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FCNL’s Dinner with Ahmadinejad

September 30, 2008


That’s the rallying cry for many of the protest groups against Quaker and other religious organizations meeting with President Ahmadinejad last week in New York.

Don’t Legitimize Iranian President Ahmadinejad with Invitation to “Dialogue”, says the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. USCIRF says such a meeting would only “cleanse his reputation as a purveyor of hate.”

As Jim Fine, FCNL’s Legislative Secretary for Foreign Policy, so eloquently wrote in his description of FCNL’s two meetings with Ahmadinejad and Foreign Minister Mottaki, “We are talking with the Iranian president not because we agree with him but precisely because people and nations who don’t agree need to talk.”

Since when did talking with someone mean you agree with any of their policies or ideology? As Madeline Albright most recently said when she endorsed talks with Iran along with four other former secretaries of state, “I think the whole point is you try to engage and deal with countries that you have problems with…”.

It seems people have forgotten–when it comes down to life or death, war and peace issues, the reason we do diplomacy is to prevent war. This is also the life-or-death reason for democracy; the idea that we can solve conflicts by communicating rather than butcher one another.

I’ve received calls from constituents asking why we would ever speak to anyone who advocates violence since we are a pacifist organization.

I don’t know what better use there is for a pacifist organization than to communicate with different groups advocating violence to improve communications channel and stave off violent conflict.

Imagine what would happen to the state of religious (or any other kind of) freedom in the world if we only talked to countries that upheld even the US State Department’s standards of how religious minorities should be treated. The double standards on this issue (that the US props up with billions of dollars a laundry list of real dictatorships that make Iran look like a rich, thriving democracy, such as Saudi Arabia, Equatorial Guinea, Azerbaijan…and not to mention the Shah who formerly ran Iran with an iron fist) are a topic for another day.

Ahmadinejad will (most likely) run again in June of 2009 in the Iranian presidential election. As the Italian journalist Monica Maggioni said in her article in Foreign Policy, “[T]here’s only one man who can keep Mahmoud Ahmadinejad out of the unemployment line: George W. Bush.” The point being, his political capital, like so many leaders from Venezuela to the Middle East, depend on the Bush administration’s policy of isolation and hostile regime change threats so that these leaders can show that they are standing up to the “Great Satan”.

In the US, Ahmadinejad is the poster boy for hardline elements that push for sanctions, threats, and regime change. In Iran, as in much of the world, Bush and other hardline elements are used for the same purpose, and inspire everyone to rally around the flag. When Ahmadinejad holds a holocaust denial conference, when he repeats the same dangerous lies about how the Zionists are in control of the media in the US, we all know what kind of political forces benefit in this country. Why is it so hard to imagine who benefits in Iran when the US refuses to meet with Iran until entirely shut down its nuclear program–for which there is vast support in the Iranian populace?

As Shirin Ebadi told the Los Angeles Times, “If there is a military attack on Iran, people will forget their differences with the government, and they will defend their country. It will also damage our human rights movement, because the government will expand its powers and limit freedoms using the excuse of national security.”

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