In the Economist of September 29th, a small article in the United States section, is about President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran visiting the United States. He wanted to visit Ground Zero to pay his respect, but this was refused because of ‘security issues’, the big wild card of American politics. The president did visit Columbia University‘s World Leaders Forum. This too caused a lot of protest among a large group of politically correct and extremely conservative, temporarily left, students.
Is the President of Iran not a world leader, one might ask. This was apparently not the issue. The President of Iran does BAD THINGS and thus he cannot have his say. Luckily the president of Columbia University did not yield to the pubic protests, although he was a bad host enough to criticize his guest in rather strong language in his introductionary speech. A revealing display of hypocrisy and bad manners. Apparently Mr. Bollinger thought it was necessary to safeguard his position as president of the university.
President Ahmadinejad proved himself to be the bigger man here by saying sensible things while ignoring the laughter and disapprovement these things caused with the public. When he says that there is more investigation needed into the Holocaust, every historian knows he’s right. The history of the Holocaust has been dominated until now by a strong political Jewish pressure group in the US, as well as by a communal feeling of guilt towards the Jewish people in Europe. We all know, but do not want to know, antisemitism was used and blown up by the fascists, not invented by them. ‘The Holocaust did not happen’ can be understood by an historian as ‘the story told now is not complete’. Where are the Roma in this story for example? Are they part of that ‘six million’, or is the dead count yet to be raised?
The appraisal of a historical ‘incident’ like the Holocaust or September 11 changes over time. Historical facts are being constructed and it is no more than sensible to think that over a hundred years the attack on the World Trait Centre will be viewed in a global perspective that tries to be objective about the causes. That there are people who are just wrong and bad, is too simple a story, every sensible person would agree.
Seen in the same cultural scientific light, Ahmadinejad’s remark about homosexuals is also nothing to laugh about. When he says that in Iran “we do not have homosexuals like in your country”, he is quite right. Homosexuality as a lifestyle, like we know here in the West, is nonexistent in Iran. Off course there are erotic contacts between men in all sorts of ways, but they have completely different forms than we are familiar with.
It are these cultural differences that complicate the story and are being ignored by a large part of, even the academic, American public. This thinking in differences does not provide clear cut rules of behavior, but it does mean that you just let the man speak, for God’s sake.