Did you know that last week, President Ahmadinejad announced that gays will not be persecuted in Iran? That Chariots would soon be allowed to open a Tehran branch? That he, personally, would lead the Majlis in a chorus of YMCA by the Village People?
You may find this incredible: but believe me, it is true. And astonishingly, the international press has completely failed to acknowledge this remarkable volte face.
Ahmadinejad’s precise words, in an interview with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales were as follows:
Iranian law doesn’t call for executing gays, Ahmadinejad said. “Either they were drug traffickers or they killed someone else.”
After hearing these sentiments, who but the most hardened cynic could doubt that we are about to enter a golden age of equality and tolerance, not just in the Middle East, but throughout the whole world?
In the same interview, according to Peter Tatchell, Ahmadinejad accepted Israel’s “right to exist”. Here is the exchange in question:
If the Palestinian leaders agree to a two-state solution, could Iran live with an Israeli state?
“Whatever the people decide, we will respect it,” Ahmadinejad said with obvious reluctance. “If they [the Palestinians] want to keep the Zionists, they can stay.”
Peter’s interpretation of that exchange is as follows:
Since most Palestinians are willing to accept a two-state solution, the Iranian president is, in effect, agreeing to Israel’s right to exist and opening the door to a peace deal that Iran will endorse
No, he’s not.
Neither did he announce the end to the persecution of gays in Iran. The regime routinely defames the gays it executes as rapists or criminals of another type, the moment that Western human rights groups expose its lynching of sexual minorities. It does precisely the same thing when the spotlight is focussed on the execution of “unchaste” women.
This is no concession. It is simply a restatement of an existing position.
Ahmadinejad is asked a question about a two state solution. His answer is not an answer to that question. Ahmadinejad doesn’t say anything about the continued existence of the “Zionist Entity” at all: the phrase reserved for the state of Israel. Instead, he restricts his answer to the “Zionists“: that is, Jews who live in the region. His view, clearly, is that they should not be expelled, if the Palestinians “want to keep” them. If Ahmadinejad had wanted to talk about the Zionist Entity, then he would have done so. He didn’t.
So, yes, this is a concession of sorts. Ahmadinejad has announced that he would not insist of the ethnic cleansing of Jews by Palestinians as long as the Palestinians don’t demand it. Hurrah.
It would be impossible for Ahmadinejad to say otherwise. First, Ahmadinejad is the front man for a theocratic regime. He is not able to make up policy on the hoof, in interviews with liberal journalists in New York. Secondly, Ahmadinejad’s political theology does not permit the existence of non-Muslim rule over what he – and the divinely ordained system of government he represents – regards as eternally Muslim land. That is why he ties his answer to what Palestinians will accept: not with what all the people of the region decide. Jews are not people who can, as a matter of law, be accorded full legal and constitutional rights in the region. That is why, in Iran, they are provided with a single seat in the Majlis: the theologically mandated limit on political participation for the People of the Book (the Christian Chaldeans and Assyrian Catholics get one seat as well).
I’m not sure what to make of Peter’s Panglossian insistence that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. You kind of want people like that about, who keep insisting that life is beautiful, even when it plainly isn’t. It helps keeps hope alive. But, as that hope is plainly false, you really don’t want dogged and self-deluding optimists within a mile of the reins of power, really.
It is interesting to see Peter’s explanation for his insistence that we believe that Ahmadinejad has accepted Israel’s existence. In the comments to his CiF piece, he puts it like this:
Press him to restate and clarify his willingness to accept an Israeli state if the Palestinians are willing to accept a two-state solution. Hold an internationally-supervised free and fair referendum to determine whether the Palestinian people would accept two states co-existing.
It is a win-win outcome. If the Palestinians vote for a two-state solution either Ahmadinejad will have to honour his commitment or if he doesn’t he will be exposed as a liar and discredited. Either way it is a win-win result.
That is a fair enough suggestion. The only major obstacle that prevents a two state solution from being created is the determination of Iran and its proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah, that a Jewish state in the region be destroyed. If Iran were to stop funding violent rejectionism, the conflict would be over.
That is how things should be. However, pretending that this is how things actually are, does not make it so. Take this exchange as an example of what is wrong with Peter’s approach:
Remember also that the people who ‘came from another place’ included about 850,000 Jews expelled from Arab lands, some 150,000 from Iran. These people were also dispossessed, and deserve justice.
I agree. But two wrongs don’t make a right. Jews expelled from Arab lands and from Iran also have a ‘right of return’ and the restoration of their property – just like the Palestinians. Justice for all.
Quite so. I look forward to a Middle East with a common level of political, social, and economic rights for all, with full equality, the protection of minorities, and ultimately the free movement of goods and persons. In short, I’d quite like to see something a bit like the European Union arise in the Middle East. But the fact is, we aren’t there yet. Not by a long way. Therefore, I don’t insist that Britain signals its believe in the possibility of a democratic pluralist Iran in which gays are no longer murdered by the state, by deporting gay Iranians back home, just to see what will happen to them.
If Peter is right, and Ahmadinejad really has signalled Iran’s willingness to accept not simply the right of “Zionists” to continue to breathe the air of the region, but their right to full political equality and self determination, we’ll hear him proclaim it again and again.
I look forward to Peter’s efforts to make that happen.