Let’s go beyond the cut & paste snippets which
caused the ruckus, and objectively look at the
speech’s structure, purpose, and context. Only
after filling in these blanks, omitted in nearly all of
the world’s press reports, does one learn the truth,
that Ahmadinejad’s words – even if unwise in their
timing – were neither new for Iran, nor surprising.
By Arzu Celalifer
[With some editing by G. J. Desnoyers]
October 30, 2005
This article is especially good in its explanation of the context of
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s October 25, 2005, speech,
“The World Without Zionism,” delivered to approximately 3000
students in Tehran. When the context of the speech is understood,
even if Ahmadinejad did say “wipe Israel off the map,” which has
been seriously disputed, the speech should still not have
created the furious uproar it did.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed a conference in Tehran entitled "The World without Zionism", attended by around 3,000 students on Wednesday [October 26, 2005]. The following day, we could find the words, “Israel should be Wiped of the Map,” in the titles of nearly all news articles on Ahmadinejad’s speech around the world. The remarks by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prompted a chorus of international condemnation. Sometimes it’s easy to copy & paste parts of a speech or article and create a noisy atmosphere. But it will be better to analyze all the dynamics of this event and try to discover the missing points, both in the parts of the speech or article not copied & pasted, and in the context surrounding the event.
At the beginning, it will be helpful to explain the aim of this conference. In 1979, Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini declared the last Friday of the Muslim month of Ramadan as an international day of struggle for the liberation of Jerusalem (in Arabic “Al-Qods”) and against the occupier Zionist Regime. Henceforth, on “Al-Qods Day”, Muslims all over the world were to demonstrate against the existence of the state of Israel. Annually, the Iranian regime organizes a big Al-Qods Rally in Tehran. Prior to this rally there is always a conference related to the Palestine Problem. The 2005 conference, “The World without Zionism,” was one of these conferences, and the speech made by Mr. Ahmadinejad was aimed at the liberation of Al-Qods and Palestinians.
It would be wiser to have a look at the full text of the speech rather than selecting some parts of it. Doubtless it would make more sense and would give some clues about the reasons for such a speech.
But, before discussing the context, it will be noteworthy to remind some points:
1. The main topic of the organization was “liberation of Al-Qods and anti-Zionism”.
2. The hostility among two countries is not a secret.
3. Anti-Zionism has been a pillar in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran since the Islamic Republic came into existence.
Now, we can review the speech quickly. At first, Ahmadinejad explained the real meaning of Palestine adventure from his point of view. He said:
“The Palestine problem is not a conflict among Jewish and Muslims; it is not a conflict between Jewish and other sects; it is neither a fight among two countries nor a fight between a country and the rest of the Arab world. The establishment of the occupier Zionist regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world”
Later on he talked about the historic fight among Muslim world and the world oppressor. Pesident Ahmadinejad said:
“It dates back hundreds of years. Sometimes Islam has advanced. Sometimes nobody was winning. Unfortunately over the past 300 years, the world of Islam has been in retreat,"
Then he talked about history for a while,
essentially using historical examples to show that changes have occurred in ways
at one time thought impossible.
Then he touched on the name of conference, “The World Without Zionism,” and juxtaposed the name of the conference with the historical examples he mentioned to show that the name of the conference is not exaggerated and utopian. He said many external bodies are trying to impose hopelessness in the conflict between Islamic world and the world oppressor. Then he said,
“Lots of hopeless people ask whether a world without America or Zionism is possible or not.”
He expressed his belief that the answer to this question is affirmative, as the same thing was happened in the cases of the Iran Monarchy, the USSR, and the Saddam Hussein dictatorship. He pointed out that the famous iron curtain collapsed, and it can be found only in history books nowadays. He told the students:
“A recent similar case is Saddam, who assumed himself immortal and eternal, but today his legs and arms are chained and he is adjudicated by his former collaborators today.”
Following these examples he made a quotation from the Imam Khomeini’s speech and said,
“As the Imam said, the Occupier regime of al-Qods must be wiped off the map”. [Note: this translation is highly disputed. Many translators say that the words for “map” and “wipe off” were never used.]
