Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is known to stir controversy, and make provocative speeches to the United Nations. He did not disappoint last month, when he made a blistering attack on the United States government and the associated NATO countries. The delegations from several European Union (EU) countries stormed out of the UN forum, as well as the US and Israeli delegations. What does walking out of the United Nations achieve? Nothing – if anything, it only demonstrated that Ahmadinejad struck a raw nerve. You can read the full text of Ahmadinejad’s speech and decide for yourself.
It is true that Ahmadinejad has dabbled with various conspiracy theories surrounding the September 11 attacks. He called those attacks ‘mysterious’. Ahmadinejad accused the western powers of hypocrisy and deceit, alleging that “They tolerate no question or criticism, and instead of presenting a reason for their violations, they always put themselves in the position of a claimant. By using their imperialistic media network which is under the influence of colonialism they threaten anyone who questions the Holocaust and the September 11 event with sanctions and military action.” But the main thrust of his rebuke was political – he criticized the use of September 11 by the United States as the pretext to launch wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which are part of the larger US strategy to dominate the Middle East for financial and military advantage. A very legitimate criticism of a political superpower was met with a walkout by the US delegation.
It took the terrorist group al-Qaeda itself to respond decisively to Ahmadinejad’s conspiracy-mongering, telling the Iranian president to cease his ridiculous claims. Why did not the United States respond decisively, presenting the evidence of al-Qaeda’s guilt before the international community at the United Nations? In fact, why did the United States quietly murder the main perpetrator of the September 11 atrocities and dispose of the body so quickly?
There was another world leader who poignantly asked “I want to call on the governments of the world to reflect: since September 11th, 2001, a new and unprecedented imperialist war began, a permanent war, in perpetuity. We have to look directly at the terrifying reality of the world we live in. It is necessary to ask a series of questions on the basis of the risks and threats we face: Why is the United States the only country that scatters the planet with military bases? What is it afraid of to allocate such a staggering budget for increasing its military power? Why has it unleashed so many wars, violating the sovereignty of other nations which have the same rights on their own fates?” That world leader was Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who also spoke at the United Nations. Chavez elaborated on the main danger to humanity today; “the absolute power of the military-financial leadership which is destroying the world in order to accumulate ever more profits; the military-financial leadership which is subordinated, de facto, to an increasingly larger group of States. Keep in mind that war is capital’s modus operandi: the war that ruins the majority and makes richer, up to the unthinkable, a few people.” Exactly.
Dabbling at the edges
Yes, Ahmadinejad has flirted at the edges of holocaust denial. He is too clever to deny the holocaust outright, but he gives credence to those who would deny its veracity. Ahmadinejad played host to a conference in 2006 which questioned the historicity of the holocaust. He hosted various anti-semites and holocaust deniers and provided them with a platform of respectability. The Iranian foreign minister at the time, Manochehr Mottaki, stated that the conference did not seek to deny the holocaust, but only to provide a forum in which a serious historical issue could be debated freely by historians. Well they are fine sentiments, because those were the exact points of view expressed by the foreign ministers of various European countries in 2005 and 2006 when the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published the anti-Islamic, Muhammad-mocking cartoons which were purportedly intended to promote debate about important historical and social issues. Perhaps Ahmadinejad’s 2006 conference was his own, deliberately provocative response to the Jyllands-Posten cartoons affair and the controversy it generated.
In his 2011 speech to the United Nations, Ahmadinejad did not deny the holocaust – he lambasted the abuse of that terrible genocide by the Israeli and US governments to drum up political and financial support for the Zionist state. He stated that “If some European countries still use the Holocaust, after six decades, as the excuse to pay fine or ransom to the Zionists, should it not be an obligation upon the slave masters or colonial powers to pay reparations to the affected nations?” Once again, he made a strident, pointed political criticism of today’s major powers. He made that comment in the context of attacking the huge military budgets of the NATO powers, while there is so much poverty, hunger and rising inequalities that condemn millions of people to a life of needless and avoidable suffering. Ahmadinejad said the following “Approximately, three billion people of the world live on less than 2.5 dollars a day, and over a billion people live without having even one sufficient meal on a daily basis. Forty-percent of the poorest world populations only share five percent of the global income, while twenty percent of the richest people share seventy-five percent of the total global income.” How is walking out of the United Nations going to address these criticisms?
