During the run up to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the leaders of those countries tried to open a dialogue with the Bush administration but were summarily rebuffed, since Bush and his neoconservative clique were determined to go to war from the get-go and all their posturing about preferring diplomacy have been revealed to be just that – posturing. The media was complicit in this dismissal of possibilities for peaceful resolution, hardly ever reporting the full extent of the overtures that those governments made to the US.
We see the same thing being repeated with Iran. The latest example is the way the Iranian President Mahmood Ahmadi-Nejad’s letter to Bush is being portrayed and dismissed. I think it is important for people to not depend on selective quotes released by interested parties or the interpretations of the media without also reading the original documents and making judgments for themselves. The full text of the translated letter can be seen here.
The letter is mixture of politics, philosophy, and religion. On the issue of nuclear technology, Ahmadi-Nejad asks a pertinent question:
Why is it that any technological and scientific achievement reached in the Middle East regions is translated into and portrayed as a threat to the Zionist regime? Is not scientific R&D one of the basic rights of nations.
You are familiar with history. Aside from the Middle Ages, in what other point in history has scientific and technical progress been a crime? Can the possibility of scientific achievements being utilised for military purposes be reason enough to oppose science and technology altogether? If such a supposition is true, then all scientific disciplines, including physics, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, engineering, etc. must be opposed.
He may have suspected that he was over-estimating Bush’s familiarity with history (despite majoring in it at Yale), so he helpfully provides him with a Cliff notes version of Iranian grievances against the US, many of which are likely to be also unfamiliar to most Americans:
The brave and faithful people of Iran too have many questions and grievances, including: the coup d’etat of 1953 and the subsequent toppling of the legal government of the day, opposition to the Islamic revolution, transformation of an Embassy into a headquarters supporting, the activities of those opposing the Islamic Republic (many thousands of pages of documents corroborates this claim), support for Saddam in the war waged against Iran, the shooting down of the Iranian passenger plane, freezing the assets of the Iranian nation, increasing threats, anger and displeasure vis-à-vis the scientific and nuclear progress of the Iranian nation (just when all Iranians are jubilant and collaborating their country’s progress), and many other grievances that I will not refer to in this letter.
Ahmadi-Nejad’s political analysis can be quite shrewd. For example, he provides a checklist of things by which he thinks a country’s leaders should be judged and it is hard to quarrel with it. But he has clearly selected the items in the list to hit Bush at all the points where he knows he is weak.
[M]y main contention – which I am hoping you will agree to some of it – is: Those in power have specific time in office, and do not rule indefinitely, but their names will be recorded in history and will be constantly judged in the immediate and distant futures. The people will scrutinize our presidencies.
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 especial interest groups, and by forcing many people to live in poverty and hardship, made a few people rich and powerful – thus trading the approval of the people and the Almighty with theirs?
Did we defend the rights of the underprivileged or ignore them?
Did we defend the rights of all people around the world or imposed wars on them, interfered illegally in their affairs, established hellish prisons and incarcerated some of them?
Did we bring the world peace and security or raised the specter of intimidation and threats?
Did we tell the truth to our nation and others around the world or presented 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 behaviour, logic, ethics, peace, fulfilling obligations, justice, service to the people, prosperity, progress and 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?
And finally, they will judge us on whether we remained true to our oath of office – to serve the people, which is our main task, and the traditions of the prophets – or not?
. . .
If billions of dollars spent on security, military campaigns and troop movement were instead spent on investment and assistance for poor countries, promotion of health, combating different diseases, education and improvement of mental and physical fitness, assistance to the victims of natural disasters, creation of employment opportunities and production, development projects and poverty alleviation, establishment of peace, mediation between disputing states and distinguishing the flames of racial, ethnic and other conflicts were would the world be today? Would not your government, and people be justifiably proud? Would not your administration’s political and economic standing have been stronger? And I am most sorry to say, would there have been an ever increasing global hatred of the American governments?
No wonder the administration is downplaying the letter. It is hard to see Bush being able to answer these questions.
The letter then veers off into religious talk and appeals to the one thing he says they have in common, the way religious beliefs of Bush and Ahmadi-Nejad influence their political actions. And he is right, he does seem to have a lot in common with Bush and the religious fundamentalists in the US, even to the extent of quoting religious texts in support of public policy. For example,
We believe a return to the teachings of the divine prophets is the only road leading to salvations. I have been told that Your Excellency follows the teachings of Jesus (PBUH), and believes in the divine promise of the rule of the righteous on Earth.
We also believe that Jesus Christ (PBUH) was one of the great prophets of the Almighty. He has been repeatedly praised in the Koran. Jesus (PBUH) has been quoted in Koran as well; [19,36] And surely Allah is my Lord and your Lord, therefore serves Him; this is the right path, Marium.
(Note: PBUH stands for Peace Be Upon Him, and is used by devout Muslims whenever they refer to a revered figure. I don’t know what ‘Marium’ means but it is also probably some religious convention.)
Ahmadi-Nejad even throws in some oblique allusions to the Rapture, speaking of the “belief in the Last Day,” and continues:
The day will come when all humans will congregate before the court of the Almighty, so that their deeds are examined. The good will be directed towards Haven and evildoers will meet divine retribution.
He even shares Bush’s disdain for the trappings of liberalism and western style democracy, and enthusiastically trumpets the advantages of a theocratic state:
Liberalism and Western style democracy have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity. Today these two concepts have failed. Those with insight can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the liberal democratic systems. We increasingly see that people around the world are flocking towards a main focal point - that is the Almighty God.
(The slight difference between Bush and Ahmadi-Nejad is that Bush still pays lip-service to democracy while undermining it with actions that reflect his belief that he is above the law and can thumb his nose at the courts and the US constitution.)
It is not comforting to think that issues of war and peace are being determined by two leaders who think that liberal democracy is useless, and use religious texts as a source of their policy decision-making.
And if you have the time, check out the Iranian President’s official website which has a nice Photoshopped picture of him writing a letter at his desk, while in the same room in the corner Bush is seated in a chair thoughtfully reading the letter. Which immediately raised the thought in my mind: Did Bush actually read the letter? Or did some aide give him a one-paragraph summary or a set of bullet points?
POST SCRIPT: Traveling
For the next two or three weeks I will be traveling to Australia and New Zealand to visit family, friends, and the occasional kangaroo, koala bear, and kiwi.
My access to a computer will be somewhat erratic during these days and I will be unable to post any original material. As a result, until my return I will be re-running some of my favorite posts from the very early days of this blog, which may be original for those who started visiting here later.