Monday, September 24, 2007

N.Y. Site Transcends Boundaries

by James Carroll
Published on Monday, September 24, 2007 by The Boston Globe

So Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is forbidden by the United States to visit Ground Zero. Iran’s president is to address the United Nations tomorrow, and while in New York, he had hoped to go to the World Trade Center site, as so many visitors do. New York authorities, together with the US State Department, said no. The prohibition was seconded by Hillary Clinton - she called the idea “unacceptable” - and by Rudy Giuliani, who blasted Ahmadinejad for his “threats against America and Israel.”

What else might have happened here? Ahmadinejad is notorious for having denied the Holocaust, threatened Israel, and demonized America. He is also the elected president of a nation that stands, together with the United States, on the edge of an abyss. Does this action move us back from that edge, or closer to it?

No one can visit the World Trade Center site, even as construction daily transforms it, without a vivid sense of the staggering tragedy that took place there. Indeed, the event transcends mundane boundaries, even including old conflicts. In the days after Sep. 11, 2001, one of the first nations to express compassion for American pain was Iran. Then-President Mohammed Khatami, in an interview with CNN, sent, as he said, “deepest condolences to the nation of America and . . . sorrow for the tragic event of September 11. What occurred was a disaster . . . the ugliest form of terrorism ever seen.”

The scorched acreage at what was quickly dubbed “Ground Zero” was, at first, a wound inflicted on the human family. All over the globe, especially through that constantly rebroadcast television footage, people experienced what had happened in New York as happening to them. One fact long gone down the memory hole is that, when the United States launched its military campaign against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, Tehran was supportive. The old enmity had been transcended, precisely, by the hurt that Iranians, too, felt after Sept. 11. “I would also like to add,” Khatami told CNN that fall, “that the Americans were not the only ones who suffered.” In that suffering, most of the world was united.

Ahmadinejad is no Khatami, but the United States has steadily treated Iran as if it is only an enemy. Today’s rebuff to the current president is of a piece with a long history of omni-political denigration aimed at Tehran. After all, it was when the reform-minded Khatami was Iran’s leader that George W. Bush, in 2002, hung that nation on the “Axis of Evil.” Ahmadinejad’s visit to Columbia University, scheduled for today, has generated fierce controversy, but even when it was Khatami visiting Harvard a year ago, then-Governor Mitt Romney ordered state authorities to have nothing to do with protecting his security.

The extremist Ahmadinejad rode to power on Iranian reactions to the steady insult from America. This new insult reinforces him at home, just as moderate, relatively pro-Western opposition forces are jelling there. (One week ago, Ahmadinejad’s chief rival, former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was elected speaker of the Assembly of Experts, the clerical body that oversees Iran’s Supreme Leader.)

It was George W. Bush who transformed Ground Zero from a site toward which the world looked with empathy for American pain into a hypernationalistic symbol of a singularly American victimhood. Sept. 11, 2001, became our wound alone, and New York’s ravaged precinct became a restricted preserve, as global sympathy for the United States curdled into fear of it.

What if, instead of shunting Ahmadinejad aside as one unworthy to enter the sanctuary of our national trauma, we Americans had said, “Yes - stand here with us. Look at what threatens the universal future if we do not find other ways to relate to each other than with contempt. Relive that horrible September morning with us, when the rank evil of terrorism showed itself with such clarity that the human family, decidedly including the Iranian nation, stood together against it. Let solidarity be the meaning of this place.”

If Americans, across the political divide, are still too traumatized by what Ground Zero memorializes to contemplate such a stance, it is because Osama bin Laden’s crime remains unadjudicated. Bin Laden still at large, releasing videos, inspiring legions, is the living emblem of American paralysis.

Here is George Bush’s most grievous failure: Instead of enabling his nation to reckon with the blow of Sept. 11, and move on from it, he has worsened that anguish immeasurably. Yes, Ground Zero is a holy place, but Bush is the one who desecrates it

8 comments:

Garten said...

This is so right on. Bush does everything wrong again and again and again.

-gartenfische

poodledoc said...

