An open letter to the noble Iranian people

Noble Iranians,

Because your president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, took the trouble to write a letter to US citizens—"noble Americans," in his words—a reciprocal gesture, albeit from a lesser office, seems appropriate.

Your president upholds unassailable values: "compassion, empathy, respect for the rights of human beings, securing justice and equity, and defending the innocent and the weak against oppressors and bullies."

Yet Americans hear of state-sponsored political murders inside and outside your country, of bullying by Basij militia and Hizbollah vigilantes, of rigged elections, and of authoritarian rule by the religious leaders to whom Mr. Ahmadinejad answers. His lectures on human rights and defense against oppressors are, therefore, perplexing.

Your president disparages America's military presence in Iraq and support for what he calls "the Zionists." Yet he doesn't mention his regime's support for insurrectionists in Iraq, vocal truculence toward Israel, and development of what most observers believe to be nuclear weapons. In fact, Mr. Ahmadinejad seems to want the US to withdraw from Iraq only so Iran can move in.

You Iranians know only too well that your president, whom a majority of voters elected, takes his orders from clerics for whom you never have the chance to vote. Experience with contradictions like these might be what makes Iranians better than Americans at distinguishing politics from culture.

Some Americans recognize that those "Down with the USA" signs in Iranian hotel lobbies don't speak for all Iranians. And some try to view Iranian political emanations in the context of the autocracy that shapes them.

But not many. The only image most Americans have of Iranians is of angry young men punching the air and cursing the "great Satan." That's regrettable. The image influences government behavior.

You would do well, therefore, not to expect a letter from President Bush—not that it would be a bad idea for him to send you one. He works in a frenzied media culture that tends not to differentiate a people, like you, from those who govern, like Mr. Ahmadinejad. Sorry, but that's politics.

Besides, it's football season, and most Americans already have forgotten about your president's letter.

An American

(Online Dec. 1, 2006; author's e-mail:

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