Many Iranians, ranging from university presidents in Iran to immigrants here in the United States, feel insulted by the treatment president Ahmadinejad received in New York in September. This is understandable, coming in the midst of a larger media campaign to demonize Iran, including the newspaper cartoon last month that depicted Iranians as cockroaches crawling out of a sewer.
Nevertheless, Iranians should not take the humiliation of Ahmadinejad in New York too seriously, because Western arrogance towards leaders of less dangerous countries is not unprecedented. Just last April, Chinese president Hu Jintao’s speech at an official welcome ceremony on the White House lawn was interrupted by three televised minutes of insults from a screaming “reporter.” The Secret Service claimed later that it was taken by surprise, because they had found no red flag in her background. This could not possibly be true, because a simple LexisNexis search reveals that she had a record of similar conduct.
Two years earlier, too, George Bush provoked his Chinese hosts on his trip to Beijing by attending a widely publicized church service. The visit was intended to embarrass Chinese authorities by focusing media attention on the friction between the ruling Communist Party and its U.S.-backed Christian challengers.
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez suffered worse humiliation in Britain in 2005. Queen Elizabeth and British prime minister, Tony Blair, refused to even see Chavez when he visited London that year. The Venezuelan president was there in part to offer low-cost fuel deliveries so the city’s low-income bus passengers could ride at a reduced fare.
The Chinese government was not half as rude to George Bush in 2002 or his father in 1989 when they visited the People’s Republic, even though they each lectured Chinese leaders about how to run their country. In fact, both U.S. presidents were allowed to speak live on China’s national television, an opportunity which they rudely exploited to criticize their host government.
Cuba similarly allowed the visiting former U.S. president Jimmy Carter in 2002 to speak live on Cuban state television to the people of the island. Carter, too, stirred up discontent among his audience against his host government.
So the orchestrated humiliation president Ahmadinejad endured at Columbia University was not unusual. But the most important reason Iranians and the government of Iran should not feel especially insulted is the humiliation the current U.S. president faces when he travels abroad. In almost seven years of presidency, George Bush has faced mass protests and popular rage nearly everywhere he has traveled, including countries allied with Washington. The only nations where he has been welcomed at the popular level are Albania, Georgia, and Mongolia.
Even before Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq, he had to be airlifted from the London airport to the Buckingham Palace instead of the usual limousine or royal carriage ride, for fear of demonstrators. Bush’s summit the same year with his war allies Blair and Jose Maria Aznar, too, had to take place on a Portuguese island so the three would not be besieged by televised angry protesters. After Iraq was attacked, press reports indicated that in at least two host countries, Pakistan and Canada, Bush’s intended speeches before the parliament were scrapped for fear of heckling from the elected deputies.
When it comes to public opinion, a much greater share of the world’s population is against the arrogant and vicious leaders of Empire than against the Iranian president. Ahmadinejad has a long way to go before he can catch up.
Based in Washington DC, Rostam Pourzal writes regularly on the politics of human rights. MRZine has also published Pourzal’s “Market Fundamentalists Lose in Iran (For Now)” (3 August 2005); “Open Letter to Iran’s Nobel Laureate” (27 February 2006); “Open Letter to Iran’s Nobel Laureate: Part 2” (9 March 2006); “The Shah: America’s Nuclear Poster Boy” (25 May 2006); “Iranian Cold Warriors in Sheep’s Clothing” (20 May 2006); “MEK Tricks US Progressives, Gains Legitimacy” (12 June 2006); “What Really Happened in Tehran on June 12? Did Human Rights Watch Get It Wrong?” (18 June 2006); “Iran’s Western Behavior Deserves Criticism” (24 June 2006); “Iranian Anti-Censorship Crusader Accepts Censorship at Amnesty International” (19 July 2006); “An Israeli Attack Can Shatter the Relative Safety of Iran’s Jews” (28 July 2006); “Let’s Not Trivialize Discrimination in Iran” (22 May 2007); “With Defenders Like Nazanin, Who Needs Enemies?” (5 June 2007); “With Defenders Like Nazanin, Who Needs Enemies? Part 2” (18 June 2007); “U.S. Intentions and Options in Iran: A Response to Stephen Zunes” (8 September 2007); and “Pro-Israel Oppressors Cherished at Columbia University” (11 October 2007).