[News] Putting Words in Ahmadinejad's Mouth

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Aug 28 15:27:57 EDT 2006


August 28, 2006

Is Iran's President Really a Jew-hating, 
Holocaust-denying Islamo-fascist who has 
threatened to "wipe Israel off the map"?

Putting Words in Ahmadinejad's Mouth


Johannesburg, South Africa

In this frightening mess in the Middle East, 
let's get one thing straight. Iran is not 
threatening Israel with destruction. Iran's 
president has not threatened any action against 
Israel. Over and over, we hear that Iran is 
clearly "committed to annihilating Israel" 
because the "mad" or "reckless" or "hard-line" 
President Ahmadinejad has repeatedly threatened 
to destroy Israel But every supposed quote, every 
supposed instance of his doing so, is wrong.

The most infamous quote, "Israel must be wiped 
off the map", is the most glaringly wrong. In his 
October 2005 speech, Mr. Ahmadinejad never used 
the word "map" or the term "wiped off". According 
to Farsi-language experts like Juan Cole and even 
right-wing services like MEMRI, what he actually 
said was "this regime that is occupying Jerusalem 
must vanish from the page of time."

What did he mean? In this speech to an annual 
anti-Zionist conference, Mr. Ahmadinejad was 
being prophetic, not threatening. He was citing 
Imam Khomeini, who said this line in the 1980s (a 
period when Israel was actually selling arms to 
Iran, so apparently it was not viewed as so 
ghastly then). Mr. Ahmadinejad had just reminded 
his audience that the Shah's regime, the Soviet 
Union, and Saddam Hussein had all seemed 
enormously powerful and immovable, yet the first 
two had vanished almost beyond recall and the 
third now languished in prison. So, too, the 
"occupying regime" in Jerusalem would someday be 
gone. His message was, in essence, "This too shall pass."

But what about his other "threats" against 
Israel? The blathersphere made great hay from his 
supposed comment later in the same speech, "There 
is no doubt: the new wave of assaults in 
Palestine will erase the stigma in [the] 
countenance of the Islamic world." "Stigma" was 
interpreted as "Israel" and "wave of assaults" 
was ominous. But what he actually said was, "I 
have no doubt that the new movement taking place 
in our dear Palestine is a wave of morality which 
is spanning the entire Islamic world and which 
will soon remove this stain of disgrace from the 
Islamic world." "Wave of morality" is not "wave 
of assaults." The preceding sentence had made 
clear that the "stain of disgrace" was the Muslim 
world's failure to eliminate the "occupying regime".

For months, scholars like Cole and journalists 
like the London Guardian's Jonathan Steele have 
been pointing out these mistranslations while 
more and more appear: for example, Mr. 
Ahmadinejad's comments at the Organization of 
Islamic Countries meeting on August 3, 2006. 
Radio Free Europe reported that he said "that the 
'main cure' for crisis in the Middle East is the 
elimination of Israel." "Elimination of Israel" 
implies physical destruction: bombs, strafing, 
terror, throwing Jews into the sea. Tony Blair 
denounced the translated statement as ""quite 
shocking". But Mr. Ahmadinejad never said this. 
According to al-Jazeera, what he actually said 
was "The real cure for the conflict is the 
elimination of the Zionist regime, but there 
should be an immediate ceasefire first."

Nefarious agendas are evident in consistently 
translating "eliminating the occupation regime" 
as "destruction of Israel". "Regime" refers to 
governance, not populations or cities. "Zionist 
regime" is the government of Israel and its 
system of laws, which have annexed Palestinian 
land and hold millions of Palestinians under 
military occupation. Many mainstream human rights 
activists believe that Israel's "regime" must 
indeed be transformed, although they disagree 
how. Some hope that Israel can be redeemed by a 
change of philosophy and government (regime) that 
would allow a two-state solution. Others believe 
that Jewish statehood itself is inherently 
unjust, as it embeds racist principles into state 
governance, and call for its transformation into 
a secular democracy (change of regime). None of 
these ideas about regime change signifies the 
expulsion of Jews into the sea or the ravaging of 
their towns and cities. All signify profound 
political change, necessary to creating a just peace.

Mr. Ahmadinejad made other statements at the 
Organization of Islamic Countries that clearly 
indicated his understanding that Israel must be 
treated within the framework of international 
law. For instance, he recognized the reality of 
present borders when he said that "any aggressor 
should go back to the Lebanese international 
border". He recognized the authority of Israel 
and the role of diplomacy in observing, "The 
circumstances should be prepared for the return 
of the refugees and displaced people, and 
prisoners should be exchanged." He also called 
for a boycott: "We also propose that the Islamic 
nations immediately cut all their overt and 
covert political and economic relations with the 
Zionist regime." A double bushel of major Jewish 
peace groups, US church groups, and hordes of 
human rights organizations have said the same things.

