Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a controversial trip to the United States to speak at the United Nations General Assembly. Time was short as many news correspondence sought interviews. Ahmadinejad has been known to speak often to foreign audiences, through the use of a translator, with his straightforward and sometimes compelling yet often humorous rhetoric including his famous, “There are no homosexuals in Iran” quote.
The following dialog is from an interview Ahmadinejad had with National Public Radio’s Steve Inskeep1:
Inskeep: Iran’s democracy, Iran’s elections have a feature that is different from the United States, that we should explain. </p>
In Iran, the government disqualifies many candidates, sometimes thousands of candidates, if they do not have what is considered to be the appropriate beliefs. They are not permitted to run.
Why do you not trust Iran’s people to make that choice, instead of the government making it for them?
Ahmadinejad: I, in fact, believe that elections in Iran are among the freest in the world. There’s at least 100 times more freedom in Iran than there is in the United States.
Inskeep: Why don’t you trust people to vote for everybody?
Ahmadinejad: We trust people! Elections are free in Iran!
Inskeep: After the candidate rolls are removed.
Ahmadinejad: From many different groups and parties. Even independents. Free assorted [indecipherable] campaigns. The national TV actually gave time to all of them equally. I was an independent candidate, without any party affiliations. Only the academics supported me. And I was voted into office. And now I’m the president. I ask you, can anyone in fact become a president without the support of either of the two parties here in the United States?
Inskeep: Anyone may put his name on the ballot in the United States.
Ahmadinejad: Are 300 million people here in America members of either of the two parties? No, not necessarily. People have no other choices here. You only have two choices. In Iran, at least, we have eight. Who is more free? Who has more confidence in its people?
Inskeep: Eight people in the political spectrum from about here to here, and I’m holding my finger an inch apart…
Both Ahmadinejad and Inskeep made some very clear points. Ahmadinejad tried to make the argument that Iran had a more independent process of elections with several candidates and lack of political party binding. Inskeep kept pushing the fact that potential candidates are screened and their views are closer than that of US candidates; emphasizing that many are on our ballots. Ahmadinejad continued to push the fact that Americans feel compelled to vote for one of two major parties.
As the conversation continued with Ahmadinejad, the interview turned more argumentative and erratic with Inskeep reducing the interview to questions as to how much Western media Ahmadinejad absorbed
Inskeep: Haven’t the police confiscated satellite dishes?
Inskeep: Do you watch any Western television programs, Mr. President?
Ahmadinejad: Yeah, like everyone else!
Inskeep: What programs?
Ahmadinejad: People, after all, like movies and shows…
Inskeep: What’s something you’ve seen recently?
Ahmadinejad: Of course, very little, I mostly watch Iranian TV and listen to international news.
Inskeep: Any Western music that you listen to or books that you read?
Ahmadinejad: Sure, me too, like everyone else, but this isn’t what matters. That’s not how nations matter. People in Iran see everything, read everything, they don’t restrict themselves to one outlet.
Inskeep: The Beatles? Led Zeppelin?
While it is important to note that Iran does have a black-market industry which revolves around installing satellite dishes and translating western programming, both of which are illegal and enforced by police raids2, the importance of that point was overshadowed by how Inskeep kept pushing the question of if Ahmadinejad has personally seen Western media. I can understand what Inkseep was trying to accomplish: to show Ahmadinejad was out of touch with his own people who have grabbed onto Western media and how he himself was either not permitted or uninterested in the rest of the world.
However, the Western, specifically United States, media Inkseep referrers to has failed to inform its people into being misled into two illegal wars this century, and furthermore I highly doubt many Americans can name one Arab program or mass media television station. Although the American media is more open and less regulated in what it can report where as the Iranian media is more of a propaganda machine for a religious based government, what Iranian press cannot do, the American main-stream media simply choses not to do. And what the independent and international media report, the American people simply ignore. It is the issue of an empire that controls by power, fear and laws versus our hegemony which controls by money, wealth and corporate media influence. There is more overlap that either would care to admit between the two.
One final thing that disturbs me most about the interview was how Inskeep kept talking about how Ahmadinejad was who wanted to “wipe Israel off the map.” This is a common quote repeated over and over again by many media outlets, but it is misleading for two reasons. One, it is not actually Ahmadinejad’s quote, but a quote he took from Ayatollah Khomeini, the late leader of the Islamic Revolution. In this sense, Ahmadinejad was credited (and blamed) for a quote that was a view held before he came into office. Second, the quote is a mistranslation.
The quote “Imam ghoft een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad“ does not actually contain the words “wiped out” or “Israel” for that matter. The full word for word translation is as follows:
“The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time3”.
By Inskeep’s own summary in the abbreviated version of the interview, he said, “When he spoke of wiping Israel off the earth, he contends, he did not intend to mean it by force.” Instead Ahmadinejad stated he wanted a referendum held so that the Palestinian people could decide the future of their government.
Ahmadinejad and Iran are far from innocence in the censorship of the Iranian people and country. However neither is the United States blameless. The United States removed the Iranian republic and replaced it with a monarch: The Shah of Iran. The tension between Iran and the US is similar to the one between Georgia and Russia: a contrived one in order to promote continued aggression, control and occupation. It is the result of powerful and ruthless interests both corporate and foreign.
Those with influence over our country have such power as to continue a Zionist agenda that is of great concern to not only Iran, but the rest of the Muslim world. There is no greater evidence of this than when Paul Wolfowitz address AIPAC saying, “Israelis are not the only victims of the violence in the Middle East. Innocent Palestinians are suffering and dying in great numbers as well. (Boos from crowd.) It is critical that we recognize and acknowledge that fact4.” Wolfowitz was booed for asking the crowd to remember the plight of the Palestinian people.
1 Ahmadinejad: Who Exactly Is The Provocateur? Inskeep. National Public Radio. September 23, 2008
2 Iran: Satellite Dishes are illegal but oh-so-popular Perry. LA Times. August 1, 2008.
3 Wiped off the Map – The Rumor of the Century Norouzi. Retrieved on September 23, 2008.
4 Transcript of remarks at Pro-Israel Rally April 15, 2002.