This article was last modified on December 17, 2006.

In Defense of Iran

I originally wrote this article in July 2006. Throughout the past year, Iran has been a focal point in the news with constant pummeling from the American government, political commentators and even so-called objective news reporters. As someone who takes the news and government talking heads with more than just a grain of salt, I find there is often some aspect that is under-reported, unreported or mis-reported. I had hoped that between July and now that some of the misconceptions would begin to clear up, but unfortunately they seem to considered even more unquestionably “factual” than ever.

I am not alone in my view, although I am surely a minority. Political science professor Virginia Tilley joins me as someone who is concerned about the West’s characterization of Iran. “Why is Mr. Ahmadinejad being so systematically misquoted and demonized?” Tilley wonders.

Her position and response, which I neither support nor denounce, is, “Need we ask? If the world believes that Iran is preparing to attack Israel, then the US or Israel can claim justification in attacking Iran first. On that agenda, the disinformation campaign about Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statements has been bonded at the hip to a second set of lies: promoting Iran’s (nonexistent) nuclear weapon programme.”

While I hardly would think that Iran is the greatest place on Earth to live or the president the greatest leader, nor would I want to have the policies of Iran instituted here, they are not the bastion of evil that many make them out to be. The president is far from being “the next Hitler” and they are no more of a threat than we make them out to be.

The Anti-Nuke Fatwa

The biggest charge against Iran is that they are preparing to create a nuclear program which will ultimately be capable of constructing atomic weapons. Yet, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons in 2005.

I find it difficult to accept that the President of Iran would go against the direct orders issued in a fatwa. Particularly one of such a serious nature.

President’s Own Words Against Nuclear Weapons

The American government and media can say this man is a liar, but until he is proven wrong, his words stand firmly against nuclear weaponry.

“We would like to send the message to those who claim Iran is searching for nuclear weapons that there is no such policy and this [policy] is illegal and against our religion.”

“A nation which has culture, logic and civilisation does not need nuclear weapons. The countries which seek nuclear weapons are those which want to solve all problems by the use of force. Our nation does not need such weapons.”

The Linda McQuaig Hypothesis

What is interesting is that when we step back from the current conflict — outside America, Israel or Iran — the picture seems very different from what we hear on the American news. Canadian political commentator Linda McQuaig offers an example of Canadian thinking.

“Is it really Iran that is pushing for war? Think about it. Why would Iran want to provoke a war with Israel and the U.S. — both heavily armed nuclear powers — when it has no nuclear weapons itself?”

“The U.S. and Israel, on the other hand, are very keen to attack Iran. In a recent series of articles in New Yorker magazine, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has detailed Washington’s plans to attack Iran. Israel has called Iran a ‘major threat’ that ‘must be stopped’ from developing nuclear weapons.”

“But the U.S. and Israel don’t want to look like aggressors. They insist their intentions are purely defensive. Recall that Washington also claimed its invasion of Iraq was purely defensive — to protect itself from Iraq’s arsenal of deadly weapons, which, it turned out, didn’t exist.”

Rampant Anti-Semitism

There is little denying that the leaders of Iran are likely anti-Semitic and strongly dislike the Jews. In almost all speeches you can find an anti-Semitic comment from the President. And while there is no denying that this racism is completely incompatible with the idea of tolerance, put in context the commentary seems less of a threat and more a way of life that will someday pass.

In Iran, with a population of devout Muslims, praising Israel or refusing to denounce them would be political suicide. It is with this in mind we realize that while some of the anti-Jew sentiment is real, much of it is simply pandering to the voters. In America, we hear much about gay marriage and abortion and people vote for candidates based on these issues — despite the fact history has shown the courts control these issues far more than any elected official. Iran’s words on Israel can be seen in a similar light: as much as they believe in what they say, there is little chance of anything being carried out.

And Iran is singled out by the media and the government, but certainly is not alone in the Middle East as far as sharing this sentiment. As recently as June 2006, textbooks in Saudi Arabia called Christians “swine” and Jews “apes”. Religious tolerance in Saudi textbooks is summed up in this passage: “Fill in the blanks with the appropriate words (Islam, hellfire): Every religion other than ——- is false. Whoever dies outside of Islam enters ——-.” And if you think that Iran is the only place in support of war with Israel, you might want to read more: “It is part of God’s wisdom that the struggle between the Muslim and the Jews should continue until the hour (of judgment).” If Saudi children are raised with these lessons, do we expect them to be any more open-minded than how Iranians are perceived?

Wiping Israel From the Map

Many articles on Iran feature the President’s quote that he wishes to “wipe Israel from the map” in an offhand manner, without quoting the entire sentence. Furthermore, this line is brought up again and again even when the article is entirely unrelated to Israel.

But recall, the Iranians do not speak English, but Farsi. And as such, we must always examine the translation to see what was actually said. Ahmadinejad first was quoted on October 29, 2005 after giving a speech. The word “map” does not appear in this speech. Noted scholar Juan Cole (professor of Modern Middle East and South Asian History) translates the phrase as “the regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.” His statement, according to Cole, “does not imply military action or killing anyone at all”, as Western media wants us to believe. Former State Department employee William Blum says that newspaper readers should be “advised that the next time they come across such an Ahmadinejad citation to note whether a complete sentence is being quoted, and not just ‘wipe Israel off the map’.”

