Understanding Ahmadinejad's letter to Bush: the context
How best to understand Ahmadinejad's letter to Bush?
I've already noted that the letter seems to have worked nicely as propaganda for many people; the evil Bush seen as rejecting the "process" (as in "peace process" or "process of dialogue that might lead to understanding and rapprochement") that Ahmadinejad is seen as opening.
And so, in the interest of cultural sensitivity, I turn to Amir Taheri, Iranian expatriate journalist, to help us out in our desire to comprehend Ahmadinejad. Writing in today's NY Post, Taheri gives us some needed historical and religious context:
"The whole world is moving towards God," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has written to his American counterpart, George W. Bush. "Would Your Excellency not wish to join?"...
Ahmadinejad's epistolary exercise seems merely another of his quirks. But it must be seen as yet another sign that the new leadership in Tehran is determined to provoke a direct confrontation with the United States in the hope that, plagued by internal problems, the Americans will either back away or be humiliated.
Ahmadinejad's move fits into a 14-century-long Muslim tradition, initiated by the Prophet Muhammad himself, of writing letters to "the rulers of the world." In 625 A.D., having consolidated his position in Medina and established a secure power base for his rule, the prophet decided it was time to call on "the infidel" to abandon their faith and submit to Islam. He dictated letters to Khosrow Parviz, the Persian king of kings (a Zoroastrian), and to Emperor Heraclius of Byzantium and the Ethiopian monarch Negus (both Christian).
To each, the prophet's offer was simple: Convert to Islam and secure a place in paradise - or cling to your beliefs and face the sword of Islam.
The Persian monarch ordered his security services to find the "insolent letter writer" and bring him to the court in Ctesiphon, the capital of the Persian Empire at the time. According to Islamic folklore, Muhammad escaped capture only because, soon after, Khosrow Parviz was murdered by his son and designated heir. And within a decade the Persian Empire had disintegrated, with most of its territory falling to the armies of Islam...
It would be wrong to dismiss Ahmadinejad's letter to Bush as just another of the Islamic leader's many weird habits. It would be more prudent, and better politics, to take Ahmadinejad seriously and try and understand him in his own terms.
His letter contains a crucial message: The present regime in Iran is the enemy of the current international system and is determined to undermine and, if possible, destroy it.
It continues to puzzle me that so many of us have to learn the same lesson over and over, and that is this one: tyrants mean what they say. Iran's leadership hasn't had its people chanting "Death to America!" for nothing for all these long decades.
There are issues open to debate: how close is Iran to being able, if not to destroy, then at least to inflict a significant body blow on the US or its ally Israel; and what would be the best course of action to prevent it.
But there should be no debate on one thing: the desire is there on the part of Iran's leadership (perhaps not its people--but, unfortunately, their intent doesn't count for much in this equation). If, after so much repetition, we fail to understand that one basic fact, then we are worse than useful idiots: we might be sowing the seeds of our own destruction.