Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a devout, sincerely spiritual, loyal foot soldier of the Islamic revolution, gave his variation of John Lennon’s “Imagine” before the United Nations on Wednesday. He asked his audience to look at the world that is, dominated by the United States, and envision a “new order” without American hegemony and Zionist power. From a podium where the Iranian president has repeatedly bared his soul, he gave a passionate call to all—especially the downtrodden—to embrace his faith.
Calling the world to Islam was a hallmark of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s revolutionary founding father, who most famously summoned the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, to abandon his godless existence. Following in his imam’s beloved footsteps, the Iranian president gave at times a poetic, left-wing chic, laundry list of the planet’s problems—economic (the “99 percent” are voiceless), environmental (irresponsible “capitalists” running amok), and most importantly imperialist (which in Ahmadinejad’s revolutionary Persian is usually rendered “the hegemony of arrogant and expansionist powers”).
It was not a fire-and-brimstone speech: Ahmadinejad, who has an earthy, peasant love of his religion, has never been all pyrotechnics. He has always alternated between hard and soft rhetoric in his praise of his faith, his homeland, and its unending efforts to save mankind from the Devil.
Unlike an old-time Baptist preacher, who sees the world’s evils as aftershocks of sinful souls, Ahmadinejad sees most humans as innocent. Beelzebub does his dirty work mostly through the West. “The current abysmal situation of the world and the bitter incidents of history are due mainly to the wrong-headed management of the world by the self-proclaimed centers of power who have entrusted themselves to the Devil.” Translated from the president’s argot: the United States, and within the United States, preeminently the “Zionists” (that is, Jews), who are Satan’s most powerful followers, are misleading mankind.
Ahmadinejad, like all Muslim fundamentalists, sees everywhere a clash of civilizations. Unlike many Sunni Muslim militants, whose thoughts don’t betray a profound intermingling with Marxist thought, Ahmadinejad shows clearly the Marxist-Islamist Molotov cocktail that produced the Islamic Revolution in 1978-79. His divine cosmology always has a distinctly left-wing practicality.
Along the way to a blissful divine ending—where the “Ultimate Savior,” the mahdi, will “return all children of Adam irrespective of their skin colors to their innate origin and after a long history of separation and division linking them to eternal happiness (i.e., embracing the first and only true faith, Islam)”—Ahmadinejad wants to rally the Non-Aligned Movement, which recently met in Tehran, to Allah’s master plan.
Iran’s president isn’t unique in his mundane predilections. His predecessor, the truly reformist president Mohammad Khatami, like his predecessor, the humiliated former major domo of the clerical establishment, the rich and über-corrupt Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, have all tried to appeal to the global left to join their anti-American and anti-Israeli mission.
Khomeini was deeply disappointed in most Sunni Muslims because they failed to rally to Iran’s revolution and the Islamic Republic’s leadership of the faith. His successors have been similarly disappointed in the Western and Third-World left, from whom they expected much more active support (for this reason Hugo Chávez remains high in the Iranian pantheon of rightly guided left-wing infidels).
Ayatollah Khomeini was a profound believer in soft power: say “the Truth” and the people would come. Ahmadinejad has more than a little of this true-believer faith; his boss, the Supreme Leader Ali Khameini, has much less of it.
As the French scholar of Islam Olivier Roy observed, if it had not been for the Islamic Republic’s determination to deny women (Western) social and political rights, or to put it the way Ahmadinejad did in his speech, “Woman’s sublime role and personality, as a heavenly being, a manifestation of divine image and beauty, and the main pillar of every society, has been damaged and abused by the powerful and the wealthy,” Iran’s revolutionaries would have done far better in gaining left-wing sympathizers in the 1980s. That and Khomeini’s colossal mistake of going after Salman Rushdie. And more recently, Ahmadinejad’s frustrated and offended assertion that “homosexuality does not exist in Iran.”
And, also, the extreme, omnipresent Iranian revolutionary love of conspiracy, which inevitably has an anti-American and anti-Semitic mainspring. In his U.N. speech, Ahmadinejad just couldn’t stop himself, referring to “the tragic incident of September 11,” but then suggesting that killing Osama bin Laden and “throwing the culprit into the sea” denied the world a chance to see the real truth about 9/11, that is, as the Iranian president put it, an opportunity “to bring to justice the perpetrators.” [Translation from Ahmadinejad’s Persian: the Americans, with the Jews pulling the strings, actually did 9/11.]
The Iranian president will soon have to give up his office. He’s had two terms, the maximum, and he’s no longer beloved by the Supreme Leader. But what’s important to understand is that the Supreme Leader is actually more dogmatic, more cloistered in his beliefs and friends, and less open to the world than Ahmadinejad. Khameini would never come to New York City, the cosmopolitan capital of “Satan Incarnate.” On so many issues, Iran’s president is actually a liberal compared to the man who may soon have nuclear weapons.