Letter from Tehran

The text of Ahmadinejad’s letter to Bush. It’s a fascinating read, although I don’t believe it gives as much insight into Ahmadinejad’s thinking as others have claimed; it’s written in the format of the old exchanges of letters between Christian and Muslim kingdoms during the Middle Ages, a fashion which led to the development of the high points of both Christian and Muslim apologia. (i.e., arguments for why X is better than Y meant to genuinely convince believers in Y)

The contents themselves are somewhat interesting. There are attacks of the form “how can US policy X be consistent with Christianity,” where X includes the invasion of Iraq, support for Israel, and American opposition to Latin American and African regimes. Next there’s a bit on 9/11, with questions about failures of American intelligence and security and hints that the US government was complicit in it. (For those who haven’t heard this before, it’s a popular rumor in the Islamic world, along with the belief that the Jews were in on it)

The fact is, there are some very good points in this letter, and there are some that are total crap. Most fall somewhere in between. Tradition would require that Bush respond in kind (allowing, of course, an arbitrary amount of ghost-writing; even in the Middle Ages kings and caliphs weren’t all masters of discourse), and frankly it would be quite straightforward to respond and skewer those arguments fairly thoroughly. The thing which I find most important about this letter is that it opens the door for a new form of discourse between the countries that may have much more of a chance of influencing matters than the American political team may realize: if Ahmadinejad is as serious about the tradition as this letter suggests he is, then rational argumentation may hold sway over him when it comes in through the appropriate channels.

(And, one may hope, our people would understand the virtue of writing such a letter both in English and Farsi, and adding appropriate honorifics and tropes where needed. A good medievalist in government would be quite helpful)

Advertisements
Published in: on May 9, 2006 at 19:31  Comments (20)  
Tags:

20 Comments

  1. I knew there was a need for some of us in important places! (By which you should read, “Yes, maybe I can justify studying an obscure and almost entirely useless-from-the-standpoint-of-practical-application field of study!”) Unfortunately my interests run more to the Northern Germanic. But if the Scandinavians ever start going a-viking again in anything other than the cellular phone market, I would probably be your man.
    I remember a friend (actually, ) showing me around Google a year or two ago and thinking, “Hmmm . . . does Google have any need of medievalists?”

  2. I knew there was a need for some of us in important places! (By which you should read, “Yes, maybe I can justify studying an obscure and almost entirely useless-from-the-standpoint-of-practical-application field of study!”) Unfortunately my interests run more to the Northern Germanic. But if the Scandinavians ever start going a-viking again in anything other than the cellular phone market, I would probably be your man.
    I remember a friend (actually, ) showing me around Google a year or two ago and thinking, “Hmmm . . . does Google have any need of medievalists?”

  3. It definitely seemed like a traditional document in many ways. It had that ring of “This is an Islamic tradition that I don’t know.”
    From what I gathered, sadly, the immediate response from Washington was to disregard the letter as much as possible, and I get the feeling that it wasn’t Washington who released the letter, which is disappointing.
    As an increasingly-left-leaning libertarian agnostic with very-mixed Greek and Christian Arab heritage, I found myself agreeing with the first bit, with the caveat that Iran has done a lot of things of which I don’t approve, and then totally lost at the end. I agree with you: some good points, some total nonsense, and it’d be nice if this developed into further diplomacy.
    My comedy lobe, on the other hand, really likes the idea of the Department of State declaring, “We need a medievalist STAT!”

  4. It definitely seemed like a traditional document in many ways. It had that ring of “This is an Islamic tradition that I don’t know.”
    From what I gathered, sadly, the immediate response from Washington was to disregard the letter as much as possible, and I get the feeling that it wasn’t Washington who released the letter, which is disappointing.
    As an increasingly-left-leaning libertarian agnostic with very-mixed Greek and Christian Arab heritage, I found myself agreeing with the first bit, with the caveat that Iran has done a lot of things of which I don’t approve, and then totally lost at the end. I agree with you: some good points, some total nonsense, and it’d be nice if this developed into further diplomacy.
    My comedy lobe, on the other hand, really likes the idea of the Department of State declaring, “We need a medievalist STAT!”

  5. A good medievalist in government would be quite helpful
    There’s a joke somewhere in there, something insightful about the current administration’s views on science and religion in government, but i can’t quite tease it out…

  6. A good medievalist in government would be quite helpful
    There’s a joke somewhere in there, something insightful about the current administration’s views on science and religion in government, but i can’t quite tease it out…

  7. Alberto Gonzales might be the punchline, in which case the joke just isn’t funny.

  8. Alberto Gonzales might be the punchline, in which case the joke just isn’t funny.

  9. Thanks for posting this. I’ve been quietly enjoying your posts. 🙂

  10. Thanks for posting this. I’ve been quietly enjoying your posts. 🙂

  11. Well, I don’t think he’s Spanish, so that rules one joke out…

  12. Well, I don’t think he’s Spanish, so that rules one joke out…

  13. Semi-seriously, this is why our government should include a role-playing gamer of the intensely researchy type. They may not specifically be medievalists, but can find the information required to approximate one enough for the forms and formalities.
    -Greg the elder

  14. Semi-seriously, this is why our government should include a role-playing gamer of the intensely researchy type. They may not specifically be medievalists, but can find the information required to approximate one enough for the forms and formalities.
    -Greg the elder

  15. Also, thanks for posting this. I was lamenting yesterday that the major US sources hadn’t reprinted it.
    In some ways, I feel like his advisors just went through the last couple of years of the NYTimes and presented to him the headlines of the most controversial issues in US politics…like a “greatest hits” of what will stir up Americans. Pretty smart move, if that was his goal. Get discourse started.

  16. Also, thanks for posting this. I was lamenting yesterday that the major US sources hadn’t reprinted it.
    In some ways, I feel like his advisors just went through the last couple of years of the NYTimes and presented to him the headlines of the most controversial issues in US politics…like a “greatest hits” of what will stir up Americans. Pretty smart move, if that was his goal. Get discourse started.

  17. It turns out that the CIA is full of people who play role-playing games.
    Seriously.
    (This from a Republican gaming buddy who has CIA in the family.)

  18. It turns out that the CIA is full of people who play role-playing games.
    Seriously.
    (This from a Republican gaming buddy who has CIA in the family.)

  19. As, actually, is the military from what I hear.

  20. As, actually, is the military from what I hear.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: