By Nadav Eyal
"If he didn’t exist, it would do us good to make him up... It’s much more difficult to deal with the reformists, by whom the centrifuges are spinning just as fast."
Translated by Viktoria Lymar
Edited by Steven Stenzler
14 June 2013
The nuke program, the Holocaust denial, the accusations that the United States is in cooperation with bin Laden, and the claim that there are no gays in his country have made Ahmadinejad the world's most reviled leader.
One more moment, just a second – and the world will part with a sigh of relief from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In recent decades, and mainly since the fall of the last of the really famous dictators, the international reality rubbed eyeballs with few figures comparable to Ahmadinejad in his high profile, grotesqueness, and jitters he managed to generate. Ahmadinejad (the relevant journalists dub him "Nejad," – an affection of sorts) has transformed himself into a caricature, type-cast as the Eastern despot.
The Iran to which he came eight years ago had preserved [some] hopeful elements: relatively free elections; journalism where there is room for opposition newspapers – with a limited, yet existant freedom of expression; and a general sense of progress in the reform, represented by the great popularity of Khatami, the suave and soft-spoken president, who didn’t fear to shake hands with women, nevertheless, failed in his attempt to profoundly change the regime.
Ahmadinejad ascended to the presidential throne as a dizzying surprise, as a step forward. As a leader of the "neoconservative" wing. He was the first president of Iran, almost since the Revolution, who was not a clergyman. One who was the Mayor of Tehran is a religious person, of course, however, he wasn’t educated in the Islamic seminaries in the holy city of Qom. He didn’t eat from the mess tin of the clerics and ayatollahs, but rather was regarded as a prominent representative of a new generation – professional, civilian and religious, nonetheless, also compromising in the matters relating to modesty and society in general.
The rise of a candidate without a robe, with no religious training, was seen as a fascinating development. The history of Ahmadinejad himself, who was claimed to be among the students that took over the American Embassy during the revolution, gave validity to his ability to make big changes.
Well, the rest is history. Ahmadinejad orated himself to alienation from the world. He built a rhetoric based on "us" and "them." "We," for Ahmadinejad, are the oppressed on earth. An alignment of countries that the West and the United States, with their lies and decaying values, are trying to degrade. As a country leader, he deeply hurt the economy, led to diplomatic isolation, destroyed the education system, and worst of all – caused the unraveling of the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic itself. Iran could be proud, until 2009, of being the only country in the region (except for Israel, which doesn’t count over there) where elections were not decided in advance; where the ruler did not get 99 percent, in the worst case; where contrary to Egypt and Jordan, Syria and Iraq, it was possible to replace the government in Tehran.
Although the new government would always be committed to the principles of their 'grand rabbi' (the supreme [spiritual] leader), but still, in the tough framework of the Islamic principles, there would be dimensions of freedom. Most unfortunately, it all ended in blood in the brutal suppression in 2009, after Ahmadinejad had lost the election, yet the results were falsified with the support of the spiritual leader and on the bayonets of the fanatic civilian militias, the Basij’.
Surely, for Israel, Ahmadinejad was a first-rate propaganda asset. "If he didn’t exist, it would do us good to make him up," a senior decision maker once remarked. "It’s much more difficult to deal with the reformists, by whom the centrifuges are spinning just as fast." In honor of the farewell, here are the seven great – or ridiculous and terrible – moments of the outgoing Iranian president.
1. Convenes the Holocaust denial conference in Tehran: "They (the Western powers) launched the myth of the Holocaust. [They lied, they put on a show...]”1
That wasn’t Ahmadinejad’s most important decision, but apparently, the most egregious one. There’s no way to illustrate to what extent the governmental Holocaust denial campaign in Iran caused tremendous damage to the country and its reputation.
Ahmadinejad's decision to make Tehran the spearhead of the international force of Holocaust deniers, has incorrigibly turned it into a total leper in the eyes of the entire West. Conventions of Holocaust denial conferences were a celebration for the anti-Semites – while for Israel and Jews around the world, an absolute proof of the annihilation intentions of the Iranian regime. These presidential motions weren’t particularly liked in Iran, including in the religious seminars in Qom – nonetheless, they passed without opposition and with generous media coverage, probably inspired by the supreme leader.
The Iranians had difficulty understanding the power of sensitivity in the West, but as the years passed, they realized the size of the damage. The current presidential candidates, almost all of them, have implicitly denounced Ahmadinejad, and said that "the path of Imam" (the Khomeini doctrine) distanced from anti-Semitism.
2. Backs the 9/11 conspiracy theories.
Another way for the Iranian president to malign his own country. "Some segments within the U.S. government orchestrated the [Sept. 11, 2001] attack to reverse the declining American economy,"2 stated Ahmadinejad. In May 2010, the leader of the "great civilization" observed that Osama bin Laden was living in Washington. "Yes... he's there. Because he was a previous partner of Mr. Bush.
They were colleagues, in fact, in the old days. You know that. They were in the oil business together. They worked together. Mr. bin Laden never co-operated with Iran [but he co-operated with Mr. Bush]."3
What more can be said about such a quotation? Even if Ahmadinejad announced his desire for world peace, personally dismantled on his own initiative every centrifuge and signed a peace treaty with the State of Israel, America would never forgive him for giving the impression that the September 11 attacks (in the above quote and harsher ones) had been some internal conspiracy of the administration.
3. Repeatedly pronounces that Israel will disappear from the map.
The gravest harm the Iranian president inflicted on his country was his obsessive preoccupation with Israel. In Iran of the last 20 years, intense activity against Israel has been carried out by various means, and primarily, through proxies (Hezbollah and in the past, Hamas). Nevertheless, Iran’s leaders rarely talked about Israel itself, among other things, in order to not sharpen the indictment against the Republic – an indictment Israel sought to consolidate and deepen. Then came Ahmadinejad and stopped the masquerade – not patently Iranian behavior – while compulsively talking about the destruction of Israel in different phrasings.
