by Michael K. Smith
"Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the hero of every Muslim cab driver from Morocco to Malaysia because of his disreputable Holocaust denial."
-----Peter Hitchens, The American Conservative, June 4, 2007
"As to the Holocaust, I just raised a few questions. And I didn't receive any answers to my questions."
-----Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Time Magazine interview, September 18, 2006
"The populism of Ahmadinejad and Hizbollah is an alternative to civil society in the Middle East. By recruiting the poor and disenfranchised, they are closer to people's needs than governments are. Which is why they have this enormous following."
-----Jordan's Prince Hassan, BBC News, September 20, 2006
"Pro-Western governments in the Middle East may not like it (Iran and Hizbollah's power) but there is nothing they can do. American influence in the area is visibly declining."
-----World Affairs editor John Simpson, BBC News, September 20, 2006
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is slippery, gifted at spin and misdirection. He’s "hardline," an enigma, a mystical nutcase in an "apocalyptic mood;" he wouldn't mind detonating a nuclear weapon. He's cocky, bordering on arrogant, even Hitler-like, and prone to rambling rants. He seems to be a humorless technocrat, unhinged, and a stranger to the modern world. He's primitive, delusional, a true-believer in the "merciless" Ayatollah Khomeini, and above all, genocidal: he wants to wipe the Jews from the face of the earth. No, these are not the rash judgments of a demented rookie journalist, but the consensus view of an allegedly "value-neutral" U.S. journalistic profession.
Since the U.S. media have once again abdicated their responsibility to be reasonably objective, we are left to do our thinking for ourselves. Fair enough. Let us then examine some of the statements the "crazy" Ahmadinejad has made and see if they really fit the image of a loose cannon on deck, a menace to his own people and the entire world.
In a September 20, 2006 interview with MSNBC's Brian Williams Ahmadinejad pointed out that the allegedly peaceful intentions of the U.S. national security state can't be taken seriously: "We think that people who produce bombs - the atomic bomb cannot, in fact, speak of supporting world peace." He emphasized that Washington has been unremittingly hostile to Iran, not the other way around: "Iran has been under sanctions for 27 years. Even spare parts for aircraft are denied to us. . . . from day one (of the Iranian Revolution) the U.S. government has been against our nation. . . . it gave (support) to Saddam Hussein during the eight year war against Iran," in which "200,000 Iranian people, young men, died. Hundreds of thousands more were injured. . . . There was a terrorist group inside Iran, that, in fact, assassinated many of our authorities and officials. The president, the prime minister, the ministers. The head of the supreme court. Many members of parliament. Regular people. And America supported this group." Williams, contesting none of this, abruptly changed the topic to free speech.
Accused of being on the path of nuclear weaponry, Ahmadinejad not only denied it, but threw the ridiculous premise of Williams' question back in his face: " . . . I ask, did Iran build the atomic bomb and use it? Who are the ones who are testing the third generation of nuclear bombs? . . . We are against the atomic bomb . . . we are against killing people." Asked why Iran has large, long-range missiles if it has no intention of developing nuclear weapons, Ahmadinejad pointed to the absurdity of worrying about a non-nuclear state's missiles when many others in the region already have nuclear arsenals and Washington nuked two defenseless cities as soon as it developed the bomb. Ahmadinejad pressed Williams to resolve this contradictory premise, but the MSNBC host preferred to move on to a question about the Pope.
When the conversation turned to the threat of war over Iran's (legal) uranium enrichment program, Ahmadinejad responded that questions along this line would be better put to a U.S. politician, since the U.S. is the one threatening war. Washington's bellicose and domineering approach, Ahmadinejad added, is obsolete: "The world has changed . . . The time for world empires has ended. The U.S. government thinks that it's still the period after World War II . . . when they came out as victor. And enjoyed special rights. And can rule therefore, over the rest of the world . . . I think that we need to resort to logic, not war." Williams once again raised the specter of an Iranian nuclear weapon, but Ahmadinejad dismissed the question as a selective concern, since Washington not only hasn't criticized nuclear states in the region, but actively supports them. Israel alone has hundreds of nuclear bombs.