Than he continued to defend the Palestinians
right of having their own territories and own government. The rest of his speech
is about supporting Palestine
in their justified case, confronting the Zionist regime, and warning other
Islamic countries not to cooperate with Israel.
Now, after briefly looked at the speech and its context, it will be easier to interpret the meaning of Ahmadinejad’s words.
First of all, the offending slogan is not original with Mr. Ahmadinejad; it is a quotation of a speech by Imam Khomeini.
Second, the speech was used to say that no system is eternal, and no unjust regime is incapable of being defeated.
Third, phrases can be interpreted in many ways, and the results depend on the interpreter’s intention and goodwill.
And finally, the words, “the occupier regime of Al-Qods,” just mean the Zionist regime; they do not mean Israeli and the Jewish people.
The Islamic Republic of Iran’s anti-Zionist
and anti-American approach is not a new thing. The “death to America” and “death
to Israel” slogans have existed since the first days of the revolution. But
these slogans are aimed at the American government and the Zionist Regime, not
their nations and people. On the other hand, both America and Israel declare
that the Islamic Regime in Iran shall collapse on nearly every opportunity. So,
what is the difference between both sides’ intentions? Should we interpret that
both Israel and America wish Iran and its people to be wiped of the map, or
should we understand that Israel and America’s problem is the current Islamic
system in Iran? It is useful to evaluate events objectively.
It can be said that senior Iranian officials had avoided such provocative language in the last decade. But Mr. Ahmadinejad appears to be taking a more confrontational tone than recent Iranian leaders. That should not be a surprise, because he comes from a more conservative wing, a fact known even before his election. Thus, his strict and more sensitive attitude toward the Palestinian Problem, and his anti-Zionist approach should not have a shock effect. This policy has been one of the main pillars of the Islamic Republic of Iran since its foundation. However, it would be wiser for Iran to be careful, and to think of herself more than other nations, especially during this period in which she has lots of problems within the international arena concerning her nuclear activities.
That brings us to the second point to be analyzed, timing. President Ahmadinejad’s comments, reported in the world media, came at a time when Tehran is under great pressure over its suspect nuclear programs.
Iran’s uranium enrichment program has been criticized for a long time in the international arena, but there has been no positive step taken except for threatening Iran with referring its file to the UN Security Council. Iran, which is defending its rights as an NPT member, persistently says that she will enrich uranium to produce electricity and minimize her foreign dependency. China and Russia, the most important economic partners of Iran, have declared that they will not approve the imposition of sanctions on Iran by the UN Security Council. But the international tensions over the matter are strong, and the situation a little bit complex. The current situation does not serve the aims of Western countries and Israel. This is why the timing of Ahmadinejad’s speech was so important.
Anti-Zionist policy has always been the “sine qua non” of Iran’s regime. Thus, using a part of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s speech that quoted Ayatollah Khomeini’s declaration during the first years of revolution, and introducing it as a new pronunciation, is really worth thinking on.
The United States, Israel and some European countries are looking for an opening, and pretext, to prove the dangerous character of Iran’s policies in order to bring Iran’s file before the Security Council, to stop Iran’s uranium enrichment program, and to expose Iran to international sanctions. Thus, Ahmadinejad’s speech was perceived as an opportunity to convince others that a country with such wishes will also produce nuclear bombs and use these weapons to destroy Israel. But Even Mark Regev, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, said, “Unfortunately this is not the first time that we've heard such an extremist message from the Iranian leadership. I think there is a growing understanding in the international community that the regime is not Israel’s problem alone, but a problem the entire international community must grapple with." These words of Mr. Regev are evidence that expressions such as those attributed to Mr. Ahmadinejad are not new.
If it is the arguments of Mr. Ahmadinejad which is the problem, they have been there since the beginning of the Islamic Republic of Iran. But it isn’t the arguments; it is the fact that they were uttered by Mr. Ahmadinejad at this time, when even the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Tehran is alleged to be sufficient reason to attack and wipe out wipe out Iran’s regime.
Arzu Celalifer, JTW Middle East Correspondent and Researcher, ISRO Center for Middle Eastern Studies, firstname.lastname@example.org