This past Wednesday, I was among a group of American religious leaders and scholars who met with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York. In what was billed as an inter-faith dialogue, we frankly shared our strong opposition to certain Iranian government policies and provocative statements made by the Iranian president.
The more respectful posture of our group that morning led to a more open exchange of views. Before an audience largely composed of Christian clergy, he reminded us that we worship the same God, have been inspired by many of the same prophets, and share similar values of peace, justice, and reconciliation. The Iranian president impressed me as someone sincerely devout in his religious faith, yet rather superficial in his understanding and inclined to twist his faith tradition in ways to correspond with his pre-conceived ideological positions. He was rather evasive when it came to specific questions and was not terribly coherent, relying more on platitudes than analysis, and would tend to get his facts wrong. In short, he reminded me in many respects of our president
The disproportionate media coverage of Ahmadinejad’s UN visit also suggests that Ahmadinejad fills a certain niche in the American psyche formerly filled by the likes of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi as the Middle Eastern leader we most love to hate. It gives us a sense of righteous superiority to compare ourselves to these seemingly irrational and fanatical foreign despots. If these despots can be inflated into far greater threats than they actually are, these threats can justify the enormous financial and human costs of maintaining American armed forces in that volatile region to protect ourselves and our allies and even to make war against far-off nations in “self-defense.” Such inflated threats also have the added bonus of silencing critics of America’s overly-militarized Middle East policy, since anyone who dares to challenge the hyperbole and exaggerated claims regarding these leaders’ misdeeds or to provide a more balanced and realistic assessment of the actual threat they represent can then be depicted as naive apologists for dangerous fanatics who threaten our national security.
Bush would have just laughed at the kid.
Better quality video, with crazy post-arrest screaming (the government's gonna kill me!), here.
(Oh, and the crazy guy raises a few good points.)