Inevitably, the subject of the Holocaust came up. Ahmadinejad politely attempted to raise three questions: (1) "Why is it that only a select group of those who were killed (in WWII) have become so prominent and important?" (2) "Why is it that those who ask questions (about the Holocaust) are persecuted?" (3) ". . . .if this (Holocaust) happened . . . why should the Palestinians pay for it now?" Williams answered the first question by saying that the Jews were killed by genocide, whereas the tens of millions of others killed were victims of war. Ahmadinejad responded that tens of millions of Christians and Muslims who were not in any way militarily involved in WWII were nonetheless targeted and killed. The moral difference between innocents dying in concentration camps and innocents blown up, burned alive, or atomized out of existence remained unexplored. Ahmadinejad's second and third questions, obviously relevant to the discussion, were likewise ignored.
Williams couldn't resist indulging the U.S. obsession with suicide bombers, asking what Ahmadinejad would feel as a father if one of his children decided to become one. Ahmadinejad pointed out that in a nation with few weapons joining a group of suicide bombers is the equivalent of volunteering to serve in the military, a major difference being, in the U.S. military's case, that the latter cannot plausibly be described as a self-defense force, since it operates thousands of miles beyond U.S. borders. He insisted that Iran, not the U.S., is the one with cause to worry about being attacked: " . . . you look around us. There are hundreds of forces and troops, hundreds of thousands of troops around us. Under the pretext of freedom and democracy. They don't value the people of the region. The people of the region know how to run their own affairs. It's regretful. This (intervention) coming from a group that supported Saddam for eight years. Saddam was the biggest dictator in our region. Even today, they support countries that have had no elections whatsoever. But still they speak of creating democracy through war. . . . It's impossible . . ."
Two days before his MSNBC interview, Ahmadinejad was interviewed by Time Magazine's Scott Macleod, who entitled his piece, "A Date With a Dangerous Mind." Among the "dangerous" sentiments Ahmadinejad expressed in that interview are the following; (1) "The U.S. government should not interfere in our affairs. They should live their own lives. They should serve the interests of the U.S. people. . . . Then there would be no problems . . ." (2) "We are opposed to the development of nuclear weapons. . . in my (2005) address to the U.N. General Assembly, I suggested that a committee should be set up in order to disarm all the countries that possess nuclear weapons. . ." (3) "Problems cannot be solved through bombs. Bombs are of little use today. We need logic." (4) Question: "Why do your supporters chant 'Death to America?'" Ahmadinejad: " . . . it means they hate aggression, and they hate bullying tactics, and they hate violations of the rights of nations and discrimination." (5) Question: "Are you ready to open direct negotiations with the U.S.?" Ahmadinejad: "It was the U.S. which broke up relations with us. We didn't take that position. . ." (6) Question: "You have been quoted as saying Israel should be wiped off the map. Was that merely rhetoric, or do you mean it?" Ahmadinejad: "Our suggestion is that the 5 million Palestinian refugees come back to their homes, and then the entire people on those lands hold a referendum and choose their own system of government. This is a democratic and popular way." (7) Question: "Do you believe the Jewish people have a right to their own state?" Ahmadinejad: "We do not oppose it. In any country in which the people are ready to vote for the Jews to come to power, it is up to them. . . . But Zionists are different from Jews."
In a May 30, 2006 interview with the Iranian president the German magazine Der Spiegel took issue with Ahmadinejad for regarding the Holocaust and the oppression of the Palestinians as aspects of a single issue. Der Spiegel's interviewer insisted that the fate of the Palestinians was "an entirely different issue." Ahmadinejad objected: "No, no, the roots of the Palestinian conflict must be sought in history. The Holocaust and Palestine are directly connected with one another. And if the Holocaust actually occurred, then you should permit impartial groups from the whole world to research this. Why do you restrict the research to a certain group?" His question went unanswered in preference for a query about whether he still believed the Holocaust was merely a "myth." He replied that belief should follow substantiation: "I will only accept something as truth if I am actually convinced of it." If this is extremism, we need more of it.