A final word is due about Mr. Ahmadinejad's 
"Holocaust denial". Holocaust denial is a very 
sensitive issue in the West, where it notoriously 
serves anti-Semitism. Elsewhere in the world, 
however, fogginess about the Holocaust traces 
more to a sheer lack of information. One might 
think there is plenty of information about the 
Holocaust worldwide, but this is a mistake. (Lest 
we be snooty, Americans show the same startling 
insularity from general knowledge when, for 
example, they live to late adulthood still not 
grasping that US forces killed at least two 
million Vietnamese and believing that anyone who 
says so is anti-American. Most French people have 
not yet accepted that their army slaughtered a million Arabs in Algeria.)

Skepticism about the Holocaust narrative has 
started to take hold in the Middle East not 
because people hate Jews but because that 
narrative is deployed to argue that Israel has a 
right to "defend itself" by attacking every 
country in its vicinity. Middle East publics are 
so used to western canards legitimizing colonial 
or imperial takeovers that some wonder if the 
six-million-dead argument is just another myth or 
exaggerated tale. It is dismal that Mr. 
Ahmadinejad seems to belong to this ill-educated 
sector, but he has never been known for his higher education.

Still, Mr. Ahmadinejad did not say what the US 
Subcommittee on Intelligence Policy reported that 
he said: "They have invented a myth that Jews 
were massacred and place this above God, 
religions and the prophets." He actually said, 
"In the name of the Holocaust they have created a 
myth and regard it to be worthier than God, 
religion and the prophets." This language targets 
the myth of the Holocaust, not the Holocaust 
itself - i.e., "myth" as "mystique", or what has 
been done with the Holocaust. Other writers, 
including important Jewish theologians, have 
criticized the "cult" or "ghost" of the Holocaust 
without denying that it happened. In any case, 
Mr. Ahmadinejad's main message has been that, if 
the Holocaust happened as Europe says it did, 
then Europe, and not the Muslim world, is responsible for it.

Why is Mr. Ahmadinejad being so systematically 
misquoted and demonized? 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.

The current fuss about Iran's nuclear enrichment 
program is playing out so identically to US 
canards about Iraq's WMD that we must wonder why 
it is not meeting only roaring international 
derision. With multiple agendas regarding Iran -- 
oil, US hegemony, Israel, neocon fantasies of a 
"new Middle East" -- the Bush administration has 
raised a great international scare about Iran's 
nuclear enrichment program. (See Ray Close, Why 
Bush Will Choose War Against Iran.) But, plowing 
through Iran's facilities and records, 
International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors 
have found no evidence of a weapons program. The 
US intelligence community hasn't found anything, either.

All experts concur that, even if Iran has such a 
program, it is five to ten years away from having 
the enriched uranium necessary for an actual 
weapon, so pre-emptive military action now is 
hardly necessary. Even the recent report by the 
Republican-dominated Subcommittee on Intelligence 
Policy, which pointed out that the US government 
lacks the intelligence on Iran's weapons program 
necessary to thwart it, effectively confirms that 
the supposed "intelligence" is patchy and inadequate.

The Bush administration's casual neglect of North 
Korea's nuclear program indicates that nuclear 
weapons are not, in fact, the issue here. The 
neocons are intent on changing the regime in Iran 
and so have deployed their propagandists to 
promote the "nuclear weapons" scare just they 
promoted the Iraqi WMD scare. Republican rhetoric 
and right-wing news commentators have fallen into 
line, obediently repeating baseless assertions 
that Iran has a "nuclear weapons program," is 
threatening the world and especially Israel with 
its "nuclear weapons program," and must not be 
allowed to complete its "nuclear weapons 
program." Those who nervously point out that hard 
evidence is actually lacking about any Iranian 
"nuclear weapons program" are derided as naïve and spineless patsies.

Worse, the Bush administration has brought this 
snow-job to the UN, wrangling the Security 
Council into passing a resolution (SC 1696) 
demanding that Iran cease nuclear enrichment by 
August 31 and warning of sanctions if it doesn't. 
Combined with its abysmal performance regarding 
Israel's assault on Lebanon, the Security Council 
has crumbled into humiliating obsequious incompetence on this one.