It could have been so different. So much healing could have taken place. The God inside both Presidents could reach out and connect. Sometimes healing takes a lot of courage (maybe always). I was trying to imagine George Bush visiting Iran and asking to lay a wreath at say.....the memorial to the martyrs of the Iran-Iraq war, wherein millions died.......what would Iranian pundits say about that. What would the world say? I wish we could see it........sigh.

cizewski said...

I almost unconditionally support all dialogs. I am even more supportive when nations seem to be drifting or rushing into a war.

A left wing Israeli newspaper columnist pointed out that one of the unintended consequences of the Iranian President's U.S. visit is that he makes Israel, despite all its problems, look good. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad runs up against the law of unintended consequences.

The American Friends Service Committee and others hosted a very private, low key meeting between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and some religious leaders.

Ahmadinejad Meets Clerics

The Baha'is, victims of some of the most horrific persecution of revolutionary Islamic Iran, were invited but Mahmoud Ahmadinejad refused to come if they were there.

The Baha'is weren't and the meeting went ahead. That is a somewhat disturbing violation of the spirit and process of dialog.

This deserved far more publicity, especially as it exposes, perhaps even more clearly than what happened at Columbia University, the real nature of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

poodledoc said...

Thanks for raising this up, Mr Cizewski. I feel like I should have known about it, since AFSC is a Quaker organization. An important thing that came up for me when reading your comment is how the world and the people in it, are not either all good or all bad. Bush and his crime syndicate want to paint the world this way. So Ahmadinajad is demonized as totally evil, treated totally like crap. Howeve, I'mt trying to say that he is human, which doesn't excuse him from any of his actions. But the Bush world view is this over-simplified version of "how things work". I just feel that things could have been so much different if human beings had a dialog at the highest levels. Perhaps a lot more people would be able to live out their lives and not have the constant fear of a violent death...

poodledoc said...

Thanks for raising this up, Mr Cizewski. I feel like I should have known about it, since AFSC is a Quaker organization. An important thing that came up for me when reading your comment is how the world and the people in it, are not either all good or all bad. Bush and his crime syndicate want to paint the world this way. So Ahmadinajad is demonized as totally evil, treated totally like crap. Howeve, I'mt trying to say that he is human, which doesn't excuse him from any of his actions. But the Bush world view is this over-simplified version of "how things work". I just feel that things could have been so much different if human beings had a dialog at the highest levels. Perhaps a lot more people would be able to live out their lives and not have the constant fear of a violent death...

cizewski said...

When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad first became president, some of the U.S. Embassy hostages thought he might be one of their captors.

Forensic analysis of photos proved that he wasn't.

Many of the captors were from the Revolutionary Guard and most later died in the Iran-Iraq War. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in the Guard at that same time. How did he survive?

His service in the Revolutionary Guard was preparing children as young as 13 years old for suicide attacks on Iraqis troops during the Iran-Iraq War.

There is something especially repugnant, disgusting, and contemptible about that.

I share this out of a concern that some American leftist see Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as an ally against American foreign policy, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Islamic revolutionary Iranians are religious fascists like the Catholic fascists of Central America.

None of this negates my almost absolute and unconditional support for dialog with Iran and my opposition to U.S. intervention in Iran. The Iranian people and not the U.S. are ultimately responsible to deal with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

poodledoc said...

I see your points Mr Cizewski and they are important. I do think the American "left" is often very naive and makes ignorant assumptions about people they assume are "on their side". This puts blinders on for many people. I think my point is still, that he shouldn't have been treated in that manner and that there are many possibilities for dialogue that could avoid killing and would lead to creating instead.

cizewski said...

In no way do I mean my commentary to in any way imply opposition to dialog or endorsement of rude and disrespectful treatment of a foreign leader.

I remain concerned that somehow Mahmoud Ahmadinejadad was able to have one religion excluded from a meeting with religious leaders and the meeting organizers agreed to that condition. I don't know what should have been done.

I am less concerned about public meetings at a university or private meetings with religious leaders or a visit to Ground Zero than I am about the apparent lack of communication between those with the power to prevent a war. The risks of war are great especially with our forces so close.