Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is reportedly ‘happy’ with the diplomatic talks held between his regime and six global powers, including the U.S., in Geneva on October 1. U.S. president Barack Obama similarly expressed satisfaction, praising the meeting as ‘a constructive beginning.’
Ahmadinejad occupies a special place in the politics of the Obama presidency. Weariness with the Iraq war in the U.S. - - and passions in Europe - - drove a wide sector of public opinion, Muslim as well as non-Muslim, to view Obama as the proponent of a new Western approach to Islamic issues, including radical ideology and terrorism.
But notwithstanding the publicity that surrounded Obama’s now-forgotten Cairo speech of June 2009, the centerpiece of his policy has been the promise to talk with Ahmadinejad.
While Obama has condemned the Iranian nuclear programme, his approach to the clerical dictatorship in Tehran has otherwise been consistently accommodating. Obama argues that he does not want to ‘impose labels’ or otherwise complicate negotiations with the Iranian rulers. But ‘radicalism’ is not merely a label in the Muslim world. It is a lethal reality; to try to wish it away by restating the terms of debate will not save a single life.
Obama’s attitude of appeasement toward Ahmadinejad led the U.S. authorities to effectively stand aside when millions of Iranians began demonstrating against continuation of the clerical system after the June election. Moderate Muslims who work with Iranians were aware that the country and its people, including many former supporters of the revolution and of the Khomeini political scheme, were deeply discontented and merely waiting for the opportunity to express their anger. But the Obama camp proclaimed its willingness to sit down with any Iranian representative, regardless of what crimes such a person might have brought about.
Protests against the Ahmadinejad regime continue. Active opponents of the clerical rulers report that both female and male dissident youths have suffered rape at the hands of the enforcers of the regime known as the Basij.
Ahmadinejad still presses his offensive propaganda, denying the Holocaust of Jews during World War II. Iran has also lined up with the Russians, led by the autocratic Vladimir Putin, and the antireligious leftist governments in Cuba and Venezuela. And Obama has appeared to seek ‘friendship’ with all these oppressive governments.
Obama’s detached attitude toward the demands of the Iranian people for justice was also, unfortunately, paralleled by Shia Muslim leaders in Iraq, Pakistan, and elsewhere, whose silence about the Iranian internal conflict was profound. Sunnis have never shown so extreme an acceptance of Wahhabi and other radical aggression as today’s Shia clerics outside Iran -- including the moderate Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Iraq -- have maintained toward Ahmadinejad.
Iranian dissidents now condemn Obama. They say his quest for reconciliation with Ahmadinejad gave legitimacy to a bad regime and to its leader’s tyrannical policies, including manipulation of the presidential vote. Supporters of Ahmadinejad argued that since his rule was acceptable to the U.S., there was no reason to try to remove him, and that Iran’s international standing would improve.
Moderate Muslims are aware that among Shias, criticising the Iranian regime may be more challenging, at present, than the risks in opposing Wahhabism are for the Sunnis, or even the Taliban assault on Pakistan, have been. Iranian agents are present everywhere Shias gather. They spy on their fellow-believers, anxious to prevent even the least expression of criticism against Ahmadinejad.
Indifference to the abuses of Ahmadinejad, which are enacted against world opinion and against the real interests of Iranians and of the Muslims in general, cannot represent a new and benevolent Western attitude toward Islam.
There is nothing Islamic in the Iranian clerical system.
Its fabrication by Ayatollah Khomeini represented a heretical break with Muslim tradition. Even in the great Muslim empires of the past, clerics did not rule. They advised the rulers but did not assume power, except in a few isolated and remote times and places. The great majority of Iranian Shia intellectuals, including members of Khomeini’s own family, now agree that the so-called ‘Islamic Republic’ has failed.
Ahmadinejad does not represent Islam, or the people of Iran; to pursue a political deal with him and his minions will do nothing to bring Westerners and Muslims together. Indeed, it represents no more than recourse to the old and discredited Western stance of favouring corrupt local overlords. That course of conduct tied Western leaders to the Saudi royal family and to the extremist, pro-Taliban faction in the Pakistani military. Why does Obama now wish to add Iran to the crisis chain of complicity?
Muslims and non-Muslims alike should commit themselves to assisting the Iranians in ending the cruelties and international disgrace Ahmadinejad and his clique have fostered. ‘Dialogue’ with Ahmadinejad is not helpful to Muslims; it is harmful to Muslims, as well as to non-Muslims. Obama’s strategy toward Ahmadinejad, instead of preventing the dreaded ‘clash of civilisations, will just make it’ closer and worse.