He deals with that almost from his first day in office; suppose, this quote, from 2005: "Israel must be wiped off the map… The establishment of the Zionist regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world. The skirmishes in the occupied land are part of a war of destiny. The outcome of hundreds of years of war will be defined in Palestinian land."4 He also used to send us appealing statements towards the Independence Day, forever strengthening his status as the most demanded effigy for burning at Lag BaOmer [holiday with traditional bonfires]: "Those who think they can revive the stinking corpse of the usurping and fake Israeli regime by throwing a birthday party are seriously mistaken... this regime is on its way to annihilation... has reached the end like a dead rat after being slapped by the Lebanese" (May 2008).5
And it went on and on, non-stop: "The Zionist regime and the Zionists are a cancerous tumor. Even if one cell of them is left in one inch of (Palestinian) land, in the future this story (of Israel's existence) will repeat,"6 the president warned. "Zionists want to spread..."7 (2012) (quotes courtesy of The Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism).
4. Loses the election in 2009 and then uses force to suppress the Green Protests.
In 2009 public confidence in the Islamic Republic of Iran cracked, perhaps beyond repair, and Ahmadinejad deserves almost full credit, along with the Spiritual Leader Khamenei. Till today, it is not clear the scope of rigging in those elections – at which Ahmadinejad arrives as an incumbent president – but by the intensity of the public reaction on the streets, it looks like it was especially large-scale.
By the violent repression of the Green protests, the Iranian president creates a number of martyrs for a future democratic revolution, should one come about. The most famous character is of course Neda, the young Iranian filmed being shot during the demonstrations. The leaders of the reformist opposition, – renowned people who are considered acceptable to the family of the founder of the Republic, Khomeini, are placed under house arrest and there they are to this day.
The Green protest was the closest moment to a counter-revolution in the history of the Islamic Republic, and it was foiled in a way of, simply put, unbridled cruelty that included disappearances, torture, lengthy periods of detention and other forms of oppression.
5. Declares and acts so that there will be no concession on the nuclear program – while tearing down the Iranian economy.
Since 2007, the Iranian president consistently worked to thwart any compromise on the nuclear program. Although the decisions in the nuclear field are in fact under the absolute authority of the Supreme Leader Khamenei, however, Ahmadinejad fought territorial battles with Khamenei, and chiefly tried to frustrate and ruin the atmosphere in a manner that would not allow any advancement. In 2007, he delivers an outrageous address to the U.N., and calmly informs that the nuclear issue "is now closed" as for Iran, which decided to pursue it "through its appropriate legal path... and to disregard unlawful and political impositions [by the arrogant powers].8
In other speeches before the U.N., the Iranian president will note that "The Zionists are crooks. A small handful of Zionists, with a very intricate organization, have taken over the power centers of the world,"9 bring up other conspiracy theories and make history – the mass walk out of the Western delegates, a scene not to be forgotten for a long time. Ahmadinejad’s attendance of the U.N. has become a hobby for him, with interviews to the American media outlets that got, over and over again, wanted screen time with a caricature of evil a la Dr. No or Dr. Strangelove. Naturally, this state of affairs facilitates passing rounds of sanctions against Iran, that steadily aggravate its economic condition up until the collapse of the currency, rampant inflation and expanding black market. This is the situation we are in today.
6. Says there are no gays in Iran.
Again, not a big policy decision of Ahmadinejad – just a relatively single piece of mind at a meeting with students in the United States. In response to questions raised in the wake of Iran's dark policy toward homosexuality (punishment up to execution), the Iranian president lays it out simply: "In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country. In Iran we do not have this phenomenon. I do not know who has told you we have it."10
Not much to add to the power of the publicity damage brought about to the Islamic Republic in the aftermath of this, with its presentation as a country led by a simple-minded moron with very outdated prejudices. What's interesting, of course, is that people who are a bit familiar with Tehran can tell that there is a diverse homosexual scene, and well known to the authorities. This Ahmadinejad’s quote introduced him to new audiences – those who are not necessarily interested in international areas, but suddenly discovered the Iranian president. In the bad sense of the word.
7. Portrayed as an absolute madman, and thereby denigrates the whole country.
Well, there’s no shortage of examples. Remember Paul the Octopus? A yellowish media story about an octopus who correctly predicted the results of football matches? A colorful news item for bored editors or back pages of newspapers? So here we go – let's say, a subject that Ahmadinejad feels the need to speak out on. "Those who believe in this type of thing cannot be the leaders of the global nations that aspire, like Iran, to human perfection, basing themselves in the love of all sacred values."11 We’re talking, just to remind, about an octopus.
These quirks don’t end in the context of the Iranian president – say, urgent comments apropos wearing ties (or not);12 the ban on all Western music [from Iran's radio and TV stations] or the claim that he experienced a heavenly event during an important speech before the U.N.: "[A member of the Iranian delegation] said when you began with the words 'in the name of God,' I saw that you became surrounded by a light until the end [of the speech]... I felt it myself, too. […for 27-28 minutes] all the leaders did not blink... [I am not exaggerating...] They were astonished as if a hand held them there and made them sit. It had opened their eyes and ears for the message of the Islamic Republic."13
Original Hebrew article:
Image credit: Israel Hayom/Shlomo Cohen; Reuters/Haaretz; Reuters/EPA/The Telegraph
The author is foreign news editor at Channel 10
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I can't believe I'm writing this, but we're still going to miss him. Strategically, of course...