Some people were stunned by the introduction of President Ahmadinejad of Iran by the President of Columbia University. Here we have an interpretation by Professor MarkLeVine, Professor of modern Middle Eastern history at the University of California, Irvine (from Al Jazeera, 3 October) (extracts, bold by me). For the full article click here
“Local papers, such as the Daily News and The New York Post, featured headlines announcing that “The Evil has Landed” and lambasting the “Mad Iran Prez” for his past denials of the Holocaust, refusal to unequivocally renounce a quest for nuclear weapons, and call to have Israel “wiped off the map” (an inaccurate translation of the Persian “bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad,” which is better – but less violently and therefore less usefully – rendered in English as “erased from the page of time” or “fate”). —————–Even Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, introduced him with an unprecedented – and to the minds of many academics, not to mention Iranians, uncouth – verbal attack, accusing him of being little more than a “petty dictator”.
In its critiques of Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia, the mainstream US press focused most of its attention on Ahmadinejad’s tendentious claim that “there are no homosexuals in Iran” (belied by an evening stroll through Tehran’s famous Daneshjoo Park), and his attempt to redefine his position on the Holocaust (it happened, but more research is needed to know its true extent).
Few commentators considered how Ahmadinejad’s words were heard outside of the US media circus. And those who did, such as Timothy Rutton of the LA Times, focused purely on the reaction in the Muslim world, arguing that, as a “totalitarian demagogue”, Ahmadinejad gained legitimacy because of the discourteous treatment by Columbia’s president.
It’s no wonder, then, that almost no one in the American media focused on the substantive claims of Ahmadinejad’s speech at the UN.
He mentioned the continued disgraceful figures for infant mortality, schooling and related human development indicators in the developing world. Perhaps wanting to be courteous, Ahmadinejad blamed “certain big powers” for the plight of a large share of humanity – he might have added that according to UN estimates almost half the world lives on less than $2 per day. But he didn’t need to name names; most of the developing world, including the Muslim world, share his belief that their plight is linked to a world economic system whose goal, for more than half a millennium, has been to exploit the peoples and resources of the rest of the world for the benefit of the more advanced countries of the West.
That is precisely why so many people in the developing world remain opposed to Western-sponsored globalisation, which for most critics, including in the Arab/Muslim world, is little more than imperialism dressed up in the rhetoric of “free markets” and “liberal democracy”. It is this much wider audience, from the favelas of Rio De Janeiro and the shanty towns of Lagos as much as the slums of Casablanca, Sadr City or Cairo, to whom Ahmadinejad was speaking.
Iran and Venezuela possess the third- and seventh-largest oil reserves in the world, totaling well over 200 billion barrels – that’s not much less than the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia.
The two countries will earn well over $80bn in revenues this year alone. As important, both countries possess non-oil sectors that are surprisingly robust, according to many estimates, for the majority of both Iran’s and Venezuela’s Gross Domestic Product. This provides both countries with billions of dollars to spend on foreign aid, as demonstrated by Ahmadinejad’s stopover in Bolivia, where he pledged $1bn in Iranian aid and development to the poverty stricken country. US policymakers’ view of the world through the “you’re either with us or against us” prism divides the globe into those who support the US and Europe (and the “West” more broadly), and those who support al-Qaeda and “Islamofascism”, a term which has been created precisely to ensure that Americans conflate Osama bin Laden with Ahmadinejad, and both with Hitler.
But few people outside of the West buy this comparison, or the larger black-and-white world-view it reflects. Instead, in Africa and Latin America, Ahmadenijad’s argument that “humanity has had a deep wound on its tired body caused by impious powers for centuries” resonates far more deeply than George Bush’s hollow-sounding calls for democracy and “ending tyranny”.
The West advises Africa to “get over” colonialism, but the pain of colonial rule is still felt by those suffering under the policies imposed by the IMF and/or the World Bank, or from the continued subsidisation of American and European agribusiness while their countries are flooded with below-market wheat, soy or corn. It is to those people whom Ahmadinejad promised – in language that strikingly mirrors US President Bush’s often religiously-hued speeches – that “the era of darkness will end” with the “dawn of the liberation of, and freedom for, all humans“. Americans may not like Ahmadinejad’s or Chavez’s internal politics, ideological orientations, or foreign policies,—-but for most of the third world, which is tired of centuries of domination by the West, the two leaders are a breath of fresh air, who are coming not as conquerors, but as comrades. They are free of the condescending “civilising mission” that, from Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt to the US invasion of Iraq, always seem to include war, occupation, and the appropriation of strategic natural resources under foreign control as part of their mandate. And because of this, most of the citizens of the developing world, rightly or wrongly, couldn’t care less about Ahmadinejad’s positions on Israel, the Holocaust, and nuclear weapons, never mind homosexuals, none of which affect them directly. They care only that he is sticking-it-to their old colonial or Cold war masters, and offering “respect”, “friendship” and billions of dollars in aid with no strings attached. Americans, Europeans and Israelis can fret about it all they want, but it will not change this reality.
Only a reorientation of the world economy towards real sustainability and equality will dampen his appeal, and that’s not likely to happen soon. Which means that Americans will be hearing a lot more of Ahmadinejad and leaders like him in the future.
In support of what Ahmadinejad said, have a look at these two articles in The Guardian:
“Sold down the river” (The Guardian, 22 September 2007)
A brief extract:
“Bags of sugar and a few bars of soap – with these the rights to one of the greatest forests in the world change hands. And while foreign loggers rake in the profits, the local people now face losing everything.”
(The Guardian 3 October 2007):
A brief extract:
“The World Bank encouraged foreign companies to destructively log the world’s second largest forest, endangering the lives of thousands of Congolese Pygmies, according to a report on an internal investigation by senior bank staff and outside experts. The report by the independent inspection panel, seen by the Guardian, also accuses the bank of misleading Congo’s government about the value of its forests and of breaking its own rules.
Congo’s rainforests are the second largest in the world after the Amazon, locking nearly 8% of the planet’s carbon and having some of its richest biodiversity. Nearly 40 million people depend on the forests for medicines, shelter, timber and food.”
Who rules the world bank?