Iran: Ahmedinijad Never Said "No Gays in Iran"

10/12/2007 12:42 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

As Americans, I know that you believe in fair play, a core American value. Which means, I submit, that if a top official of a country that the U.S. is in conflict with is reported as making a statement which creates an uproar, and if subsequently an official of that country attempts to clarify the remarks, and says that the official did not, in fact, say the thing that it was reported that he said, one ought to know about the attempted clarification. Which is not to say that one has to accept that the clarification is true; nor even that if the clarification is true, that it is mitigating; only that having a fair and informed opinion requires that one knows of the attempted clarification.

Therefore, I wish to share with you the following. According to a Reuters report from October 10, published on the New York Times website yesterday:

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran was misrepresented by Western news media when he was quoted saying there were no homosexuals in Iran, and actually meant there were not as many as in the United States, an aide to Ahmadinejad said Wednesday.

The Reuters article continues:

Addressing Columbia University last month, Mr. Ahmadinejad replied to a question about homosexuals in the Islamic Republic, saying, "In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country." Speaking through a translator, he also said, "In Iran we don't have this phenomenon." The remarks drew widespread criticism in the West.

"What Ahmadinejad said was not a political answer," said Mohammad Kalhor, the media adviser to Mr. Ahmadinejad. "He said that, compared to American society, we don't have many homosexuals."

Regardless, again, of whether one accepts the clarification as true, or even if true, as mitigating, I submit that the fact the Iranian government attempted to clarify Ahmadinejad's remarks is itself newsworthy.

"Dictators" usually don't feel a great need to "clarify" their remarks. Whatever the faults from a democratic point of view of the behavior of Iranian government officials or the present structure of the Iranian government, the fact that Ahmadinejad's media adviser would seek to "clarify" his remarks strongly suggests that there is at least some give-and-take within public Iranian political debate. Surely, this is something that we should seek to encourage, rather than ignore.

It's also worth remembering that sensational claims concerning the translated remarks of officials of governments with whom the U.S. has a conflictual relationship should be treated with extreme care. When the New York Times reported erroneously that President Chavez of Venezeula had said that Noam Chomsky was dead, it was relying on a UN translation of his remarks. The original article appeared on September 21, 2006. The Times' Editor's Note acknowledging their mistake - and that they had been slow to correct it - did not appear until October 6.