Like all phantasms, the nuclear-weapons charge is 
hard to defeat because it cannot be entirely 
disproved. Maybe some Iranian scientists, in some 
remote underground facility, are working on 
nuclear weapons technology. Maybe feelers to 
North Korea have explored the possibilities of 
getting extra components. Maybe an alien 
spaceship once crashed in the Nevada desert. 
Normally, just because something can't be 
disproved does not make it true. But in the 
neocon world, possibilities are realities, and a 
craven press is there to click its heels and 
trumpet the scaremongering headlines. It doesn't 
take much, through endless repetition of the term 
"possible nuclear weapons program," for the word 
"possible" to drop quietly away.

Evidence is, in any case, a mere detail to the 
Bush administration, for which the desire for 
nuclear weapons is sufficient cause for a 
pre-emptive attack. In US debates prior to 
invading Iraq, people sometimes insisted that any 
real evidence of WMD was sorely lacking. The 
White House would then insist that, because 
Saddam Hussein "wanted" such weapons, he was 
likely to have them sometime in the future. Hence 
thought crimes, even imaginary thought crimes, 
are now punishable by military invasion.

Will the US really attack Iran? US generals are 
rightly alarmed that bombing Iran's nuclear 
facilities would unleash unprecedented attacks on 
US occupation forces in Iraq, as well as US bases 
in the Gulf. Iran could even block the Straits of 
Hormuz, which carries 40 percent of the world's 
oil. Spin-off terrorist militancy would 
skyrocket. The potential damage to international 
security and the world economy would be 
unfathomably dangerous. The Bush administration's 
necons seems capable of any insanity, so none of 
this may matter to them. But even the neocons 
must be taking pause since Israel failed to knock 
out Hizbullah using the same onslaught from the air planned for Iran.

But Israel can attack Iran, and this may be the 
plan. Teaming up, the two countries could 
compensate for each other's strategic 
limitations. The US has been contributing its 
superpower clout in the Security Council, setting 
the stage for sanctions, knowing Iran will not 
yield on its enrichment program. Having 
cultivated a (mistaken) international belief that 
Iran is threatening a direct attack on Israel, 
the Israeli government could then claim the right 
of self-defense in taking unilateral pre-emptive 
action to destroy the nuclear capacity of a state 
declared in breach of UN directives. Direct 
retaliation by Iran against Israel is impossible 
because Israel is a nuclear power (and Iran is 
not) and because the US security umbrella would 
protect Israel. Regional reaction against US 
targets might be curtailed by the (scant) 
confusion about indirect US complicity.

In that case, what we are seeing now is the US 
creating the international security context for 
Israel's unilateral strike and preparing to cover 
Israel's back in the aftermath.

Is this really the plan? Some evidence suggests 
that it is on the table. In recent years, Israel 
has purchased new "bunker-busting" missiles, a 
fleet of F-16 jets, and three latest-technology 
German Dolphin submarines (and ordered two more)- 
i.e., the appropriate weaponry for striking 
Iran's nuclear installations. In March 2005, the 
Times of London reported that Israel had 
constructed a mock-up of Iran's Natanz facility 
in the desert and was conducting practice bombing 
runs. In recent months, Israeli officials have 
openly stated that if the UN fails to take action, Israel will bomb Iran.

But Hizbullah, Iran's ally, still threatens 
Israel's flank. Hence attacking Hizbullah was 
more than a "demo" for attacking Iran, as Seymour 
Hersh reported; it was necessary to attacking 
Iran. Israel failed to crush Hizbullah, but the 
outcome may be better for Israel now that 
Security Council Resolution 1701 has made the 
entire international community responsible for 
disarming Hizbullah. If the US-sponsored 1701 
effort succeeds, the attack on Iran is a go.

As Israel and the US try to make that deeply 
flawed plan work, we will doubtless continue to 
read in every forum that Iran's president - a 
hostile, irrational, Jew-hating, 
Holocaust-denying Islamo-fascist who has 
threatened to "wipe Israel off the map" -- is 
demonstrably irrational enough to commit national 
suicide by launching a (nonexistent) nuclear 
weapon against Israel's mighty nuclear arsenal. 
The message is being hammered home: against this 
media-created myth, Israel must truly "defend itself."

Virginia Tilley is a professor of political 
science, a US citizen working in South Africa, 
and author of 
One-State Solution: A Breakthrough for Peace in 
the Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock (University of 
Michigan Press and Manchester University Press, 
2005). She can be reached at <mailto:tilley at hws.edu>tilley at hws.edu.

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