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When to a Q&A with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

I wrote this diatribe this morning. Pretty much sums up the entire affair.

When my dad, my step-mom, and me got to the Barclay International hotel, where the dinner and discussion would take place, there was a ridiculous amount of security at the door. Police were everywhere anyway due to it being so close to the UN building, but a lot of the people with headphones in one ear had little Iranian flag pins. To get into the door, we had to have a state form of ID, and then be on the long list each security guard had, send everything in your pockets through a scanner, and walk through a metal detector. We got into the hotel lobby at 5:30, and plopped down on a couch where a bunch of press people from around the world kept their cameras and laptops. A few of them were editing b-roll of NYC streets. At 6, when the event was originally supposed to start, a big mass of people gathered at the door to the Astor Room. And so we waited, watching numerous diplomats and such running around the hotel. At 7, they started to let the people in, but not without checking them again with state ID. After we checked in again, everyone (which was by then a group of 400 or so people) got lined up single file, patted down and a baton waved on us. After that, everything electronic needed to be checked. We then had to stand for another half hour eating bad fried hors d'oeuvres, waiting for the actual discussion to start. At that point I feel an entirely new phase of political disillusionment in my life started.

Finally, they shuffled us all into the ballroom where the talk would take place, but Ahmadinejad still had not arrived, so we listened to a few other speeches from Iranian intellectuals. We were part of the last group in so we sat all the way in the last row, next to the translator booth and the sound engineer. Of course, they ran out of headsets for everyone so I spent 15 minutes listening to a speech in Farsi before the sound engineer starting digging up headsets for the half of the audience who didn’t have one. Can’t say a bad thing about the sound engineer, really nice guy who was working real hard to get everyone a headset and to get the right microphones on. Once we got a headset, I heard nothing really revealing: Iran has a rich cultural history, the Revolution did more to strengthen our people than anything the West ever did, we are never oppressors, everything we do is an act of defense, we wish to spread science, math, and all types of knowledge to all people while the West wants to keep it for themselves. Along with the academics came dignitaries of every Iranian minority group: Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians.

Finally Ahmadinejad arrived and apologized for his lateness, and blamed it on Kaddafi’s long speech, which got a chuckle from the audience. He said a prayer, then gave an opening statement, saying that all people have been searching for the answer to one question: Why were we created? He said once all people can agree on the answer, we will have peace. Ever since I learned I would be going to this, I searched for a question to ask him. And after hearing that, I finally had one.

“You said that humanity’s question is why were we created. Once we have that answer, we will have peace. The question implies that we must have a creator. But what is humanity comes to the conclusion that there is no higher being, no god? That all religion is fallacy? Do you believe, if we come to that conclusion, will we still have peace?”

The Q&A started. And every single question asked was not really a question. They were statements, people trying to trick him into saying something against his policies, his religion, or his country. Every single one. I admit, my question was also a bit of a trap, but I still had no clue what his answer would be. Instead, we got a load of political puffery. Questions about fraud in the recent elections would get answers you would expect: These elections are fair, there should be no controversy, he wants to work with all Iranian people for a better Iran. One questions asked him how he will deal with the protestors, instead of answered he asked what the questioner would do, lots of laughs. A few times the Parliament dignitaries spoke up a bit, but they didn’t say anything interesting. Several questions were asked about political prisoners, sometimes about specific cases. He answers that he has very little jurisdiction on that matter, it is now a matter of the Iranian courts. Accusations of refugees being tortured were given non-committal promises that we are doing the best we can for all refugees in Iran. One question asked him about Israel and Palestine, he said he wanted peace there, that Palestinians are being treated unfairly. One question that I thought was interesting: what would he do if his child told him that they did not believe in religion anymore. Starting it off easy by mentioning the birth of his granddaughter, he answered that religions teach peace and morality, but if they wish to not believe, he will not like it but it is every person’s own opinion and he should not police that. One student asked what Islam’s place is state and worldwide politics, he and the Parliamentary figures answered that all religions have a place in morality and act as guiding points for political action. Or the lack there-of. They said that all religions promise peace.

At this time I had already had my left hand raised every time they opened up the floor for questions. In the beginning they focused on people in the front, and then they kept saying that we were running out of time and people should keep their questions short. Of course, they didn’t, with many people breaking into long speeches. By the time they said they were only going to ask around 10 more questions, I stood up, the only one who stood up in the audience for the Q&A, and kept my right hand raised for the remainder of the discussion. The sound engineer kept pointing at me at one of the main guys to pick me, and a couple of Iranians who held the microphones kept wanting them to pick me, but I kind of knew that there was no way I was getting picked. The final question was asked, and I sat back down, defeated. But if this event gets shown anywhere, and they have some shots of the audience, and there is a fat guy in the back standing up with his hand raised, that’s me.

And the final question was about the Holocaust. Jesus fucking Christ. We got through the entire thing without mentioning it, and it just had to be brought up right at the end, and we had to sit through his speech on why it is real, and why Holocausts happen all the time around the world, that the British caused the deaths of millions of Iranians through famine in the 1910s and we never talk about that, that there is no evidence for the Jewish Holocaust. Did the person who asked that question expect something different? Ahmadinejad asked the audience “first of all, where did this Holocaust happen?” and that got some chuckles and murmurs from around the audience, because we know where is happened, everyone knows where it happened. They didn’t build those ovens in Poland just for show, to build the lie. We did not near to hear this again when he just said the exact same thing last week, and he has been saying these same things for years. Does hearing it in person make it any different? Did he think that he would be the one to “break” Ahmadinejad, that he would prove to him that is actually happened? You can’t change people with that kind of attitude. He is just a bigot in that situation, and it makes him an idiot. After the last question, someone grabbed a mic and tried to ask another question, and he got whisked away by security as Ahmadnejad and the members of Parliament left. We thanked the translators for doing an excellent job, then the guys in the back with the microphones and the sound engineer for trying to get the people in the front’s attention so I could ask my question, went to get our cell phones and cameras, then headed right for the bar.

My opinion on Ahmadinejad is this: This guy is not an idiot. He doesn’t talk like one, or these translators were very eloquent. His places much value on religion as a cornerstone in humanity. He is not charismatic on the Obama level, but he certainly is not a wet blanket. And he really is that short.

Re: When to a Q&A with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

If the guy was a good debater he'd acknowledge the Jewish holocaust then say "Of course Germany is a Western country", then bring up the Native Americans and black slavery.

My question would have been about women's rights. Did that come up at any point in the speech? If so what was his response?