Ahmadinejad went on to point out to Der Spiegel that there is a divergence of views on the Holocaust, with orthodox Holocaust proponents rejecting direct debate in favor of dogged insistence on the allegedly racist motives of revisionists, which practice helps to insure that revisionist scholars in Europe continue to be imprisoned merely for stating what they think. He concluded that "an impartial group has to come together to investigate and render an opinion in this very important subject, because the clarification of this issue will contribute to the solution of global problems," in particular, the Palestine question. He added that there was nothing remotely odd about such a stance, since "normally, governments promote and support the work of researchers on historical events and do not put them in prison." In short, the people with explaining to do are not Holocaust revisionists, but those whose arguments are (literally) upheld by blasphemy laws and heresy trials.
The Der Spiegel interview makes clear that Ahmadinejad, like revisionists generally, does not, in fact, deny that Jews were brutally treated by the Nazis. After making his standard claim that, "If there really had been a Holocaust, Israel ought to be located in Europe, not in Palestine," he goes on to criticize Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, saying that, "aggression, occupation and a repetition of the Holocaust won't bring peace." (italics added) This implies that European Jewry was subjected to at least ethnic cleansing, if not outright genocide, depending on how one evaluates Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.
In a 2006 interview with Barbara Slavin of USA Today Ahmadinejad said that if the U.S. wants talks with Iran, "they have to take a hard look at their own behavior . . . They choose to threaten us and make false allegations and they want to impose their lifestyle on others and this is not acceptable." Asked why he keeps saying "upsetting" things about Israel and the Holocaust, he replied, "I don't know who is annoyed by revealing facts. But we know for sure that the people of Palestine are being killed every day with the Holocaust as a pretext." Presented with the naive query, "Why don't you go to Auschwitz and see the gas chambers for yourself?" he answered, "My going there will not solve the problem. I cannot take a trip back 60 years but researchers can do that." He conceded that the testimony of Holocaust survivors was relevant but insisted that "an impartial group should (also) go there and investigate." He concluded the interview with the sound observation that, "The wave of disgust toward U.S. policies is increasing. They only recognize their own friends, not others. We have in this world 6 billion people. It's not an American club. The majority are not Americans and are not interested to be Americans."
In his 2006 UN address Ahmadinejad outlined how the unresolved question of Palestine is bound up with the Holocaust: "Under the pretext of protecting some of the survivors of (WWII) the land of Palestine was occupied through war, aggression and the displacement of millions of its inhabitants." After being "placed under the control of some of the War survivors (European Jews)," who brought "even larger population groups from elsewhere in the world (non-European Jews) who had not been even affected by the Second World War," Israel's "government was established in the territory of others with a population collected from across the world at the expense of driving millions of the rightful inhabitants of the land into a diaspora and homelessness." Born of dispossession, the Jewish state could never make itself belong: ". . . from its inception, that regime (Israel) has been a constant source of threat and insecurity in the Middle East region, waging war and spilling blood and impeding the progress of regional countries." The U.N., supposedly dedicated to peace, continues to ignore Israel's atrocities. "People are being bombarded in their own homes and their children murdered in their own streets and alleys. But no authority, not even the Security Council, can afford them any support or protection." This is not by chance.
Addressing Israel's 2006 Lebanon invasion, Ahmadinejad tore away the U.S. mask of "disinterested" diplomacy and accused Washington of collaboration in aggression: "For thirty-three long days, the Lebanese lived under the barrage of fire and bombs and close to 1.5 million of them were displaced; meanwhile some members of the Security Council practically chose a path that provided ample opportunity for the aggressor to achieve its objectives militarily." Those entrusted with preserving the peace proved impotent. "We witnessed that the Security Council of the United Nations was practically incapacitated by certain powers to even call for a ceasefire. The Security Council sat idly by for so many days, witnessing the cruel scenes of atrocities against the Lebanese. . . Why? . . . . the answer is self-evident. When the power behind the hostilities is itself a permanent member of the Security Council, how then can this Council fulfill its responsibilities?"
