By Anisa Mehdi — As Monica Lewinsky was to the Clinton Administration, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to George W. Bush: a smoke screen; a distraction; a diversion from the critical issues of our times. Noting that this view may not make me popular, at least let me admit that I recognize the disproportionate scale:
- Monica Lewinsky, who started off as an unpaid intern in the office of Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, compromised the credibility of the President of the United States of America.
- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the president and he is compromising the credibility of his entire country.
Lewinsky’s damage to the president and the presidency is apparently overcome. Ahmadinejad’s insults to Israel and ambiguity regarding his nation’s nuclear intentions may not be overcome for some time. Especially if the diversion remains successful.
Let’s not forget certain basic facts:
- Iran did not attack the United States on September 11, 2001. Why shouldn’t he pay his respects? Iranians were among the many people all over the world who expressed deep sympathy with our loss at that time. Palestinians, too.
- Iran did and does not protect or defend the Taliban. Au contraire, Taliban interpretations of Islam are anathema to Iranian thinking. Iran cares for more refugees from Afghanistan than any other nation.
- Ahmedinejad may have denied the Holocaust (a hurtful and harmful position which would be best to retract) but has not sullied or threatened the sanctity of our United States of America. Threats toward Israel are not the equivalent of threats toward the United States.
- An American-led coup ousted Iran’s democratically elected president in 1953, putting in his stead a dictator (the Shah) who would make Saddam Hussein proud.
- During the long and bloody years of war between Iran and Iraq (1980-89) the US was primary military supporter of Iraq.
- But most importantly, I repeat: Iran did not attack the United States on September 11, 2001. Iran has neither supported nor defended Osama Bin Laden. And once upon a time bin Laden was public enemy number one.
That’s where the smoke screen rises.
The Bush Administration has succeeded in distracting American attention from what we believe is the source of anti-Americanism in the world. It is distracting our attention from the appalling state of our education system (world language studies cut from curricula, arts and music departments desperate for funds for vital after school programs, an unacceptable gap in proficiency among students at all levels K-12). We are distracted from American life necessities like health care reform, welfare reform, and precarious environmental degradation.
The first diversion was Iraq. That has become such a travesty that it is and should be front and center of our international attention. But now the administration is making Iran trump Iraq.
And where, oh where, is Osama bin Laden? Where oh where is Al Qaeda?
The distraction has consumed our presidential contenders. It has consumed the media. Even former US National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.
“I think the administration, the president and the vice president particularly, are trying to hype the atmosphere, and that is reminiscent of what preceded the war in Iraq,” Brzezinski told CNN’s “Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer” Sunday. http://www.asiawind.com/forums/read.php?f=11&i=35583&t=35583
Republican presidential hopeful Rudolph Giuliani said of Ahmadinejad, “He’s denied the Holocaust. He’s threatened the future survival of Israel.” http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2007-09-23-iranvisit_N.htm. That’s not the same as threatening America. Giuliani goes on to say without conviction, “I believe he’s even threatened at various times American interests, and he keeps threatening to develop nuclear capacity.”
That is called rumormongering. It’s the kind of rumormongering that got us into the Iraq war, multi-billion dollars dumped into destruction instead of education in America, and nearly four thousand American men and women dead (http://icasualties.org/oif), not to mention innocent Iraqis, Afghanis and others.
Are we going that way again? The smoke is thick.
The Daily News claims: The Evil Has Landed. The New York Post: “‘TEHRAN’TING LUNATIC … bloody handed villain …” At Columbia University, my alma mater, good manners are tossed aside as university president Lee Bollinger rakes his guest with red-hot pokers during his introduction. http://apresidentvisits.blogspot.com/
In the face of that the Iranian president still believes “The American people in the past years have been denied correct and clear information about global developments and are eager to hear different opinions.”
Iran is rife with problems, it is true. A dearth of human rights laws, stunted press freedoms, and other abuses common to closed societies. I make no excuse for any of that. Yet I wish to raise other views that are not commonly expressed to the American public.
Iran is accused of sponsoring terrorism. State-sponsored terrorism is in the eye of the victim and the victim’s supporters. Israelis attacked by Hezbollah, which receives Iranian support, equate Iran with state-sponsored terrorism. Palestinians and Lebanese attacked by Israel, which receives American military support, see that as state-sponsored terrorism. The parents of Yehiya, 12, Mahmoud, 9, and Sara, 9, who were killed by Israeli shells or rockets while at play in Gaza on August 29, are in mourning because of what they would call state-sponsored terrorism.
Iran is accused of developing nuclear weapons. I am not an expert but I follow International Atomic Energy Agency reports on this matter. That is where our leaders should look for confirmation as well. We might not be lumbering and struggling in Iraq today if we had.
For his part, Ahmadinejad says the US is hypocritical as it tries to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “If you have created the fifth generation of atomic bombs and are testing them already, who are you to question other people who just want nuclear power?” http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/09/25/africa/ahmedinejad.php
Never mind reports that many other nations are just as far along as Iran in their own nuclear “power” development. In fact, according to the NY Times (April 15, 2007), “In all, 85 percent of the gulf states — all but Iraq — have declared their interest in nuclear power. By comparison, 15 percent of South American nations and 20 percent of African ones have done so.”
Brzezinski, who served under President Jimmy Carter, said he is not sure how to interpret Iran’s intentions. Iran has insisted its nuclear program is intended solely for peaceful purposes.
“I think it’s quite possible that they are seeking weapons or positioning themselves to have them, but we have very scant evidence to support that,” he said. “And the president of the United States, especially after Iraq, should be very careful about the veracity of his public assertions.”
I am not an apologist for Iran nor for the United States of America. Rather I am one who demands that we listen to one another like our lives depend on it – because they do — and consider reality from various points of view.
Ahmadinejad’s visit could have been a vehicle for dialogue; an opportunity to begin to defuse what may be the next big mistake. Yet our media, our leaders, and some of our academic leaders are turning this into nothing more than mud slinging, avoiding, denying, distracting us from the real issues at hand.
I ask: To what future are they committed?
I am not alone positing these questions and critiques of reaction to Ahmedinejad’s visit. Other powerful and credible thinkers and political strategists agree with me, including Brzezinski. Plenty of “regular” people also concur, considering their future and their children’s more important than posturing and self-righteousness. We must return to analyzing, reporting on and responding to the most important issues of our day rather than making news and trouble where none need be. We need to stop focusing on the spot on the blue dress.
(Anisa Mehdi is an Emmy Award-winning journalist specializing in religion, the arts, and people. Copyright Arab Writers Group, www.ArabWritersGroup.com.)
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"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."
Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.
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