Monday, September 24, 2007

Ahmadinejad does Columbia and...The Bard?

Iranian president and intellectual Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (picture courtesy of AP, Steven Chernin) spoke at Columbia University today amidst myriad protests and animated controversy. Not that this has anything with romance books or romance book authors such as yours truly--but it has a lot to do with love and hate, tolerance and intolerance. And people like us do concern ourselves with love, don't we? It's what we do - and I'm not being sarcastic here :-)

So back to the issue--The question many are asking is: Should the Iranian top dog have been invited at all?

Unfortunately, of several articles I've read so far, I have heard nobody ask the one true question I'm dying to hear the answer to--Why was he invited at all? Was it to prove that he is truly a "petty and cruel dictator" as Ahmadinejad has been labeled? Or was it to see if we could change his opinions about certain things, such as his apparent shocking beliefs that the Holocaust was nothing but a "myth" and that Israel should be "wiped out the map"? Would we hope by his visit that he would be made to see that executing women for adultery or gays for being gays an abominable act? Or yet again, was it so we could accuse this tough guy face to face? Finally, is this heart to heart with Ahmadinejad meant to make us feel better, to think that the West is so much more civilized in its deportment and actions towards the rest of the world?

Columbia University's president came on strong, perhaps some may say too strong. Some would postulate he was unprofessional. Others would remark that he was clearly angry and upset, because his people have been through much, and he had get the monkey off his back and throw it on the table. Unmitigated emotion can be a heck of a thing to deal with, I do know, so I sympathize with such feeling. Perhaps his invitation extended to the Iranian premier was one borne out of sheer masochism...he just wanted to see for himself what kind of a man this is. For it is granted, Ahmadinejad's stupefying and unashamedly ersatz allegations about the Holocaust are not meant to make the Jews, or anybody else, happy.

The sad part is--we, or anyone else for that matter, won't ever change Ahmadinejad's mind. He is what he is and he definitely has his ideas and policies--abhorrent as they may be. But then, he's not alone in this milieu. I, for one, am not writing this to make any judgements, either on Abadinejad or on anybody else, even as a woman who cries when her sisters are so persecuted in other parts of the world. I also cry when I see pedophiles released to mingle with society, or when a guilty man goes free. I cry when an innocent man is executed and I cry when a woman or child is raped and tortured for no reason but to satisfy lust, greed, or some other self-serving interest. I certainly cry when a human rights violation or any other social injustice is condoned by a government. I believe that would implicate most governments in this world, so there you have it.

So this man who spoke at Columbia today will remain hated by many and revered by others, depending on what side of the fence one is located. Women and gays will still be executed unflinchingly and without remorse in the country of Iran and the world will still revolve around the sun. Perhaps this is the most horrifying part about the entire, sorry mess that is the world we live in.

So how do we wiggle ourselves out of this quandary? How do we bring peace and love into this world? Iran is not all about horror and injustice. Iran is not just its government or sundry representatives. Iran is a country with real people, real intellectuals, artists, laborers and housewives. I have recently edited the amazing work on Genetics written by an Iranian lady from San Francisco, a Ph.D. with way more brains than some would attribute to someone coming from an allegedly "uncivilized" country. I, for one, will never make such an unwarranted assumption. I am always attempting to look at people as individuals and do not judge them based on their provenance or the current government ruling their nation. I recently went to Europe and confirmed the anti-American sentiment there (not anti-American administration, mind you--simply anti-American). A while back, I spoke to a relative of mine who loves to call all Middle Eastern people "terrorists" and all black people "scary" because they are "too dark" (may I add that my own husband happens to be African American and Native, a fact of which such esteemed relative is starkly aware). Again, such intolerance. Such hate. And this is also what gets me: no matter how a head of state rules a country or what one's opinion--good or bad--of such governance is, this is not meant to be a gauge by which to measure the virtue or nobility of a whole people or country. We hear all the time that differences and opposites are what make the world go round but then, I'm pretty sure, someone is lying.

So basically, are we to keep pointing the finger? Are we to blame countries, individuals or governments? Are we entitled to oppress others ruthlessly to save ourselves? Is social injustice a problem only others are experiencing and we are just detached observers? Would we, in reverse, allow others to poke at us and bring out our worst? Or are we to simply look in the mirror and behold that which looks back at us? In the end, would we be prepared to take it all on ourselves to fight, truly fight, for a better day? Is it our job to do so and if so, would we do it in cooperation with all the other citizens of the world or is a small group of people entitled to take the law in their hands and run with it?

Ultimately, human rights should be cherished EVERYWHERE and by EVERYONE. This is what the world is supposed to be like.

I find myself somewhere in limbo on this issue--I'm certain and adamant as to the ideal that human rights are a thing to be cherished and respected under the law in all corners of the world; but dreaded cynicism nudges at me when I ponder the implications of guardianship and enforcement of such rights. I long for days when the world lives in peace, love, and understanding of each others' differences but I like to think I am not so obtuse as to outrightly assume that the arthritic ailments ravaging the globe are always somebody else's fault. We assign blame, so then we may feel better when we hurt others. To this end, I would have to, in some deluded fashion, convince myself that I'm perfect and everybody else is in the wrong. This is a far too common malaise these days and when I catch myself half suffering from it, I strive to retreat in my shell and dwell on my shame. I certainly wouldn't boast about such a shortcoming or discuss it over tea and cookies or even, God forbid, announce it in a press conference as if it is some kind of laudable accomplishment. We like to revel in the terrible faults of others so we can feel more worthy. Truth is, we are all actors in this game--no matter which nation we hail from--and the world is our ever more recalcitrant stage. Yes folks, here's the newsflash--The Bard had it right all along. Kudos to you, William!

It would be so much more preferable if we all could in earnest prove ourselves to be above the pettiness and cruelty of others. If everybody did their part...well, that would be something, wouldn't it? However, I don't think I'll live long enough to see the pigs fly. The most I can do is continue spouting my empty rhetoric and provide miniscule but certain proof of my dogged openmindedness as a bona fide world citizen, hoping it will put a positive dent in the general scheme of things--and also that it will make me look cooler, of course :-).

Here's what it boils down to. I think to myself sometimes--when was the last time I hurt another with my tongue or my deeds? In truth, for Machiavellian, hoarding politicians (likely by clever, calculated design), as well as for us mere mortals (normally, not due to a choice of our own), universal love may sadly be just a chimera; and alas, I fear, a day of unadulterated, lasting peace will most probably never come, at least not in my lifetime. Don't get me wrong: I'm not so jaded as to think that we cannot give the world a more deserving treatment and transform it into a more exemplary abode for the lot of us--my point is rather that I don't believe we're going about performing this thorny task in quite the right way.

Apologies for the gloomy post - just wanted to share my thoughts with you. Promise to dish out something more stomachable next time :-).

~ Angela Guillaume ~
"Breathtaking Sensual Romance"
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