Confronting Ahmadinejad

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil... Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 311 (photo credit: MCT)
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 311
(photo credit: MCT)
While on assignment in Astana, Kazakhstan, on Wednesday, Herb Keinon, this paper’s diplomatic correspondent, had the harrowing experience of attending a conference of heads of state that featured as an honored guest-speaker a man “who, if he just could, would love to incinerate me and mine and all that is dear to me.”
Particularly discomfiting for Keinon was the fact that the man, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was received with a remarkable equanimity as he spouted his vicious verbal abuse of Israel, the US and the West. His statement to the effect that 60 plus years of Zionism has brought only humiliation and destruction to the Palestinians and the region evoked no more of a response than his harangue blaming the US and the West for, among other things, 9/11, which, he said, was the pretext for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
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The forum of heads of state – known as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – was hardly a global leadership gathering. Representatives of countries such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan were in attendance. But so were international heavyweights such as Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who both sat impassively as Ahmadinejad ranted.
The outrage in Astana is a minor precursor to the really big show, which has been repeating itself annually since Ahmadinejad was first elected president in 2005.
Come September, the head of the Islamic Republic will likely attend – and address – the UN General Assembly in New York. If he hasn’t already, Ahmadinejad will soon apply for a US visa.
Though the US should in principle deny Ahmadinejad entry to a country which he devotes so much of his time in public appearances to disparaging – and this paper has called for precisely such a move in the past – it is highly unlikely that this will happen, just as it has not happened in the past. Under its treaty with the UN, the US must grant heads of UN member states entry to attend UN assemblies. And Iran is a member state.
If justice reigned in the UN, Iran’s violation of a UN Security Council declaration that demands a halt to the country’s nuclear program, or its president’s outspoken Holocaust denial, a violation of a UN General Assembly resolution dating back to January 2007, would be reason enough too for special censure.
Ahmadinejad’s public declarations to “wipe Israel off the map,” combined with his push for nuclear capability and Holocaust denial, produce a truly frightening result.
Here is a country whose leadership has rejected the lessons of the Holocaust and openly incites genocide of the Jewish people living in Israel while actively seeking the means to perpetrate such a genocide.
Instead of being allowed to traipse around the world attending respectable conferences and forums and being received with honor, Ahmadinejad should be arrested.
As former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler has pointed out, Ahmadinejad is in clear breach of the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. International legislation passed in December 1948 in the shadow of the Holocaust, the convention was designed precisely to prevent the repeat of the kind of mass-murder that was carried out against the Jewish people during World War II, which Iran’s president has publicly encouraged.
“Persons committing this crime shall be punished,” states the convention, “whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals.”
None of this is likely to happen. However, unlike the equanimity with which Ahmadinejad was received in Astana this week by the presidents of China and Russia, Western countries that have maintained their moral bearings can be counted on to stage a major walk-out should Ahmadinejad address this September’s General Assembly.
Last year, when the Iranian president claimed during his annual speech to the assembly that the US government had “orchestrated” 9/11, representatives from the US and the EU’s 27 member-states left the hall. A similar walk-out was staged by British and EU officials in April 2009 at a UN summit against racism in Geneva dubbed “Durban II” during Ahmadinejad’s speech there.
Representatives from the US, Israel, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand had boycotted the entire conference, which attempted, like the 2001 Durban I summit, to single out Israel and equate Zionism with racism.
These walk-outs, which contrast so sharply with the indifference that rightly appalled The Jerusalem Post’s Keinon, are essential if basic moral distinctions are to be made between good and evil. The moral lesson taught by German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis for plotting to assassinate Hitler, is no less relevant today. Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.