As an Iranian-American who observes Iranian politics with equal parts curiosity and concern, I am at once amazed and astonished by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s most recent display of tactlessness at Columbia University, especially given his oftentimes eloquent if not ebullient nature.
Unable to posit straight answers to questions like “Do you seek the destruction of Israel?” and “Are you supporting terrorism in Iraq ?” he appeared ostensibly opposed to directly answer anything controversial. Consequently, and contrary to his somewhat emboldened image at home, he made himself look clumsy, weak and dare I say feeble.
While admittedly Ahmadinejad has made some seemingly absurd proclamations that make him easily vilified in the West, we still must wonder whether his uniquely Persian pomp is in fact guided by a more veiled and vitriolic internal Iranian policy that requires if not forces him to make blanket denials of homosexuality and the holocaust.
Maybe he was caught off-guard by Columbia’s President Bollinger, or possibly his morning chai didn’t sit well, but when the world is told every day that Iran wants to “wipe Israel off the map,” and that it supports terrorists in Iraq and beyond, it is de rigueur for a leader in his particular position to – at the very least – make an effort to clear up the confusion rather than sheepishly shy away from it.
If Ahmadinejad desires to impress Iran’s immensity upon the world, then for the sake of Americans, Israelis and Iranians themselves, it is incumbent upon him to address such sensitive issues as the elimination of Israel and Iran’s nuclear aspirations with facts rather than fatwa. A simple heaping of humility would have helped him to dispel any notions of being diabolical, whilst equally allowing him the ability to explain that his positions have nothing to do with Judaism per se, and that Iran’s energy ambitions are indeed benign given its domestic economic delinquency.
Iranians are far from stupid – and Ahmadinejad is no exception. With equal access to newspapers, satellite TV and the internet, they have become a progressive population desirous of the same comforts and freedoms enjoyed elsewhere. But Ahmadinejad’s recent denials, his brazenly provocative pronouncements alongside an absence of political acumen have now not only made him but Iran and Iranians in general subjects of ridicule and revulsion – and that is a condition we all can ill-afford.