On Wednesday evening, September 24, I was one of over
one-hundred activists who met for two hours with Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran. President Ahmadinejad
was in the US
for a General Assembly meeting at the United Nations. Leila Zand, an
Iranian woman from the Capital District who is the Iran Program Director for
the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), organized the meeting. The next morning, anti-war group members who
had attended Wednesday’s meeting met again to discuss how to organize against
an attack on Iran.
I attended both meetings as a representative of Bethlehem
Neighbors for Peace and of the Muslim Solidarity Committee. Also at the meeting was Priscilla Fairbank from Women Against War
(WAW). Over 100 different anti-war
organizations from across the country were represented, including, the Syracuse
Peace Council, and Rochester Against War from upstate, NY.
After welcome addresses from FOR and the Iranian ambassador,
eleven people, including Priscilla Fairbank of WAW, asked questions of the
President Ahmadinejad’s started
his formal address by thanking those who were gathered for their work on behalf
of peace. He observed that World War II
took the lives of over 60,000,000 people, more than the number killed in all
previous wars combined, and was then followed by additional wars in Korea,
Vietnam, Granada, and elsewhere. He had
determined, therefore, that it was not enough to fight against a single war;
rather, the peace movement must address the causes of war in general and work
towards ending all war.
He stated that, in his opinion, war has two major causes:
Greed, or the desire of one country to take the resources of another;
Geographical expansion, or one country trying to take over the territory
He said that the only war that modern Iran
was involved in was the eight-year war with Iraq,
which was started by the “professional criminal,” Saddam Hussein. Saddam, he said, started that war with the
encouragement and support of the US. As a result, over 200,000 Iranians died,
including many killed by chemical weapons supplied by the US.
President Ahmadinejad stated that
the reason Iran
is against war is because, in Iran,
politics and religion are not separate.
He said that all the great religions have a common moral code and that
unless politics is based on a moral code, war will continue. He also said that Iran
is against nuclear weapons and implied that nuclear weaponry violates the
religious beliefs of Islam.
One of the questions asked of President Ahmadinejad
involved the recent demonstration at the national political conventions and the
number of arrests (over 800 were arrested in St. Paul
including legal observers, medical helpers and reporters). The questioner asked about similar political
repression in Iran. President Ahmadinejad
replied that they have demonstrations in Iran,
including two annual demonstrations that attract millions of people. He said political demonstrations are allowed
in Iran. However, one Iranian women
at the meeting the following morning stated that there have been non-government
sanctioned demonstrations in Iran
that have been broken up by authorities.
Another questioner asked about the role of women, youth, and
gays in Iran. Ahmadinejad replied
that Iranian youth are very involved in politics and that a national youth
organization advises him. He said that
people can vote in Iran
at the age of 15.
President Ahmadinejad said that two
of his vice-presidents are women and that women make up 70% of the university
students and perhaps a majority of all professions. Women can work at all jobs
, including taxi driving and truck driving. He noted, however, that he did not think it
was a good thing for women to be taxi drivers and truck drivers, as he believes
women should not do hard labor and represent beauty and the finer things in
society. (I also noticed that all the
dignitaries who came with him were men.)
He did not answer the question about gays although he did
answer that question on Democracy Now the following morning. He stated that although he does not approve
of homosexuality, gays are not discriminated against in Iran. What people do in their own homes is their
own business, he said. Amy Goodman had a
picture of two gays that she said were hanged in Iran. President Ahmadinejad
responded that he did not believe that; people in Iran
are only executed for murder or rape.
He was asked why Iran
supports nuclear power instead of renewable energy. He said that he thought it was strange that
the U.S., Britain,
and other countries supported Iran’s
nuclear power programs under the US
supported dictatorship, but that once Iran
had elections, these same countries no longer supported it. He said that they spend three times as much
on renewable energy than they spend on nuclear power. He felt that both renewable and nuclear
energy were necessary for Iran’s
Medea Benjamin of Code Pink asked
why it is difficult for Americans to get visas to visit Iran. She said that they had sponsored tours of Iran
but she herself had been denied a visa.
President Ahmadinejad said that he did not
know and instructed the Iranian ambassador to open up the process for
Americans. He then told us that we
should now go to our own government and ask why Iranians can’t get visas to
come to the US.
President Ahmadinejad stated that
the demise of the old Soviet Union started with their
protracted war in Afghanistan. He believes that the US
is going through a similar process. He
said that the $700 billion bailout of US financial institutions could be better
used by the poor around the world and that the $700 billion was more than the
budgets of over 100 countries in the world.
Because of the crisis, the US
would not be able to have another war for perhaps a decade, he said. He also stated, “Iran
will not seek war with anyone, ever.”
After meeting with Ahmadinejad, I
had the opportunity to hear Bush’s televised address on the economic bailout. The contrast was clear: Bush spoke with the expressionless face of a
psychopathic liar. Ahmadinejad
spoke with expression and emotion, like a normal person. Although I disagree, at times strongly, with
many of the points Ahmadinejad has made, I believe
campaign of vilification against the Iranian president is designed to build up
a case for war against Iran.
The most important human right is the right to live. Any
movement toward war by the U.S.
would bring mass destruction and death.
The role of the peace movement in the U.S.
is to strongly oppose a war against Iran. As long as the US
continues to threaten Iran,
the Iranian people will band together to defend their country,
and all their other progressive struggles will have to be postponed
At the meeting the following morning, over 60 people
representing a wide array of the national peace movement met at a church in the
FOR has many ties to the religious peace movement ,and
so a number of religious peace leaders were there along with most of the
secular peace groups. Ahmadinejad’s comments about religion and politics became a
topic of discussion at the meeting. Most
people clearly disagreed with Ahmadinejad’s
perspective, although some thought that his perspective comes from Iranian
traditions where there is not a concept of separation of church and state.
One Iranian woman mentioned that she spoke to the Iranian
ambassador during the meeting and he asked her if some of the people who
attended the meeting would be arrested for attending. Perhaps this comment says a lot about the
real political situation in Iran
There was discussion about legislative initiatives and about
the importance of people to people contact between the two countries. There was not a lot of time for strategizing;
however, FOR plans to keep us in contact with each other as a national network
opposing an attack on Iran.
The meeting with President Ahmadinejad
was filmed. FOR will let us know how we
can get copies of the video.
On October 18,
2008 there will be a conference on Iran
and strategies to end war in our area.
Information can be found at the link below. Please join us to further discussion of
avoiding war with Iran.
How to Prevent War on Iran and the Constitution