In some ways, the continuing row over his call for the complete destruction of Israel must baffle Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. All he did, after all, was to turn up at a routine anti-Zionist event and repeat the standard line—laid down by the Ayatollah Khomeini and thus considered by some to be beyond repeal—that the state of Israel is illegitimate and must be obliterated. There's nothing new in that. In the early '90s, I can remember seeing, in the areas around Baalbek in Lebanon that were dominated by Hezbollah and Amal, large posters of the by-then-late Khomeini embellished (in English) with the slogan, "Israel Must Be Completely Destroyed!" And I have twice been to Friday prayers in Tehran itself, addressed by leading mullahs and by former President Rafsanjani, where the more terse version (Marg bar Esrail—"Death to Israel") is chanted as a matter of routine; sometimes as an applause line to an especially deft clerical thrust.
No, what worries me more about Ahmadinejad is his devout belief in the return of the "occulted" or 12th imam and his related belief that, when he himself spoke recently at the United Nations, the whole scene was suffused with a sublime green light that held all his audience in a state of suspended animation. This uncultured jerk is, of course, only a puppet figure with no real power, but this choice of puppet by the theocracy is unsettling in itself. So is Iran's complete lack of embarrassment at being caught, time and again, with nuclear enrichment facilities that have never been declared to the inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
However, words and details and nuances do matter in all this, so I was not surprised to see professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan denying that Ahmadinejad, or indeed Khomeini, had ever made this call for the removal of Israel from the map. Cole is a minor nuisance on the fringes of the academic Muslim apologist community. At one point, there was a danger that he would become a go-to person for quotes in New York Times articles (a sort of Shiite fellow-traveling version of Norman Ornstein, if such an alarming phenomenon can be imagined), but this crisis appears to have passed.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
From Slate (ht LGF):