Things Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not do:
1) deny the Holocaust;
2) say that Israel should be wiped off the map;
3) develop a nuclear weapons program
With the Iranian election results disputed (a dispute that the incumbent will likely win), I think it’s important to revisit the American conventional wisdom about the Iran and its president. Suspicious sources and a lazy media echo-chamber have instilled many misconceptions into the American public’s mind about Iran. This is worrisome because such misconceptions leave the American public vulnerable for the type of hawkish manipulations that led us into the Iraq war, and so for that reason US attitudes towards Iran need reexamining.
Nuclear Weapons Program
Top among the controversies surrounding Iran is the issue of their nuclear development. One goal of Iran’s energy policy is to use nuclear energy for domestic energy needs so that more of Iran’s oil supplies can be diverted for foreign sale.
In developing their domestic nuclear energy program Iran has often skirted certain IAEA regulations, with the ostensible reason being that strict adherence to the rules has allowed the US to sabotage nuclear development contracts forged between Iran and other countries. This evasion of IAEA directives has been the primary basis on which Iran has been accused of having a nuclear weapons program.
However, in 2007, part of a United States National Intelligence Estimate was leaked that concluded that Iran had not worked on a nuclear weapons program since 1993. Ironically, Iran’s first nuclear weapons programs was facilitated by America in the 1950s.
“Vanish from the page of time” vs. “wiped from the map”
Since he was elected in 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has received much criticism on his comments regarding Israel. The most famous of these was given in a speech called “A World Without Zionism” in which he quoted a line from Ayatollah Khomeini.
An improper English translation painted him as calling for Israel to be “wiped from the map.” When word got out there was an international uproar. As it happens, in Persian there is no such idiom. More accurate translations read “The Imam said that this regime occupying Jerusalem must [vanish from] the page of time.”
The focus of the speech was a hopeful vision of a world free from Western oppression of Muslims, and, in context, it is clear that this is not policy—much less a military threat. In fact, Iran has never made a military threat against Israel. Israel has against Iran, though—many, many times.
Ahmadinejad has also met sharp international criticism over his comments on the Holocaust. The widespread and misleading allegation is that he denies that the Holocaust ever occurred.
It is undoubtedly true that Ahmadinejad has raised some uncomfortable questions about the Holocaust. Indeed, in December 2006, he even convened a conference to explore historical evidence for the Holocaust, and he also occasionally referred to people making “a myth” of the Holocaust.
However, as Iran Specialist Professor Shiraz Dossa states, while Ahmadinejad’s “rhetoric has been excessive and provocative,” he“has not denied the Holocaust or proposed Israel’s liquidation. What Ahmadinejad has questioned is the mythologizing, the sacralization, of the Holocaust.”
Ahmadinejad’s inflammatory statements are all in the context of the Palestinian struggle. The questions are put in terms of skepticism towards the Holocaust’s use in justifying Zionist colonialism in Palestine. The intellectual exploration, undoubtedly born of a deep, sometimes justified, mistrust for the West, has never crossed the line into outright denial of the Holocaust.
When such statements have been conflated with anti-Semitism, Ahmadinejad has repeatedly clarified his position with statements like “creating an objection against the Zionists doesn’t mean that there are objections against the Jewish.”
Undoubtedly, the recent election dispute in Iran leaves one questioning the democratic scruples of the country’s leadership. Ahmadinejad’s Iran is far from the idyllic liberal democracy. But, however great the fervor for Ahmadinejad’s opponent, one need be careful not to lose sight of how unfairly Western caricatures of Iran have influenced attitudes toward the incumbent worldwide—a habit long in the making and likely slow to change.