Within hours of the arrival of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's letter to President Bush, Condoleezza Rice said the letter was worthless. It provided no openings for dialogue. With a combination of sharp-toothed Piranha attacks and flip jokes, the media swept into action.
On May 9 the New York Times cavalierly quipped in a headline: "Iranian Writes to Bush; No RSVP Is Likely." The next day the Times expressed its ire that the Iranian President had dared to "lecture" Bush.
The Wall Street Journal compared the missive to the Unabomber's Manifesto. (This was a particularly insidious comparison. Back in 1995 Theodore Kaczynski had threatened to set off a bomb unless his 35,000 word diatribe was published in both the New York Times and the Washington Post.)
Slate's Fred Kaplan echoed the inane Unabomber comparison -- though later Kaplan admitted the letter did provide an opening. Jay Leno joined the fray. He quipped that Ahmadinejad's screed was a chain letter. Bush must forward it to 10 statesmen or else there would be a curse. David Letterman joked each "i [in the letter] was dotted with a mushroom cloud".
The only establishment voice deigning to give the letter some respect was Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post. In his May 14 column, "Thinking Outside of the Iran Box," Hoagland suggested Bush should leave open the option of talking to Iran. He also noted that, although Bush says "We are in a who-blinks-first game," actually "it's a who-thinks-first, and best, game."
Meanwhile lost in the smoke screen -- as it was intended to be -- was the significance of the first communication between an Iranian President and a US President in decades.
Other significant aspects of the letter lost in the fray: the President of Iran addressed Bush respectfully and cordially, repeatedly addressing him as Mr. President and Your Excellency. Ahmadinejad eschewed such names as "Supreme Devil of the Land of Infidels" or "Satan" -- favorite bellicose Iranian terms of the past.
Ahmadinejad asked important questions regarding the contradiction between President Bush's Christian values and US policy. As Ahmadinejad put it, "Can one be a follower of Jesus Christ… and have countries attacked… villages set ablaze?
"Can one be a follower of Jesus Christ and because of the possibility of the existence of WMD's in one country, it is occupied, around one hundred thousand people killed, its water sources, agriculture and industry destroyed… and the country pushed back perhaps fifty years?"
"How can these actions be reconciled with… the tradition of Jesus Christ, the Messenger of peace and forgiveness?" and, as Ahmadinejad adds, how can prisoners at Guantanamo Bay who "have not been tried, have no legal representation… [who] no one knows whether they are prisoners, POWs, accused or criminals… be consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ?"
The Iranian President continues to ask this same question about "secret prisons in Europe," the destruction of "hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland, olive plantations, towns and villages" in Palestine, as well as the "millions of indigenous [Palestinians] made refugees."
These are profound, important questions -- ones many Americans, whether they be Christians, Jews, Buddhists, agnostics or atheists, have already asked.
In the peculiar alchemy of Bush's supposedly Christian mind whatever happened to the Sixth Commandment, "Thou shalt not Kill"?
Yet for anybody in the US press to take Ahmadinejad's questions seriously would be to subject America's foreign policy and Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to unwelcome scrutiny. No wonder the letter had to be trashed.
One could, in
return, ask Mr. Ahmadinejad are the public execution of gays, the
oppression of women, the torture of political opponents, the suppression
of a free press in Iran consistent with the teachings of Muhammad?
Finally, the Iranian
President reaches out to Mr. Bush on the matter of God. He says, "All
divine religions share and respect one word and that is 'monotheism' or
belief in a single God and no other in the world."
Can you imagine President Bush going on National TV to say President Ahmadinejad and I worship the same God?
Personally, I'm not
a Christian. Nor do I welcome theocracies in either the US or Iran. But if
ever I heard of an opening -- a large, grand opening -- for dialogue,
President Ahmadinejad has presented it to President Bush.
Mina Hamilton is a writer based in New York City. She can be reached at: email@example.com.
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