Khatami Visit: Beyond Black and White


As the Pulitzer Prize winning historian John Dower tells the story so well about Japan and the United States, states that move towards war often demonize each other’s leaders and whole societies in order to stir and consolidate public opinion and steel their citizens for big sacrifices ahead.
As the White House continues to beat a drum on Iran, leaders on both sides will find ways to dehumanize the other side’s key state figures.
This hasn’t happened with former Iran President Mohammed Khatami quite yet, but word is out that Senator Rick Santorum and his allies are outraged about the Iranian leader’s visit and out trying to serve Khatami with a subpoena regarding war crimes. But what Santorum hasn’t figured out is that his party’s CEO, President Bush as well as Secretary of State Rice extended Khatami a visa because he is considered to be one of the good guys in Iran — and a potential ally in the long run.

Given that, it’s useful to hear what Khatami is saying.
Here are some glimpses from a Robert Fisk article yesterday:

“The policies of the neo-conservatives have created a war that creates more extremists and radicals,” he told The Independent in Chicago. “The events of 9/11 gave them this ability to create fear and anxiety. . .and to create new policies of their own and now events are creating an expansion of extremists on both sides. A struggle is under way to dominate this world multilaterally … We are a witness to war – with suppression from one side and extremist reaction in the form of terror from the other.”
Mr Khatami might appear an improbable figure in the breakfast room of one of Chicago’s smartest hotels, dressed in his black turban and long gown, his spectacles giving him the appearance of a university don — which he once was — rather than the seer of Iran, a man whose demands for a civil society and democracy at home were overwhelmed by the ascetic clerics who surround the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Yet he is enormously important in the Sunni as well as the Shia Muslim worlds as a philosopher-scholar, which is probably why the Bush administration gave him a visa, and his message was the sharpest he has ever delivered to the Muslim world and the secular West.
The former president said: “We have to find ways to confront these people on both sides. We need public opinion to be influenced. . .And now the neo-conservative policies have created this sort of war.”
But Mr Khatami, who defended Iran’s role in the nuclear crisis between the West and Tehran — he asked why Israel was allowed nuclear weapons while refusing to sign the nuclear non-proliferation pact — did not spare the perpetrators of what he called “the inhumane terrorist attacks” of 11 September 2001. “I was one of the first officials to condemn this barbaric act. . .this inferno would only intensify extremism and one-sidedness and would have no outcome except to retard justice and intellect and sacrifice righteousness and humanity,” he said.

It is useful to remember that after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Iranians went to the street lighting candles and sending a message of solidarity with Americans. Khatami, when President, was helpful in numerous ways to U.S. foreign policy interests in the Balkans and Gulf.
This is the time — no matter what one thinks about Iran’s ultimate nuclear pretensions — that all parties should be listening carefully to one another, and frankly speaking. I will be attending a session with Khatami tonight in New York and am fairly sure the meeting will be off the record, but I will share back what I can without violating the rules of the small group exchange.
Shades of gray are what are important here — not the black and white.
— Steve Clemons
Ed. Note: Thanks to PGS for the Robert Fisk commentary.


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