and more recently Michael Rubin at the American Enterprise Institute.) But good scholarship requires that you go to the original Persian text in search of the meaning of a phrase. Bronner and Rubin are guilty disregarding philological scholarship in favor of mere propagandizing.

These propaganda efforts against Iran and Ahmadinejad also depend on declining to enter into evidence anything else he has ever said-- like that it would be wrong to kill Jews! They also ignore that Ahmadinejad is not even the commander in chief of the Iranian armed forces.
So here are some things Ahmadinezhad has said that make clear his intentions, and which are translated by the United States government Open Source Center. He is hostile to Israel. He'd like to see regime change (apparently via a referendum on the shape of the government ruling over geographical Palestine, in which all "original" residents of any religion would get a vote). Calling for a referendum on the dissolution of a government is not calling for genocide. Ahmadinejad also says he has no objection to a Jewish state in and of itself, he just thinks it should be located in, say, German territory set apart for the purpose, rather than displacing Palestinians from their homes. He may be saying unrealistic things; he is not advocating killing Jews qua Jews, or genocide.

Note that Ahmadinejad below denies being an anti-Semite (why deny it if he supposedly glories in it?); points out that he supports Jewish representation in the Iranian parliament; and compares his call for an end to the Zionist regime ruling over Jerusalem to the Western call for the dissolution of the old Soviet Union. Was Ronald Reagan inciting to genocide when he called for an end of the Soviet regime?

The Iranophobic talking point that most annoys me, though, is the "Iran is responsible for killing American soldiers in Iraq" one. For me, this one just encapsulates this administration's pathological inability to take responsibility for its own actions.

Nothing about this war is justified, and certainly it's never justifiable to kill people who are strangers to you and who never did you any harm -- which is what war is, after all. However, if it's okay for American soldiers to be occupying, and killing and incarcerating, the inhabitants of a country that did not attack or threaten theirs, and that is 10,000 miles away from their own country, then how can it be not okay for Iran to be in Iraq, given that Iraq and Iran lie right next to each other and given that Iranians and Iraqis have a shared historical, ethnic, cultural, and religious heritage that goes back thousands of years? If the United States has strategic interests in Iraq that necessitate the use of force to secure them, how much more compelling must Iran's strategic interests be, with Iraq right across the border?

Of course, the central reality here is that the United States itself put Iran in the catbird seat by destabilizing the region via the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Juan Cole has a superb article in Salon, about the truly dangerous scenario in the Middle East -- not one in which Iran has or acquires nuclear weapons and uses them against Israel or the United States, but the one that would be triggered by the war with Iran that Dick Cheney and a number of others in the Bush administration are itching for:
It should also be stressed that some elements in the U.S. officer corps and the Defense Intelligence Agency are clearly spoiling for a fight with Iran because the Iranian-supported Shiite nationalists in Iraq are a major obstacle to U.S. dominance in Iraq. Although very few U.S. troops in Iraq are killed by Shiites, military spokesmen have been attempting to give the impression that Tehran is ordering hits on U.S. troops, a clear casus belli. Disinformation campaigns that accuse Iran of trying to destabilize the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government -- a government Iran actually supports -- could lay the groundwork for a war. Likewise, with the U.S. military now beginning patrols on the Iran-Iraq border, the possibility is enhanced of a hostile incident spinning out of control.

The Iranians have responded to all this bellicosity with some chest-thumping of their own, right up to the final hours before Ahmadinejad's American visit. The Iranian government declared "National Defense Week" on Saturday, kicking it off with a big military parade that showed off Iran's new Qadr-1 missiles, with a range of 1,100 miles. Before he left Iran for New York on Sunday morning, Ahmadinejad inspected three types of Iranian-manufactured jet fighters, noting that it was the anniversary of Iraq's invasion of Iran in 1980. ...

The display of this military equipment was accompanied by a raft of assurances on the part of the Iranian ayatollahs, politicians and generals that they were entirely prepared to deploy the missiles and planes if they were attacked. A top military advisor to Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei told the Mehr News Agency on Saturday, "Today, the United States must know that their 200,000 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are within the reach of Iran's fire. When the Americans were beyond our shores, they were not within our reach, but today it is very easy for us to deal them blows." Khamenei, the actual commander in chief of the armed forces, weighed in as well, reiterating that Iran would never attack first but pledging: "Those who make threats should know that attack on Iran in the form of hit and run will not be possible, and if any country invades Iran it will face its very serious consequences."

The threat to target U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and the unveiling of the Qadr-1 were not aggressive in intent, but designed to make the point that Iran could also play by Richard M. Nixon's "madman" strategy, whereby you act so wildly as to convince your enemy you are capable of anything. Ordinarily a poor non-nuclear third-world country might be expected to be supine before an attack by a superpower. But as Mohammad Reza Bahonar, the Iranian deputy speaker of Parliament, warned: "Any military attack against Iran will send the region up in flames."

In the end, this is hardly the kind of conflagration the United States should be enabling. If a spark catches, it will not advance any of America's four interests in the Middle East: petroleum, markets, Israel and hegemony.

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