Thursday, September 25, 2008

Q&A with Ahmadinejad

So Jude Law didn't show up. That's just like him. Pfft.

But Ahmedinejad was there. (I always knew Iranians were a trustworthy lot). And about 400 UN interns from around the world, and university students and professors from all over America. The Iranian Mission to the UN never expected this many of us would sign up for this event, so the Manhattan Ballroom at Grand Hyatt on 42nd St was over-crowded--all the breakfast tables were full, every chair in the back was taken, and people were standing around the room up against the walls, between the tables, and by the breakfast buffet.

He's kind of small, that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And he smiles a lot.

The first question he got from a guy in a pink shirt at the very back, was why he continues to damage his reputation by refusing to acknowledge the state of Israel.

Now, it didn't take a genious to anticipate that the answer would be long and elaborate and include many of the human rights violations and deviations from international law that the Israeli state has been guilty of in relation to the Palestinian people and their land.

"I'm told this is history, forget it," he said. "I tell them, yes, but this is what got us to where we are right now." Women are still being killed, children imprisoned, the occupation continues. "We must not live in the past," he said, "but without our past, we are like trees without roots."

And then he said something that actually made sense, in a twisted kind of way. He said that we forget that 60 million died in World War II. Why did the world decide that the killings of the Jews somehow should matter more? Now, I'm not suggesting it shouldn't matter, and neither do I buy into Ahmadenijad's dimwit suggestions that the Holocaust might never have happened (he says he never actually said it didn't happen, only that he would like to research it more, but people won't allow him... not that I know who's stopping him, but that's what he says), or that the entire world is run by Zionists (because I normally do not buy into wacky conspiration theories in general), but a quick search on gives me figures to ponder.

About 27 million died in the Soviet Union. 27 million! That's a 2 and a 7 and 6 zeros. We very rarely give them a second thought in our part of the world.

Japan murdered somewhere between 3 to 10 million (mostly) Chinese people. When do we remember them?

"We are sorry for the Jews that were killed, we are sorry for everybody who was killed--Jewish, Christian, or whatever."

Yeah, we should be. And even though he brought it up to sort of make us think less of the Holocaust, it still made me think of all of those we normally never think about when we speak of World War II. If there is such a thing as collective guilt, boy do we have lots to make up for. Not that you and I did these things, but our grandparents did.

But anyway, after explaining why he risked his reputation to stand up for the Palestinian people, he suggested a rather... interesting solution. According the UN Charter, all people have a right to self-determination, and therefore there should be a referendum for the Palestinian people so that they can finally be allowed to decide what they want to do with this situation.


Even I who have personally experienced the occupation, have seen what it does to families, have gone past the fields of black sad stubs sticking up in dried-out lands, where once Palestinians harvested olives from silver green olive trees. Even I who have seen the Wall, got stuck at the Israeli check points, read the local news about the kids that were shot dead by the Israeli military, about the old women who were beaten up by Israeli settlers... about the new fantastic idea to spray demonstrators against the Wall with toilet water (yes TOILET water, because it causes infections--go to for daily coverage on what actually happens in the occupied territories, deaths, names, everything).

Even I, even I would never in my wildest dreams suggest that Palestinians should be granted sovereignty over the entire territory (which is the most likely outcome of a Palestinian referendum, I guess, if they were actually given that option). That's like suggesting that the Native Americans should be allowed to have a referendum on what to do with all these settlers that have taken over their country. No matter how just the cause may seem in light of past events, it just doesn't work that way. Sure, without our past, we're rootless trees. But you can't cut out all the branches or shake off all the leaves that get in your way, because the tree would die.

Think of it as a Bonsai tree, if you will. With careful pruning and lots of love and care and patience, we can bend the branches the way we want them to bend. But it's a fine balance, getting the tree to live and grow, because if you cut too much, you kill it.

And just because some branches and leaves used to bite off all these other branches, and has, for the past 60 years, bullied a bunch of branches that were left on the tree... if you'll excuse my cannibalistic Little Shop of Horrors bonsai tree metaphor... doesn't make it right for us to cut out all branches connected to these bullying branches. Because most of them are really only regular branches and leaves, and cutting them off, would be like...

Okay, I give up. The metaphor sucks. But the point is that the Israeli families have lived there for generations now, and no more than their grandparents should have expelled those who lived there before them, and destroyed entire Palestinian villages, cut down their fruit trees, should Palestinians today chase the Israelis out of their homes. This is a very delicate situation that calls for very delicate measures. Any solution must involve all parties, with equal say on the final draft for the future political structure.

But back to Ahmadinejad. He's a good question dodger, that man. Every inconvenient question on human rights violations, public executions of gay people (well, he didn't really dodge that one as much as he just expressed his view that homosexuality is considered to be wrong in Iran, and therefore punishable by law), women's rights, was successfully circumvented with smiles, jokes, and examples that didn't really satisfy anyone who has read the simplest reports on the situation in Iran. But on the other hand, he did have a point. We haven't been there, so we don't know. He invited us all to come and see for ourselves, because the way Iran, and just about all Arabic countries too, are presented in the media, with endless stretches of sand dunes and maybe a camel or two (or screaming mobs of angry Qur'an waving people, crying mothers in traditional clothing, stone-throwing kids), is not in actual fact a very good depiction of what the Middle East actually is. And this is true. Never take somebody else's word for it. See for yourself.

But still. Student uprisings are being quelled, people are being killed and put to prison (not necessarily in that order, though), and no matter how many examples that he brings up of what the US is doing wrong or worse, it doesn't take away his responsibility to see to it that his government adheres to human rights laws within his own borders. Because somehow I don't quite trust him on his remark that Iranian prisons have turned into hotels these days.


peterkauf said...

Hidey ho, blogger girl!
Strong statements you are making, but I agree, all human suffering, on whatever level, no matter what people/ethnic group/faith, no matter which country or region, no matter the "greater cause", is something that needs equal recognition and acknowledgement. The eradication of human suffering
is something we all need to intimately involve ourselves in. I think you are in the right place and among the right people to do so.

Ruby said...

Hidey ho peterkauf! ;)

I'm not so sure this is the right place after all... I think it might be the closest thing we have to a common forum where almost everybody can make their voice heard, but when it comes to doing something about it... that's when it becomes annoyingly clear that the UN is just a reflection of the world "out there" and can't really do anything unless the world (or relevant actors) is ready for it.

But communication is a huge step along the way, so I'm still all for this giant almost universal round table, no matter how little actually is agreed on.