Shocked and awed by Ahmadinejad's letter

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2006-05-12

First, has anyone noticed that Iran has committed nothing in its international relations that could be called illegal? Has anyone noticed that Iran has fully complied up to now with all protocols that were signed in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and that the UN has found in its statements to the UN that this is, in fact, true?

But secondly, has anyone who has read the full text of the letter from Iran's President Ahmadinejad to President Bush noticed that even in its first impression and all throughout that the 18 page letter is written in a respectful and very articulate and statesmanlike manner?

After the letter's curt dismissal by Secretary Rice and its, in like manner, write-off by the media -- which so far have omitted his most important passages from their coverage of it -- Ahmadinejad's reasoned and insightful message may be lost to the American public who are left with a demonized picture of the man and his purposes "the new Hitler," for defending the sovereignty and indeed the physical future and existence of his countrymen from the bullying threats of the Bush administration.

I am no defender of Iran and its mullahs. Any country in which half its people are treated as second-class citizens has lost my vote right there. But reform is in the air in Iran, and but for the external threat of (possibly nuclear) war, real reform must sooner or later happen. That will be for the Iranians to accomplish themselves.

But in reading Ahmadinejad's letter one is impressed with his clear vision in the (respectful) ethical arguments against Bush's actions as against Bush's professions of being a man of deep faith. Bingo.

Ahmadinejad asks:

Can one be a follower of Jesus Christ, the great Messenger of God, feel obliged to respect human rights, present liberalism as a civilization model, announce one's opposition to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and WMDs [weapons of mass destruction] ...work towards the establishment of a unified international community, a community which Christ and the virtuous of the Earth will one day govern, but at the same time have countries attacked, the lives, reputations and possessions of people destroyed, and on the slight chance of a criminal in a village, city, or convoy, for example, the entire village, city or convoy set ablaze?

He writes more on the collective punishment policy by further example:

Or because of the possibility of the existence of WMDs in one country, it is occupied, around one hundred thousand people killed, its water sources, agriculture and industry destroyed, sanctity of private homes of citizens broken...

He does not argue with Bush, but he talks in simple terms about prisoner treatment:

There are prisoners in Guantanamo Bay that have not been tried, have no legal representation; their families cannot see them and [that] are obviously kept in a strange land outside their own country. There is no international monitoring of their conditions and fate. No one knows whether they are prisoners, POWs, accused or criminals. European investigators have confirmed the existence of secret prisons in Europe too. I could not correlate that abduction of a person and...being kept in secret prisons with the provisions of any judicial system. For that matter, I fail to understand how such actions correspond to the values...the teachings of Jesus Christ, human rights and liberal values.

He speaks in his letter about many aspects of American policies, and finally also about the most painful point of discussion for most Americans, the establishment of the state of Israel in the midst of the Middle East, and recalls at what cost. He repeats the mantra: "Many thousands were killed in the process, millions of indigenous people were made refugees." He points out that "Hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland, olive plantations, towns and villages were destroyed" -- but reminds us that if those facts were merely in the past, that would be one thing, but that the Palestinian land expropriation and community destruction is ongoing -- up to the present day. He also asks why are all the United Nations Security Council resolutions against Israel's policies in the West Bank vetoed by the United States? Why, indeed?

He asks why, if Iran is more than willing to play by the rules and guidelines of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty:

Why is it that any technological and scientific achievement reached in the Middle East regions is translated...and portrayed as a threat to Israel? Is not research and development one of the basic rights of nations?...Can the [mere] possibility of scientific achievements being utilized for military purposes be reason enough to oppose science and technology altogether?...

He mentions other third world countries:

Mr. President, don't Latin Americans have the right to ask why their elected governments are being opposed and coup leaders supported? Or why must they constantly be threatened and live in fear? And the people of Africa ...can play an important and valuable role in providing for the needs of humanity and contribute to its material and spiritual progress. Poverty and hardship in large parts of Africa are preventing this from happening. Don't they have the right to ask why their enormous wealth - including minerals - is being looted, despite the fact that they need it more than others? Again, do such actions correspond to the teachings of Christ and the tenets of human rights?

He reminds us of the context of Iranian grievances, "including the coup d'etat of 1953 and the subsequent toppling of the legal government of the day [Mossadegh]...support for Saddam in the war waged against Iran, the shooting down of the Iranian passenger plane..." while the Iranian government after 9-11 stood in solidarity and sympathy with the US.

He writes simply that

Those in power have specific time in office...but their names will be recorded in history and will be constantly judged in the immediate and distant futures...Did we manage to bring peace, security and prosperity for the people, or insecurity and unemployment? Did we intend to establish justice, or just supported special interest groups, and by forcing many people to live in poverty and hardship made a few people rich and powerful...Did we defend the rights of all people around the world, or impose wars on them, interfere illegally in their affairs, establish hellish prisons and incarcerate...them? Did we bring the world peace and security, or raise the specter of intimidation and threats? Did we tell the truth to our nation and others around the world, or present an inverted version of it? Were we on the side of people, or the occupiers and oppressors? Did our administration set out to promote rational behavior...justice, service to the people...respect for human dignity, or the force of guns, intimidation, insecurity, disregard for the people, delaying the progress and excellence of other nations, and trample on people's rights?

He gives much reference to religion traditions, and talks with respect for all monotheistic religions:

Mr. President, it is not my intention to distress anyone. If prophet Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Ishmail, Joseph or Jesus Christ were with us today, how would they have judged such behavior? Will we be given a role to play in the promised world, where justice will become universal and Jesus Christ will be present? Will they even accept us? My basic question is this: Is there no better way to interact with the rest of the world?

Ahmadinejad also criticizes the American media in a very real way.

American citizens live in constant fear...Some...media only intensified the climate of fear and insecurity - some constantly talked about the possibility of new terror attacks...The main pretext for an attack on Iraq was the existence of WMDs. This was repeated [by some media] incessantly - for the public to, finally, believe - and the ground set for an attack on Iraq. Will the truth not be lost in a contrived and deceptive climate? Again, if the truth is allowed to be lost, how can that be reconciled with the earlier mentioned values?

There is much more, obviously, in the 18 pages of Ahmadinejad's letter to Bush, almost all of it thoughtful, wise, respectfully cautionary. After the cynical treatment of him by the Bush administration and the media, and his demonization as an "anti-Semite" it was almost a shock to find that from this letter the reality of the man is quite different. And if he is not totally benign, (we can't know that) he is not a fanatical jihadi, not a "rambling scold" who "is endangering the free world," but is a clearer thinking statesman than George Bush ever was or could be. And our media should be taken to task for perpetuating another myth.