Monday, December 19, 2005

Profile on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

There is an interesting profile in the Sunday Times [London] on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and why his alarming rhetoric should be taken seriously. I will be writing something about this later.

Ahmadinejad’s combustive rhetoric about wiping out Israel, denying the Holocaust and asserting Iran’s inalienable right to nuclear power — a potential cloak for developing nuclear weapons — have triggered alarm bells around the world.


The international storm of outrage that greeted Ahmadinejad’s comments is quite an achievement for the 49-year-old radical, whose meteoric trajectory from obscurity to become mayor of Tehran culminated in his taking office as president in August.

“He’s a tiny, wiry figure with a gaunt face and small black eyes that don’t seem to change expression,” says a journalist who followed him on the campaign trail. “He goes around in rumpled clothes and is as unsophisticated as he appears. He’s devout but he has no religious credentials.”

Some experts maintain that Ahmadinejad’s invective is solely for domestic consumption. "He’s not doing it to be confrontational," one insists. "He’s only saying what others have said many times before. And he doesn’t care what the rest of the world thinks."

However, the president’s utterances leave little room for misunderstanding. On October 26, he said: "Israel must be wiped off the map." On December 8, he elaborated: "Some European countries insist on saying that during the second world war, Hitler burnt millions of Jews and put them in concentration camps. Any historian, commentator or scientist who doubts that is taken to prison or gets condemned ... we don’t accept this claim." Europe should provide a state for "the Zionists", he added.

Last week, he went even further: "They have invented a myth that Jews were massacred and place this above God, religion and the prophets. The West has given more significance to the myth of the genocide of the Jews ... If you have burnt the Jews, why don’t you give a piece of Europe, the United States, Canada or Alaska to Israel ... why should the innocent nation of Palestine pay for this crime?"


Western leaders are now asking themselves how they misread Ahmadinejad so badly. They had pinned their hopes on the new generation of Iranians who were supposedly chafing under the restrictions of the Islamic republic, counting on a presidential victory by Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the 70-year-old former president and so-called pragmatist.


Even then, the White House thought they could live with the new leader, says Geoffrey Kemp, an analyst at the Nixon Center in Washington. “Ahmadinejad’s first forays into foreign affairs tended to be dismissed as the naive posturing of someone new to the game. But the fact that he keeps repeating the same statements and adding new venom to them has got people rethinking this gentleman.”

New questions continue to emerge about Ahmadinejad’s murky past. Former hostages taken captive at the US embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held for 444 days have claimed he was one of the ringleaders. Donald Sharer, a retired navy captain, remembered him as “a cruel individual”.

The Austrian authorities are investigating claims that Ahmadinejad took part in assassinations against political opponents, notably the exiled Kurdish leader Abdul Rahman Ghassemou and two of his associates in Vienna in 1989.

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