More recently, at a conference in December of 2006, newspaper headlines proclaimed that Ahmadinejad announced that “Israel’s Days are Numbered”. But, again, he said no such thing. His words were reported in the American media as, “The Zionist regime will be wiped out soon, the same way the Soviet Union was, and humanity will achieve freedom.” If he was quoted accurately, this seems to me to call for a change of government, not an elimination of the country of Israel or its people. Blum says that, “Obviously, the man is not calling for any kind of violent attack upon Israel, for the dissolution of the Soviet Union did not occur through force or violence.” Furthermore, to complete the analogy, the Soviet Union was not physically destroyed — it suffered political change and became Russia.

How is Iran, in this context, different from the calls from many American leaders who wish regime change in countries they perceive as threats? The difference is this: America actually carries through the regime change with full military action.

Anti-American Sentiment

Many conservatives, including my colleague Seth Centner, have argued that Iran wishes to destroy America. What is this idea based on? The closest quotation I can find to any such thing is the President saying, “Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation’s fury.”

Strong rhetoric, yes. But this is filed away under the same category as their anti-Israel comments. The “threat” was to a vague, generic aid to Israel. America was not singled out. (Compare this to George W. Bush’s threat to g oafter any country that harbors terrorists, a wide-ranging claim he has no intention of backing up.)

If the Letter to George W. Bush in May 2006 is to be taken seriously (and I think this message should be), President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is actually concerned for the welfare of Americans and for all peoples.

The President’s Holocaust Denial

The holocaust denial, while a very serious thing, actually makes sense once you understand the backwards logic employed. The President thinks the Middle East is punished by the presence of Israel (which makes sense because land was taken from Arabs to benefit Jews). He notes the Europeans who sleighted the Jews in the Holocaust were not punished (in fact, the Nazis in Germany got what they wanted — an exodus of Jews). So Europe got a good deal and the Jews were given holy land that was already occupied. It is not a stretch for one to think the Jews might have exaggerated facts to get a political goal achieved. (Note: the author of this piece is not a Holocaust denier. He simply can see the opposing point of view.)

The President’s words are as follows: “If the Europeans are telling the truth in their claim that they have killed six million Jews in the Holocaust during the World War II – which seems they are right in their claim because they insist on it and arrest and imprison those who oppose it, why should the Palestinian nation pay for the crime. Why have they come to the very heart of the Islamic world and are committing crimes against the dear Palestine using their bombs, rockets, missiles and sanctions. […] The same European countries have imposed the illegally-established Zionist regime on the oppressed nation of Palestine. If you have committed the crimes so give a piece of your land somewhere in Europe or America and Canada or Alaska to them to set up their own state there. Then the Iranian nation will have no objections, will stage no rallies on the Qods Day and will support your decision.”

This idea is clarified more in an interview done with the German news outlet, Der Spiegel. The President was asked, “Are you still saying that the Holocaust is just ‘a myth’?” And Ahmadinejad gave the answer, “I will only accept something as truth if I am actually convinced of it.”

Also in the German interview, the President made it clear that, “We oppose every type of crime against any people. But we want to know whether this crime actually took place or not… If it did not occur, then the Jews have to go back to where they came from.”

Lastly, he has told Der Spiegel (on May 31 2006, which may or may not be the same interview), “We don’t want to confirm or deny the Holocaust.”

From the Iranian point of view, anti-Zionism is not hatred; rather, the position is justice. While Americans and Europeans may disagree, at least some of this view has merit.

As a side note, the “six million” figure, in general, has been questioned even by those who fully believe in the holocaust. One of those peopel who doubts the number includes Holocaust survivor author Primo Levi. Can we write Levi off as an anti-Semite?

The December 2006 Holocaust Conference

Taken from colleague William Blum:

The conference gave a platform to various points of view, including six members of Jews United Against Zionism, at least two of whom were rabbis. One was Ahron Cohen, from London, who declared: “There is no doubt what so ever, that during World War 2 there developed a terrible and catastrophic policy and action of genocide perpetrated by Nazi Germany against the Jewish People.” He also said that “the Zionists make a great issue of the Holocaust in order to further their illegitimate philosophy and aims,” indicating as well that the figure of six million Jewish victims is debatable. The other rabbi was Moshe David Weiss, who told the delegates: “We don’t want to deny the killing of Jews in World War II, but Zionists have given much higher figures for how many people were killed. They have used the Holocaust as a device to justify their oppression.” His group rejects the creation of Israel on the grounds that it violates Jewish religious law in that a Jewish state can’t exist until the return of the Messiah.

Clearly, the conference — which the White House called “an affront to the entire civilized world” — was not set up to be simply a forum for people to deny that the Holocaust, to any significant degree, literally never took place at all. I think its safe to say that very few of the attendees held this position, which is so untenable.

Endorsement of Populism

The President strikes me as a man who cares very deeply for all Iranians and wants the best for them, even at the sacrifice of the government. He has made the pledge that oil profits will go to benefit the poor. Oil, a chief export of Iran, could go to fund a great many things and here we have the money going to help get Iranians out of poverty.

Certain countries I could name might want to take this idea to heart.

Support of Women

The Islam practiced in Iran is strict, to the point where women were not even allowed to attend sporting events such as soccer. The President, against the wishes of the clerics, legalized the idea of women at sporting events and even declared the best seats would be theirs.

Some rumors have said the President was against granting women these seats but did so to reduce pressure from the Western world. Even if this were true, he has shown he is capable of compromise – putting values and concessions above strict religious tenets.


Blum, William. December 2006 Anti-Empire Report.

deQuetteville, Harry. “Christians still ‘swine’ and Jews ‘apes’ in Saudi schools,” Telegraph.Co.Uk. June 25, 2006. (Available Online)

McQuaig, Linda. “Wildly Disproportionate Attack on Lebanon Seems Like Pretext to Confront Iran,” Common Dreams News Center. July 16, 2006. (Available Online)

Also try another article under Political
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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