Denouncing a flawed U.N. structure that privileges a handful of Security Council members over the vast membership of the General Assembly, Ahmadinejad complained that, "certain powers equate themselves with the international community, and consider their decisions superseding that of over 180 countries." These powers, most conspicuously the U.S. and Britain, have renounced reciprocal dialogue and mutual compromise: "If they have differences with a nation or state, they drag it to the Security Council and as claimants, arrogate to themselves simultaneously the roles of prosecutor, judge and executioner. Is this a just order?" The U.S., far in the lead in excercising Security Council veto rights, is destroying the legitimacy of the U.N. by insisting that its views be accepted as universal truths :" . . . the direct relation between the abuse of the veto and the erosion of the legitimacy and effectiveness of the Council has now been clearly and undeniably established." Without a democratization of power, justice is unobtainable: "We cannot, and should not, expect the eradication, or even containment, of injustice, imposition and oppression without reforming the structure and working methods of the Council." Furthermore, the victims of the international capitalist order, excluded from consideration from the beginning, are also entitled to a share of power: " . . . the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the African continent should each have a representative as a permanent member of the Security Council, with veto privilege [in order to] prevent further trampling of the rights of nations."
Much as these views may be disliked, however, Ahmadinejad is the controversy he is because of his remarks on the Holocaust, the mother of all dogmas. Be that as it may, however, there is really nothing objectionable in what he has said on the topic. On December 14, 2005 Al Jazeera quoted Ahmadinejad as follows: "They have fabricated a legend under the name Massacre of the Jews, and they hold it higher than God himself, religion itself and the prophets themselves. If somebody in their country questions God, nobody says anything, but if somebody denies the myth of the massacre of the Jews, the Zionist loudspeakers and the governments in the pay of Zionism will start to scream." Allowing for imprecise translation, this appears to be the literal truth, which, one should again note, does not rule out that Jews were viciously brutalized by Nazi policies. The "legend" has to do with gas chambers, for which no forensic evidence exists, and an alleged industrial assembly line of Jewish death, carried out in response to a secret order of extermination from Adolf Hitler, as well as what is said to be 6 million Jewish victims of this process. In spite of much hysterical insistence to the contrary, there is no reason to suppose that skepticism about gas chambers, an assembly line of death, and the sacred 6 million figure, necessarily leads to the conclusion that Jews were treated well in Nazi Germany. Nor has Ahmadinejad been shown to have made such a case. Abominable oppression and suffering take many forms, with widely varying death counts, and genocide is not synonymous with gas chambers.
"President Ahmadinejad: The transcript," MSNBC Online, September 20, 2006
"A Date With a Dangerous Mind" Time Online, September 18, 2006
"How Iran's Populist Lost His Popularity," Azadeh Moaveni, Time Online, September 18, 2006
"We Are Determined," Interview With Iran's President Ahmadinejad, Spiegel Online, May 30, 2006
"No Nation Should Have Superiority Over Others," Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, UN Address, September 21, 2006
"Ahmadinejad Has Caused Outrage in Washington and Jerusalem," Al Jazeera, December 14, 2005
"Iran: How Dangerous is Ahmadinejad?" Newsweek, February 13, 2006
"Son of the Ayatollah," Fouad Ajami, U.S. News and World Report, May 14, 2006
"Iran's Conduct Is Based on Dialogue and Rationality," USA Today interview published in Tehran Times, February 14, 2006
"Iran: Past the Paranoia," The American Conservative, June 4, 2007
______Michael K. Smith is the author of "Portraits of Empire," and "The Madness of King George," (illustrations by Matt Wuerker) from Common Courage Press