Zionism, Palestine and religion
Unsurprisingly, Ahmadinejad criticised Zionism and the state of Israel. He castigated the ideology of Zionism, and made one passing reference to the Palestinian people. He completely ignored the main issue dominating the discussions at the United Nations – the quest by the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for the recognition of Palestinian statehood. No mention of the illegal Israeli settlements, the ongoing blockade of Gaza (though partially lifted by Egypt), the Arab spring uprisings that have brought hope and morale to the long-suppressed Arab people. Hardly a stout defence of the Palestinians by the supposedly pro-Palestinian Iranian president. Ahmadinejad is worried by the example of the Arab spring; the courageous and ongoing uprisings by the Egyptians, Yemenis, Bahrainis and so on against regimes that imprison and torture dissidents. The Iranian government has a long and notorious history of jailing labour activists and dissidents.
Ahmadinejad’s speech was infused with a religious world-view, and he made frequent invocations to a divine creator. The Iranian government is theocratic, and all aspects of state legislation are vetted by reactionary mullahs to ensure that political life remains strictly governed by religion. Secular people are attacked by the thugs of the ‘revolutionary’ militia, book stalls and publishing outlets advocating a secular humanist viewpoint are intimidated and shut down. The all-pervasive influence of religion in political and public life is hardly confined to Iran. There is one big country where religion (at least one version of it) exerts a profound influence on the political process, especially when selecting candidates to run for political office. That country is the United States, and this extremist rightwing political-religious movement seeks to impose its own brand of a Christian theocracy should it successfully place candidates in political office. It is not just politics that is under threat – education and public life would be subject to rampant and organised ignorance should the Christian fundamentalist movement gain ever-greater political clout.
Obama’s arrogant hypocrisy
Obama’s speech to the United Nations, full of empty bombast and arrogant pretensions, did nothing to address the substantive issues facing the international community. While referring to peace, he did not posit any concrete proposals for addressing the world’s problems. Instead, ignoring the plight of the Palestinians, he made vague statements about how ‘there are no shortcuts to peace’. Indeed, for the last twenty years (even longer), the Palestinians have been asking for statehood. He presented both the Israeli and Palestinian sides as equals, having ‘legitimate aspirations.’ Obama’s presentation of both sides as ‘equals’ reeks of hypocrisy and a kind of historical denial. Nowhere did he mention the continuing illegal settlements and land annexations, the displacement of millions of Palestinian refugees, the ongoing siege of Gaza and the deliberate immiseration of Palestinians living in Gaza.
Not only did Obama refuse to support the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN, he also failed to mention the 1967 borders, a reference that Obama made back in May this year which attracted heavy criticism from Israel and the American Republican party. Obama was in denial mode; denial that the Palestinians lived under occupation, that Israel has waged expansionist wars against the neighbouring Arab countries, that millions of Palestinians are still languishing in refugee camps. Just for good measure, he stated that the alliance with Israel is ‘unshakable.’ He spent the remainder of his time at the United Nations strong-arming other countries to drop their support for the Palestinian President’s bid for statehood.
Obama did make reference to the Arab Spring, and this measure demonstrates Obama’s rank hypocrisy. He paid ‘tribute’ to the people of Egypt and Tunisia, even though in both cases these regimes were armed to the teeth and supported by the United States until the final moments of their respective uprisings. No mention of the United States’ current measures to prop up the faltering dictatorships in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Yemen as the pro-democracy demonstrators are faced with American-made guns, tear gas and bullets. Obama’s reference to Libya and the NATO intervention there had the undertone of a threat – the ‘see what happened to Libya, we can do that to you’ connotation. No mention of the fact that the Qadhafi regime had become a solid ally of the US, Britain, France and western countries, opening up to foreign corporations, had cooperated with the CIA in the rendition of terrorism suspects, and had backed the US ‘war on terror’ since its inception in 2001. While declaring the Bahrain was a ‘close friend’ of the US, he made lukewarm remarks about seeking a negotiated solution for that country’s political problems.
Was there a walkout when Obama addressed the United Nations? No. Why this hypocritical, theatrical walkout when a right-wing, populistic demagogic despot like Ahmadinejad speaks, but only half-hearted but polite applause when the leader of the largest imperial power on earth makes a blustery speech, contemptuously dismissing the just demands of the international community? The walkout by EU member states, the delegates of the US and Israel while Ahmadinejad was speaking reeked of a contrived, hypocritical outrage. It was more about playing up to the cameras, much like in a bad soap-opera, rather than seriously addressing the issues that Ahmadinejad raised. Directly confronting his charges would have been the more political constructive, effective way to oppose the Iranian president’s remarks.
Obama’s meaningless posturing as a peacemaker only masks the deepening economic crisis facing the capitalist system, and he has no solutions to advocate. President Chavez took to the same podium, and spoke of the need for a multi-polar world, where no single power can impose its will on the rest. He spoke of the need for a new economic and social order, one that would place people’s needs before corporate profits. We would do well to heed his words.