Friday, June 09, 2006

Ahmadinejad's Charm Offensive

Since his election Ahmadinejad has attempted to push Iran back to the days of its revolutionary prominence . His charming speeches, in which he called the Holocaust a myth and suggested that Israel's Jews be relocated to Alaska, as well as the push for nuclear capabilities seemed to be geared at reinvigorating Iran's leadership role in the world of Islamic radicalism. Following the Iranian revolution in 1979, Iran with Ayatollah Khomeini at the helm, was the unquestioned center point of a what seemed a new fundamentalist-based Islamic revival.

Ten years of war with Iraq, with fighting that in its futility and savagery greatly resembled World War I trench battle, and the success of Sunni mujahadeen in driving the Soviets from Afghanistan, pulled this leadership role of radical Islamic revivalism from the hands of Iran's Mullahs. The now deceased Zarqawi's explicitly anti-Shiite jihadism went beyond overshadowing Iran's role in the movement by actually placing Shiites -- and thus the people of Iran -- as corrupters of Islam in the same cateogry as Zionists and Crusuaders. The words and actions of Ahmadinejad are part or strategy to reclaim leadership -- a Shiite leadership -- over Islamic fundamentalism, a movement that he believes is the future for the muslim world.

The interview in Der Spiegel, Germany's most popular magazine, is part of a strategy of gaining help from some sections of the West. Ahmadinejad is attempting to enlist the support of both the German right-wing nationalists and the European far-left in neutralizing European involvement in the Middle East and further isolating Israel.

To appeal to the left, increasingly opposed to Israel's policies since the start of the Second Intifada, he couched his words in anti-colonialism. On the existence of Israel he said "We argue that neither you nor we should claim to speak for the Palestian people. The Palestinians themselves should say what they want. In Europe it is customary to call a referendum on any issue. We should also give the Palestinians the opportunity to express their opinion....The Palestinians were there, in Palestine. Now 5 million of them have become refugees. Don't they have a right to live?."

To address German new-nationalists on the right Ahmanidejad invoked the unfairness of German collective guilt "Why should [Germans] have feelings of guilt toward Zionists? Why should the costs of the Zionists be paid out of their pockets? If people committed crimes in the past, then they would have to have been tried 60 years ago. End of story! Why must the German people be humiliated today because a group of people committed crimes in the name of the Germans during the course of history?" Interestingly, Ahmanidejad even tapped into the anti-immigrant feeling (a sentiment that is largely aimed at Muslims) that is gaining force in many of Germany's cities and suburbs. In justifying his calls to destroy the Jewish state he questions the origins of its Jews. "Where are Israelis from?" The obvious next question being why can't they go back there? Much of the German right-wing is asking just such questions of Moroccan emigres.

Could there be an allliance or at least a cooperation of interests between Iran and either the German right or the European anti-Zionist left? Growing friction between many Europeans and Muslim immigrants might suggest otherwise, but it is possible that these very tensions, exasperated by the continuing conflicts in the Middle East, will create pressure for European politicians to turn away from support for Israel and weaken its reapproachment of Iran on the nuclear question. And this is just what Ahmadinejad is pushing for.

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