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A 'Perfect Man' at the U.N.

Ahmadinejad’s parallel universe.

Oct 4, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 03 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
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After Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speeches, press conferences, and interviews in New York City last week, it’s obvious the Iranian president lives in a parallel universe. This has been difficult for many in the West to grasp. The Western reflex to believe that there are “universal truths” is irrepressible.

A 'Perfect Man' at the U.N.

Photo Credit: Newscom

The desire to see common sense and shared interests in the worst ideologue strikes Republicans and Democrats with almost equal intensity. Ahmadinejad and his boss, supreme leader Ali Khamenei, also believe in universal truths and the “rational” conduct of affairs—they just use, to borrow from mathematics, a different base system that allows for little overlap with the way Westerners think. The result: When we see individual liberty squashed, they see divinely guided human freedom being fully expressed; when we see women oppressed, they see women being protected from male rapacity; when we see religious hubris, intolerance, and bad taste, they see man struggling hard, against terrible odds, to be a “sincere slave of God.” When President Barack Obama talks about his continuing desire for engagement with Tehran, the Iranian president talks about America’s sins against Islam and the world’s oppressed peoples. 

Look at how Ahmadinejad opened his speeches to the United Nations General Assembly. It goes without saying that no Western leader would ever invoke the second coming of Jesus Christ at a big international conference not about religion. When we see Ahmadinejad solicit the arrival and “victory” of the Mahdi, who will usher in the end of time and paradise, our instinct is to pass over such words as a personal eccentricity or a pro forma invocation that must be a matter of politesse for pious Iranians. (Not all VIPs in the Islamic Republic, however, behave in this matter with the same zeal.) 

But Ahmadinejad comes to the United Nations every fall to tell the truth, to share with us what he cherishes most. The General Assembly for him is the most important bully pulpit—a dais built by infidels who must give him, a devout Iranian peasant, the chance to speak for Allah, the Prophet Muhammad, Imam Ali and his descendents, and the glorious Iranian nation, the great bulwark against unbelief and Western oppression. After Ahmadinejad gave his first speech to the U.N. in 2005, he claimed that he felt bathed in a divine light that transfixed him and, more important, the entire General Assembly. He remarked: 

I am not exaggerating when I say they did not blink; it’s not an exaggeration, because I was looking.  .  .  .They were astonished as if a hand held them there and made them sit. It had opened their eyes and ears for the message of the Islamic Republic.

The Iranian president’s U.N. speeches, supplemented by his take-no-prisoners press conferences, give us an unparalleled opportunity to look into Ahmadinejad’s soul and, by extension, into Ali Khamenei’s. The supreme leader has advanced and protected this former member of the Revolutionary Guard Corps against a firestorm of protest inside the country, before and since the tumultuous elections in 2009. When Ahmadinejad speaks at the United Nations, he is speaking for the supreme leader.

And what he talks about most is values (akhlaq). In both his U.N. remarks last week, the Iranian president let loose broadsides against capitalism and its supposed primary benefactor, the United States. Harking back to the “red mullah” themes that defined the early years of Iran’s Marxist-Islamist revolution, Ahmadinejad again sounded the alarm against a system that violates “the true nature of mankind,” which is to become “a slave of God” and be one with “the pure and the righteous.” For Ahmadinejad, like other Islamic militants, history is alive in one continuous chain. 

The great Muslim prophets—Moses, Abraham, Joseph, Jesus, and Muhammad—pointed the way to salvation, but the West (and Ahmadinejad is slightly original here in putting partial blame on Christendom’s failure to see the true path because of its religious “oppression” during the Middle Ages) followed the messengers of greed, self-absorption, and rampant individualism. 

Man with his potential for understanding the secrets of this world, his instinct for seeking truth, his disposition for justice and perfection, his quest for purity and beauty, and his capacity to represent God on earth was reduced to a creature limited to the materialistic world, constantly seeking pleasure, 

Ahmadinejad told us in New York. “Human instinct, thus, replaced true human nature,  …  the lust for capital and domination replaced monotheism, which is the gateway to love and man’s unity.” Ahmadinejad didn’t give us an exact breakdown of who did what to whom, but he conveyed some idea of those most culpable:

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