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September 21, 2010 3:25 pm

Ahmedenijad, Media Rock Star

avatar by Shmuley Boteach

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Protests outside of the United Nations in New York City. Photo: David Shankbone.

Once a year the media and the international community embarrasses itself by treating the rambling inanity of a madman as something of near-divine import. Mahmoud Ahmedenijad is the dangerous clown who blames the West for manufacturing outrage over women being stoned to death in his country, slaughters his political opponents in the streets, denies Iran has any homosexuals, and threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Oh, and he’s building a couple of nukes to keep in the closet.

But you might be forgiven if you concluded, come every September, that the diminutive dictator is actually a respected statesman with wisdom to impart.

As Ahmedenijad arrives for his annual trip to New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, every blue-chip media outlet is vying for a coveted interview. Here is how the AP reported their sit-down with the Iranian madman: “Appearing calm and self-assured, the Iranian president said he was pleased about the release of American hiker Sarah Shourd from a prison in Tehran, but said her two companions still in prison would have to prove their innocence on charges that they illegally crossed into the country.” Relaxed, indeed! Self-assured, why of course. And a humanitarian to boot. A man who releases innocent hikers, albeit while asserting that their companions have to ‘prove their innocence,’ as opposed to having any presumption thereof. Welcome to justice Iranian style.

Is that how the interview was conducted? With subject and interviewer drinking Evian? Did they throw in some casual banter about the state of the Iranian film industry and which Broadway shows Ahmedenijad would take in on Broadway?

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Where were the questions about his genocidal ambitions in exterminating Israel? Where were the challenges to his usurpation of the presidency through a fraudulent election? Where was the outrage over the innocent protesters who were mowed down in the gutters? How much will Western news agencies whitewash this guy?

If I would have been told that in the year 2010 a head of state whose country buries women up to their armpits while men throw rocks at their heads with as much force as they can muster would be treated like a visiting rock star, I would have scarcely believed it. Is there no shame to my colleagues in the media who legitimize a murderer by granting him precious, prime-time air rather than by showing him that barbaric actions against civilians will not result in one becoming a global celebrity?

In addition to being a killer of his people and guilty of global incitement against a nation who have already suffered genocide in the twentieth century, Ahmedenijad is a cheap publicity hound. The Western media spotlight nourishes him and feeds his delusions about his own global relevance. Which is why we must do all in our power to deny him the prominent pedestal he so desperately seeks.

Not that he even answers the media’s questions. Most of the time he simply puts questions right back in the laps of his interviewers. Ask him why he denies the holocaust, the best-documented crime of mass-murder in world history, and he will tell you, “Why are you asking me this? Why not ask the Jews why they are afraid of simple historical inquiry? That’s all I’m asking. That we look at the facts to see if their claims are true or not.” In return for asinine responses like these the most respected names in American media – Brian Williams, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour and countless others – will betray their journalistic calling by granting a megaphone to a megalomaniac.

No doubt the journalists will tell you that they’re doing the public a service by exposing Ahmedenijad’s preposterous ideas and wild theories. Let him hang himself with his own words. I don’t buy it. Not for a minute. Ahmedenijad’s speeches are well known and constantly covered. His evil is noted and reported throughout the world. The only thing achieved by seeing him on American TV is to legitimize him as a meaningful international presence.

When I was Rabbi at Oxford I had to practically beg a bunch of Oxford Colleges to host, for a cocktail reception or lunch, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, during his first tour as Israeli premier, when we invited him to address the Oxford Union. The democratically elected leader of the Middle East’s only democracy and fully functioning judiciary was accorded pariah status, even as Arab potentates were welcomed as honored guests.

But there was Ahmedenijad being granted a prestigious platform not in Europe, where Israel is reviled, but smack in the middle of New York, at its most prestigious University, in September, 2007. Lee Bollinger, Columbia University’s President, dodged a social bullet by introducing Ahmedenijad as an intolerant demagogue. But then, if you felt that way what was the point of inviting him to your University? Is it enriching for students to drink in the intolerant diatribe of a dictator hell-bent on genocide?

The same question can be asked of the American public. We have a choice. We can take women’s rights seriously and shun a man who condones women’s skulls being crushed by stones until death because their husbands accuse them of adultery with no evidence necessary, or we can choose the path of moral cowardice and allow an international pariah to be welcomed by our media right into our living rooms.

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