Lately I've been reading Frederick Douglass' Narrative in the Life of a Slave By Himself and since I did so just as the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmandinejab, visited Columbia University, I cannot help but link religious perversion to the ongoing battle between ideas of evil, political misunderstandings, war, and even, civil decorum. Oh yes, decorum, when absent, seems so mild a sin, but it is, I emphatically state, the BIG DOOR to war (insult leads to defensive posturing, threats, confusion and misunderstandings finally to war). Douglass reminds me of how the pious and the powerful unite to deceive the naive, to grab more power, to grow fearful of insurgency and to become cruel, inhumane and grossly confused by twisted religious doctrine while being caught up in a twisted social box (a culture) that requires free thinking to escape.
I was curious about Ahmandinejab, his stance on the Holocaust, his view of women and his desire for nuclear power. But, I could not see Ahmandinejab clearly. Between the hostile and baited questions, I saw a confused man trying to honestly answer questions. I don't think he understood the depth of the hostility toward him. I'm not sure the president of Columbia desired to understand or to HEAR the notorious man. The whole visit seemed like for Ahmandinejab, it was to speak and be heard, but from every interview, every debate, it seemed like the neocon agenda prevailed and was thrust at him, by not only our media and insensible (axis of evil) president, but also from Columbia University's president (liberal lion that he should be). I'm not saying he doesn't deserve the loud disrespect that he got, I'm just saying that to get anywhere you have to have dialogue. You have to stop name-calling and ask real questions. And, listen to the answers. Can you imagine our president being treated like that in Iran? Could you imagine Bush earnestly wishing to have a dialogue after being introduced as petty, cruel, and evil (names he has been called by some Americans). If Ahmandinejab is cruel and petty, he is also courageous for attempting dialogue (or naive and earnest). And if he is cruel and petty, let me see for myself. I saw humility and effort in his body language, and rage, righteousness and disgust in CBS's Scott Pelley and Columbia's president.
What does this have to do with religious perversion? Well, the Iranian president shares power with a parliament in which the Islamic Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reigns. How do we know what part of their human rights record is from the president and what from the parliament and what part from the justice system and what part from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard? What if, Ahmandinejab wanted a stronger relationship with the West in order to galvanize power at home against fundamentalists? What if his taking insulting blows from an American reporter causes him to lose stability at home and the fundamentalists to degrade him as an American ass kisser? I know I could be wrong about this, but I have to ask the questions.
When Douglass makes the argument to end slavery, he doesn't remind white slave owners that African-Americans are human and desire freedom like the next human, he says, "It is in your best interest to dissolve this inhumane institution because it makes you a sinner in the eyes of God, you become cruel and hateful, and you become greedy. Your wife must endure the hardship of seeing your mulatto children around her, and this tears your family apart." He doesn't say you are evil for supporting this evil institution. The end is more important to Douglass than the temporary insult. Lastly, he differentiates between the true church of Christianity and the hypocritical Southern church that uses religion in order to commit acts of evil.
Maybe Iran is wrapped up in such an institution of hypocrisy in regards to religion. Maybe it's necessary to hear someone who doesn't deserve to be heard in order to get beyond the man and to attempt diplomacy with a nation. Maybe one act of graciousness leads to another? Maybe respecting the office of president would show the Iranian people that we respect them? Maybe we could have asked strong questions about human rights while also giving a diplomatic introduction that leaves out name-calling such as "petty, cruel and evil." Who could have remained on that stage after such an introduction? How swiftly will the religiously perverted at home mock his return and entrench themselves against the West?
Americans have notoriously not understood the perspective of other people. Could we not err on the side, at least, of civil decorum and listen for a change....just in case?