Ahmadinejad and Freedom of Speech
Before my article, let me note that I am against the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) and actually right after the IRI election when Ahmadinejad came to power, I noted that this shows IRI cannot be reformed, and should be overthrown [http://www.ghandchi.com/418-sarnegoonEng.htm]. And I still stand by my analysis.
Therefore, what I am writing below has nothing to do with supporting Islamic Republic or Ahmadinejad which I do not. This writing is like the statements of those defending the right of the worst criminals not to be executed, because they are against death penalty, as a principal, not that they support the murders committed by the criminal. My point here in this writing is the principal of freedom of thought.
The reaction of the Western world to the recent statements of IRI president Mahnmoud Ahmadinejad reminds of the reaction of Islamists to Salman Rushdie in 1980's, and the final death fatwa by Ayatollah Khomeini against Rushdie, because of the man's thoughts that were expressed in his book Satanic Verses. I had written in defense of Salman Rushdie on many occasions, when most of the Iranian opposition were silent about him [http://www.ghandchi.com/366-KhameneiEng.htm]. Therefore I do not need to repeat my defense of Salman Rushdie here, as it can be easily found, and here I will focus on Ahmadinejad.
Ahmadinejad has said that he doubts the existence of Holocaust. Also he has suggested that if Europeans think there was such a thing, then they can now move the Jews out of Israel to some place in Europe or the U.S. The first call of his is a crime in Europe and the second call is obviously very racist against the Jews. The first statement, is what is causing all the uproar. The reason is that denying Holocaust in Germany and some other European states is considered a crime and even some authors have been getting jail terms because of such statements in the past. Do I think the European law in this respect is right? I definitely do not think their law is correct, although I am firmly convinced by historical and scientific facts that Holocaust is definitely true and it is one of the biggest crimes in human history.
But freedom of thought means that people can deny Holocaust just like anything else. I think European secular democracies are wrong in their position in this respect. Of course if someone promotes hate action and hate crimes, that person should be prosecuted, but just thinking that Holocaust did not happen, is an unscientific thought, contrary to all historical facts, but freedom of thought means that s/he should not be getting any harassments, just because of thinking something totally incorrect. In other words, if a thought is an action by itself, like "death threats" or "child pornography," I would not consider them as freedom of thought, and I agree with prosecuting those people as criminals, but just denying a historical fact, in my opinion, is not a criminal action.
Supporting Western Democracies does not mean that I support all the laws and procedures of the West. For example, although I think of the U.S. implementation of separation of power as the best in history, but I think the way Supreme Court's Chief Justice is appointed by the president and approved by Congress is wrong, and I think this position should be and elected position and be *elected* every 8 years. The European laws about Holocaust, in my opinion, are also wrong, although I support European secular democracy and most of its laws.
In the case of Ahmadinejad, if he threatens Israel with terrorism or war, then I think it makes sense to prosecute him. Also if we know that he has done any covert action against Israel or Jews, then he should be dealt with accordingly. But simply because he has a wrong opinion about a historical fact, does not make him a criminal.
Of course, the Western democracies and all civilized world can point to his error but let's make sure not to start a crusade against him, the way the Islamists did to Rushdie, because of the man's opinion being against the fundamentals of our thoughts.
Yes, let's look at him as a heretic to our beliefs, and let's treat the heretic with respect to his right to be a heretic, and an apostate to our cherished views, contrary to the way Islamic Republic treated heretics like Salman Rushdie when they even legally collected money in Iran of so-called reformist Khatami, to hire hit men to go and kill the man, a clear terrorist criminal *action*, which was not stopped by Khatami. Yes, the difference of secular democracy with Islamic Republic, whether Ahmadinejad's version or Khatami's, is that we respect freedom of thought and let's not forget this because this is what separates, we the supporters of democratic secularism, from promoters of a fanatic religious state.
Of course, as a head of state, Mr. Ahmadinejad hurts most of the Iranians and helps his religious clique to gain support among some of the disfranchised Arabs, to use it to get concessions from Arab states, and also these positions will help him in his standing as a radical, not only among the Shi'a side in Iraq, but also to enable his faction to compete with Al-Qaida, even though radical Shiites will never succeed among the Sunni population, no matter how hard they try, and they know it, and just hope to create a wedge among their opponents both internally and externally, to prolong the life of their theocracy. But all these are politics and have nothing to do with freedom of thought.
Hoping for a secular regime in Iran,
Sam Ghandchi, Editor/Publisher
December 20, 2005