Too busy ripping Ahmadinejad to hear his message
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to the United Nations stirred a chorus of criticism from mainstream American leaders and activists.
But Arabs and Muslims listened with understanding, believing U.S. society is biased, and Middle East problems are compounded by improper translation of concepts from Middle Eastern languages to English.
From the Arab and Muslim standpoint, Ahmadinejad squarely answered many of the charges he faced, though not all. He represents an oppressive government and he is not articulate, especially in English, something his critics exploited to distort an open discussion of the issues he addressed.
For Arabs and Muslims, Ahmadinejad's visit put the spotlight on the hypocrisy of the American claim to be the "leader of the free world." In truth, Ahmadinejad was pilloried in much the same way that Arabs and Muslims are persecuted and harassed out of jobs simply for expressing unpopular views.
This was demonstrated by Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, who claimed Ahmadinejad was invited because of America's "free speech" principles, but proved in his disgraceful colloquy that speech is not free for those who address unpopular issues.
During his trip, did Ahmadinejad deny the Holocaust, as has been repeatedly asserted? Ahmadinejad said what nearly every Arab and Muslim believes. The Holocaust did happen. Millions of Jews and non-Jews were murdered. But Ahmadinejad rejected the practice of Israel's supporters who use the Holocaust and the charge of "anti-Semitism" as a battering ram to silence people who criticize Israeli government policies.
Ahmadinejad made this point clearly, but it was not reported in one news story on his visit. Recently, a Jewish professor in Chicago and son of Holocaust survivors who raised this issue, was forced from his job and denounced as denying the Holocaust, which he did not do. The issue is not Holocaust denial, but denial of the right to challenge Israel's practices without being vilified.
Ahmadinejad was pilloried for allegedly saying Israel must be "destroyed." Ahmadinejad is both a "foe of Israel" and a "champion of Palestinian demands for justice." His words reflect a growing feeling among Arabs and Muslims that an injustice occurred in 1948 when a "Jewish state" was established in a land where the majority population was Christian and Muslim.
Not all Arabs or Muslims agree with me that the passing of time requires us to set aside irresolvable issues of justice in favor of compromise to end violence by Israelis and Arabs. Many believe Christian and Muslim Palestinians who lost homes in 1948 have, under international law, a legitimate claim.
Without permitting debate, Israel's extremist supporters brush those issues aside as "anti-Semitic." It is a preposterous charge, except in mainstream U.S. media and among U.S. government leaders bullied by the pro-Israel lobby into acquiescence.
Ahmadinejad is not the best spokesman for Palestinians. He is a petty tyrant, but is he different from the petty tyrants allied to our government? Arabs and Muslims saw through Ahmadinejad's inflamed rhetoric, seeing the truth of issues he addressed and the hypocrisy of American policies.
What passes for free speech in America is another form of oppression, no better or worse than censorship in the Middle East.