Mahmoud Ahmadi Nejad, the "humble" former mayor of Tehran, has now been thrust on the international stage and if most of the media in the West is to be believed, he is positively Hitlerian.
Not particularly blessed with the dashing good looks I associate with so many Iranian men, the president's refusal to wear the illegal tie (that great symbol of Western imperialism) with his suits gives him at least that "air of debonair," as an Iranian homosexual friend of mine pointed out (Being particularly randy, my friend admits to having a secret crush on the president. I look at him speechlessly, and blame it on the Iranian national condition of taarof).
I am not surprised at Mr. Ahmadi Nejad's denial of homosexuality in the country he tries hard to rule. I expect nothing less of him or any other leader, really, in the so-called Middle East.
Unfortunately, this former mayor falls easily into the post-September 11 trap and satisfies the hunger that Americans have for "Evil." There seems to be no better caricature of the other side of the Good vs. Evil world now as persistent in the American mind as post-1979 Iran. New York's right-wing tabloids feed this hunger and proclaim "the evil has landed" barely minutes after his plane touches down.
Clearly George Bush's ridiculous simplification of the world into the good guys and the bad guys, into black and white, seems to have worked considerably in many parts of the nation formerly known as "the land of the free." And Mr. Ahmadi Nejad lands headfirst on top of the pile. Here the torch that the lady on the Hudson holds has never burnt more feebly. And here indeed, in the heart of Manhattan, thrives the "evil Zionism" responsible (in the former mayor's opinion) for the state-he-dare-not-name.
The former mayor loves denial and knows his time might just be running out, not least because elements within his bosses in the Guardian Council back home and, indeed, even in the corridors in Qom, have recently not been very pleased.
However Columbia President Bollinger, that sad manifestation of dubious academic authority, is clearly as much a victim of the Good-vs.-Evil caricature as a certain other and not-so-likable president is. Mr. Bollinger, who saw it fit to invite the hysteria-whipping and ill-informed Minutemen to his campus in August, also saw it fit to invite this ultimate Bad Guy and then viciously denigrate a man who is after all the elected leader of a feeble democracy in a region where such things have not been known to survive. Clearly the laws of civil discourse or indeed basic common sense are not being followed in either case.
I am writing from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, the largest nation in a continent where certain leaders would appreciate Mr. Ahmadi Nejad's qualities much more than Manhattan academia's hyper-privileged Upper West Side. Here the favelas and their poor inhabitants sit atop hills, littered throughout the city in a climate of constant chaos and unease. If I were not in Brazil at the moment, speaking to packed audiences who have been applauding and crying with the four Iranian homosexual men I filmed fleeing Mr. Ahmadi Nejad's nation, I would have made sure I was at Columbia to hand-deliver to the former mayor an autographed copy of the DVD (conforming to all Iranian copyright laws) of A Jihad for Love, my recently finished, six-year documentary project on Islam and homosexuality (currently playing to the aforementioned packed houses at the Rio International Film Festival). (www.ajihadforlove.blogspot.com is my other blogging home with real-time updates everyday).
Clearly the homosexuality he seeks to deny is alive and (sometimes) thriving from Shiraz to Tehran to Isfahan and wherever else he may choose to look. Homosexuality, a "condition" as natural as heterosexuality, has thrived as long as Islam has, and has often spread rapidly through Islamic lands with the blessings of rulers, artists, poets, musicians, Sufi mystics and many others. Mr. Ahmadi Nejad, so occupied with trying to make sure that America's overextended Marines do not enter fairest Persia, clearly has had little recourse to his own nation's remarkable history, from around 559 BCE onward, in making his claim that Iran is homosexual-free. He would need to travel outside Tehran for just a few hours and pay homage at Hafez's grave in Shiraz -- to realize that this man, the poet known as the "soul of Iran" to this day had a more nuanced understanding of the persistence of same sex love in Persia. He would also need to re-visit the portions of his constitution that make homosexuality 'punishable by death' and that are frequently used to torture those whose existence he denies.
What Mr. Bollinger has done successfully is to give much fodder for the "Evil Satan" mills, running on borrowed time in recent years; what Mr. Ahmadi Nejad does so well is keep the well-oiled machine of Iran-phobia and Islamophobia running rapidly in this nation, America, that I have chosen to call home. It is clear that the sometimes tragic and sometimes comical events at Columbia were peopled with many who have never visited Mr. Ahmadi Nejad's Iran, and that their knowledge of the country is mediated largely by the hysterics of the mainstream Western media. The friendly folk at Fox and friends of course have continued to supply their ignorance in frenzied fashion during this short 'visit'.
A copy of A Jihad for Love should be made available now to both these Presidents -- one elected, the other not -- as its very Muslim, very homosexual and very real subjects will teach them both a great deal about love, about civility and, indeed, Islam. Clearly both Ahmadi Nejad and Bollinger are strangely similar and in need of lessons on my religion and my fellow homosexuals, as we attempt to tell the story of Islam, knowing full well that we are its unlikeliest storytellers.
I will be writing more on this subject and much more at www.ajihadforlove.blogspot.com\