Monday, December 8, 2008

Ways and Means

Written for the Hills Road Phoenix, Edition 17/12/08

It has been almost 30 years since an Islamic revolution gripped Iran in 1979 and in that long tenure, the country has been perceived as the scourge of the free and fair world. Whilst diplomatic relations with much of the EU have been reinstated, contact with the United States has not reached the heights of an exchange of ambassadors. The country has constantly been the subject of press speculation and UN scrutiny and sanction.

This icy fa├žade has fissured. Beginning in 2006, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom began to forge a working friendship with Tehran Mayor Mohammad Ghalibaf, in contrast to the militaristic sentiment of 2007 and 2004 that culminated with a total of 29 Royal Navy personnel being seized by Iranian forces. Indeed, even outgoing US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said that “the diplomatic course is really the best course.”

All this is good and well but when ill will is allowed to ferment at the uppermost levels of government, things do not bode well. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recognised this and set a precedent when he congratulated President-Elect Barack Obama with a personal letter, saying, “I hope you will be able to take fullest advantage of the opportunity to serve and leave behind a positive legacy.”

Whilst Obama did not flatter his Iranian counterpart with a personal response, there is still the propensity for serious talks to occur: the ice has been broken and should remain so, given that dialogue has been initiated. Even if Obama never responds to Ahmadinejad, the very fact that the letter was sent represents an important progression in terms of the governance of Iran: previously the President was merely a puppet for the Ayatollahs – religious leaders who had monopolised control since the 1979 revolution. Now, the President has established contact with the “infidels,” a sure sign that political control has become increasingly secular, even modern.

Back in the Europe and the United States, politicians and whole governments have embraced the internet, campaigning via media such as social networking site Facebook or popular video-sharing site Youtube. Making up for lost time, Iran is not far behind – Ahmadinejad and his multilingual aides have set up a blog, available in English, French, Arabic and Farsi.

It speaks of a reconciliation, if not between the two governments of the US and Iran then between the people of those two countries. In one post, entitled “A Reply to American Mother’s Message,” the President or more likely a ghost writer assures the mother that her son would return home from the Iraq war because, “Certainly Almighty God would help him.”

This sympathy is not a lonely occurrence amongst a swarm of rants. In another post entitled “Merry Christmas to Everyone,” Ahmadinejad spreads the holiday spirit by describing Christ as the “A messenger of peace, devotion and love based upon monotheism and justice.” The mirth is preceded by a philosophical reflection, remarking that, “the dignity, benevolence, peace and tranquillity of the human beings have been taken to abattoir and slaughtered. And then, lie and deception are positioned for honesty and truth.”

Surprisingly, Ahmadinejad recognises that this is a plight of the whole world, not just the scourge of the infidels of the West, saying that this was a problem, “In occupied Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, and South America and even in Europe and North America.” Once more, this is a hopeful sign that the reign of the Ayatollahs is a thing of the past. The very fact that the blog is available in English represents the notion that the Iranian government wants to communicate with the West. This isn’t to say that Ahmadinejad is a knight in shining armour as his country has done some terrible things, for example the use of stoning as capital punishment but there is a recognition that modernisation might after all be a good idea.

However, ugly sentiment is still directed at him from the West. Americans who have commented on his blog have hoped that “a bullet is put in [Ahmadinejad’s] head very soon. Similarly, a Briton wrote, “you are a despicable man.” Perhaps more importantly, an Iranian poster was allowed to sarcastically applaud his President. Ahmadinejad has shown the guile to open himself to international critique, unimaginable mere years ago. It doesn’t matter if the blog is a hoax, written by aides, censured beyond recognition. Somewhere in the upper levels of Iranian government, there has been a decision to welcome back the wider world with peace and goodwill.

Note: President Mahmoud Ahmadinjad’s blog is available at

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