Written for the Emory Wheel:
Dear Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
On Wednesday, you will speak before the United Nations General Assembly in Manhattan. As you approach the stage, many of the world’s leading diplomats will rise from their seats and leave the hall. I have a proposal for how you might proceed.
I am a Jew. When I was in high school, realizing my own ignorance toward the Islamic tradition, I worked with a Muslim friend to start a Muslim-Jewish dialogue.
During the program, Jewish and Muslim teenagers in Los Angeles spoke candidly to one another. The overarching response was that of relief and satisfaction: we discovered that we have more in common than not.
I am, in American political parlance, a liberal. I believe that the government can serve an active and key role in the lives of its citizens.
But I find myself sifting through the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page and listening to Bill O’Reilly nonetheless, because I’m 18 years old; my views are malleable.
I don’t know all the answers. I have something to learn from the “other side.”
Mr. Ahmadinejad, I believe in the value of face-to-face interaction; I believe in engagement; I believe that those who disagree should pursue open discourse and that opinions serve best when heard, not when quelled.
Mr. Ahmadinejad, you do not.
Some will argue that the community of nations should lend you its spotlight if only to make known your inflammatory views and your toxic aspirations, your deplorable history and your frightening and ever-manifesting plans for the future. But those who walk out are right to walk out.
The Irish poet and cynic Brendan Behan was on to something when he noted that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.” For you, Mr. Ahmadinejad, I propose an apt and only slightly inverted iteration of Behan’s adage: for lethal dictators – for you – there’s no such thing as bad publicity, period.
Mr. Ahmadinejad, the United Nations first lent you its lectern in September 2005. Less than a month later in Tehran, you delivered a speech during which you made clear, for any remaining doubters, your views regarding the modern State of Israel and your wish for its inhabitants. “Our dear Imam (the Ayatollah Khomeini) said that the occupying regime (Israel) must be wiped off the map,” you declared, “and this was a very wise statement.”
When you were invited to speak again at the General Assembly in 2006, you pressed other member states, “Who, or what organization defends the rights of the oppressed, and suppresses acts of aggression and oppression? Where is the seat of global justice?” – implying that such values aligned with yours.
In your speech in 2007, as debate over your country’s unstable and misguided nuclear program escalated, you proclaimed that “the nuclear issue of Iran is now closed,” blocking any remaining diplomatic options.
Last year, granted time and audience on a seventh occasion, you asserted that world powers “still use the Holocaust after six decades as the excuse to pay (a) fine or ransom to the Zionists.”
Mr. Ahmadinejad, you don’t seek “the seat of global justice”; you murder Iranians who don’t share your religious ideology and you actively support Bashar al-Assad’s iron grip and savage brutality.
Your abandonment of civil discussion over your nuclear program has isolated you further and further from the community of nations and only amplified suspicion. And, Mr. Ahmadinejad, the systematic murder of six million Jews was not, is not, and will never be an excuse for anything.
Mr. Ahmadinejad, the United Nations – be it effective or impotent, productive or gridlocked – is our stage for compromise.
Such compromise necessitates concessions on both sides; your sides seem limitless and your concessions are imagined. With you, there is no middle ground. For you, there is no rationality. To you, we grant no credibility.
We have heard enough; we know what you are going to say; we have no need to hear it again.
We have treaded beyond compromise. We have moved beyond listening. You, Mr. Ahmadinejad, never considered either. I’ve seen what you’ve done to your own people. I’m tired of hearing your plans for mine.
On Wednesday, where will I be? In synagogue, for the holiday of Yom Kippur, repenting for my sins, seeking to change my ways, and begging forgiveness of my Creator. At that formidable lectern, I suggest you do the same.