[Update: Please read the companion article, The Love Buzz, explaining why it is important to seek out everyone’s point of view, especially those of people that you find offensive, and that this process in no way condones their actions.]
In an eerie coincidence, as soon as I completed my essay, Why Fisk is Wrong about Ahmadinejad, that finished with Jeffery Goldberg, I read Goldberg’s article, Mearsheimer and Walt: Apologists for Ahmadinejad, responding to Stephen Walt comments in a lecture in Jerusalem:
A professor criticized the authors for failing to condemn Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be wiped off the map. “I don’t think he is inciting to genocide,” Walt responded.
Goldberg starts with the infamous mistranslation:
October, 2005: “Our dear Imam said that the occupying regime must be wiped off the map and this was a very wise statement. We cannot compromise over the issue of Palestine… I have no doubt that the new wave that has started in Palestine, and we witness it in the Islamic world too, will eliminate this disgraceful stain from the Islamic world. But we must be aware of tricks.”
despite it being well known that more accurate translations exist.
The Imam [Khomeini] said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time. This statement is very wise.
It is clear from the context that Ahmadinejad was comparing Israel to The Soviet Union, the Shah and Saddam Hussein’s regime, i.e., corrupt and unjust regimes that collapsed though their internal contradictions (see “Wiped off the Map” – The Rumor of the Century and the excellent Wikipedia article, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Israel, for analysis and links—there is really no excuse). Indeed this is just the sense we get in another of Goldberg’s quotations.
November, 2007: “It is impossible that the Zionist regime will survive. Collapse is in the nature of this regime because it has been created on aggression, lying, oppression and crime…”
It is really interesting that Ahmadinejad criticizes Israel and predicts that it is unsustainable, and Goldberg hears an existential threat to Israel being made by Ahmadinejad. There is a difference between saying highly offensive things about something and predicting its demise, and promising to bring about its destruction. One of the reasons that Ahmadinejad is extremely popular in the region is that he says the kinds of things that people in the region think, and in doing so tramples over the sensibilities of the colonial powers (especially the USA and UK). (I repeat I find this assault on Israeli sensibilities revolting.) It is this defiance that is the source of his popularity in the region, the ‘Arab street’ finding their ruler’s servile attitude towards the the industrial nations demeaning, and similarly because we are so used to to having our sensitivities respected we find it shocking.
While I find his way of talking about Israel as repulsive as anyone, I am much more ambivalent about his disregard of European and North American sensibilities given the way we have been perpetuating real genocides, smashing the lives of millions and millions of people in the region with our neocolonial projects. That people have been deliberately twisting Ahmadinejad’s words and positing a Iranian nuclear weapons programme for which there is not a shred of objective evidence that withstands scrutiny, dehumanising the Iranian leadership by suggesting they are irrational and insane enough to use a crude nuclear weapon to try and attack a state with sophisticated second strike nuclear-weapons that are capable of obliterating Iran; all of this to gin up support for a military attack on Iran—using tactical nuclear weapons if necessary—and that would result in just the kind of genocidal consequences that these people are accusing Ahmadinejad of inciting.
To make it perfectly clear. On the one side we have the twisting of Ahmadinejad’s words to suggest that he is trying to commit genocide that anyone with an ounce of common sense knows he can never possibly bring about. On the other we have people with a clear record of genocide making every effort to continue that career, with the twisting of Ahmadinejad’s deeply unpleasant rhetoric an important plank in that strategy. This can’t reflect well on anyone that put their shoulder to that wheel.