Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Petty Tyrant Can't Play To An Audience

By now, you've seen Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmaken — fuck it, I'm not looking up how to spell his last name, so he's Mahmoud to you and me — you've seen him give his embarrassing speech at Columbia and I'm absolutely baffled because it really could've gone either way, and like a lot of conservative commentators, I was prepared for a muted welcome. Columbia has a huge population of Jews Protesting Something, but (at least when I was there) they're balanced out the Muslims Protesting The Jews Protesting Something. On the other hand, the school has a rabid anti-Bush movement so you'd think maybe Mahmoud might open with something along the lines of "How many Bush administration officials does it take to change a light bulb?" If you lose them in the opening remarks, the game's over before you've even got a chance to plug Noam Chomsky's latest book.

Mahmoud's amazing ability to overestimate a crowd is why I didn't really want Columbia giving him a forum. It's not that I was against him presenting his views — like we all don't already know that his entire worldview consists of "death to Israel," "women suffrage bad," and "people who don't like me can rot in jail." I was afraid that our guys — and while I still think Bollinger is a corporate ass, he's got the moral high ground here — would puss out. Which they did.

The innate conflict with Mahmoud, or his good dictator buddy Hugo Chavez, is that, as an American, you can't condemn him without implicitly condoning Bush, and you can't condemn Bush without condoning Mahmoud. Yes, Bollinger was ballsier than any other high-profile speaker I've seen, talking about Mahmoud — to his face, no less — without resorting to lame euphemisms. But I don't think he was brave. Saying the same thing to George Bush would be brave; Mahmoud has a rhetorically graceful out and his name is, take a guess, George Bush.

Mahmoud is a petty tyrant. Mahmoud was democratically elected, and unlike a certain other petty tyrant I can think of, Mahmoud actually won a majority of the votes when he came to power.

Mahmoud's country treats women like slaves. While in our country, we treat them like whores. (Again, not bothering to insert the requisite links to Paris, Lindsay, Britney, the bimbos on E!'s The Girls Next Door, Maxim, FHM, the Victoria's Secret runway show, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, Girls Gone Wild, need I continue...?)

Mahmoud is developing nuclear weapons. The U.S., which already has a nuclear arsenal, pulled out of a non-proliferation treaty that's been in place since 1972.

Mahmoud's legal system is a travesty. Dissidents are jailed for their political or religious beliefs, and people are denied legal rights. But we're holding hundreds of people in Guantánamo without access to legal representation and put on trial in secret military tribunals, when they're tried at all. When Bollinger criticized Mahmoud for his crackdown on scholars, I think that's the same sort of ivory tower snootiness that down-home conservatives bitch to us about. Bollinger is condemning Mahmoud stifling intellectual progress first, and the people being jailed are only secondary. My sense is that if you're illegitimately imprisoned, the reasons why don't really matter to you, like the Guantánamo detainees are saying to themselves, "Man, I wish I were in here for my political beliefs instead of for being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

I feel like Bollinger gets that, but he can't take the highest moral ground in his speech because doing so might legitimize Mahmoud's policies.

Mahmoud supports insurgents in Iraq. The U.S. is in Iraq, and funding violence in Iraq, and smuggling weapons into Iraq, and covering it up, for our president's and our country's (supposed) political benefit. It's hypocritical to complain when Mahmoud does the same thing for his own and his country's political future.

Mahmoud denies the Holocaust. This one's both simple and complicated: he pretends history is a lie, or subjective, or whatever. Here's a link about Cheney's own revisionist history from "Meet The Press." But that's not really relevant here.

Modern Holocaust denial is a bit more subtle than that. You can't say with any credibility that the Holocaust didn't happen, so Holocaust deniers say the next best thing: Historians got the numbers wrong. Only a million people died, instead of twelve million. I don't really understand how this is supposed to help their argument: Hitler was only one-twelfth as infinitely evil as you were taught in school? The point is that you make up stuff that's just barely on the verge of being true, because that can be defended rhetorically. Which again, is no different from what General Petraeus did in his report on Iraq: getting shot in the back of the head is counted as a civilian casualty, but getting shot in the front of the head isn't? Bullshit. The civilians caught up in Iraq don't care how they were killed — and more importantly, it doesn't matter to them that the events leading up to their slaughter were only motivated by political greed, rather than attempting to eradicate a race from the earth. Dead is dead.

Look, I'm not trying to defend Mahmoud, but what I'm saying is that pretending Mahmoud and Bush are on different moral planes gives Bush license to do every one of the reprehensible things he does. There's no reason they can't both be petty wannabe tyrants.

Finally, briefly, I need to say something about Mahmoud's poorly-worded comments about how there's no homosexuality in Iran. I'd like people to consider, at least, the possibility that, like Billy Bob Redneck from Arkansas, Mahmoud doesn't actually know what homosexuality is. Our cultural stereotypes, not to mention that we're relatively cool with the idea of displaying our sexuality — straight or gay — in public, are what we show off to the world, and maybe that's all he knows about homosexuality. Iran hasn't exactly had a sexual revolution and certain assumptions won't get questioned, so Mahmoud just conflates homosexual culture in the West and human sexuality in general and comes up with a response that's factually wrong, but actually pretty informative when it comes to indicating the cultural status of homosexuality in Iran. I mean, they probably put on a pretty lame gay-pride parade over there — it's not like anybody questioned his record on polygamy.

And that's kind of how I take that statement — like an American going to Iran and describing our cultural views on sex. "In America, we're monogamous." So you mean no one in America strays outside their marriage? No, I mean taking an extra husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, etc. isn't the most honorable thing you can do. It's just a cultural thing.