Iranian American activist from Queer Iran Alliance. He lives between New York City and Tehran.
In part two of our interview, we ask Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about growing Iranian influence in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the persecution of Iran’s gay community, and his position on the Israel-Palestine conflict. And we get reaction from Iranian American activist Kourosh Shemirani of the Queer Iran Alliance. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: The US Ambassador Ryan Crocker accused Iran late Thursday of trying to derail an agreement that would allow US troops to stay in Iraq beyond the UN mandate which expires at the end of the year. The Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has reportedly called for all US troops to withdraw by the end of 2011. Ambassador Crocker also alleged that Iran is deepening its ties to Shiite militias inside Iraq that are affiliated with the radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
AMY GOODMAN: We now turn to part two of our interview with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. On Wednesday, we talked to him at his hotel in New York. We talked to the president about Iran’s relationship with Iraq, how it’s changed since the US-led invasion five years ago.
AMY GOODMAN: Oddly, Iran could be seen as one of the greatest beneficiaries of the occupation of Iraq. If you look at some of the most prominent Iraqi political and religious leaders, they have close ties to Iran, from the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and its Badr militia to Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who was actually born in Iran, built up his infrastructure in Iran. So, now Iran has some of the closest ties to the very groups in Iraq that are supported by the United States. Hasn’t Iran benefited from this US occupation?
PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: [translated] It’s essential to pay attention to two or three points. Iran is a very vast country and a powerful country with a very rich culture and civilization.
Second point is with regards to relations between Iran and Iraq as peoples. These people have always been friendly. They have constant exchanges. They intermarry. Annually, millions of people travel between the two countries. The religious centers that are holy to Iranians and Iraq are in the two countries. The main part of our civilization and history is common. It’s only in the past forty years, and largely as a result of intervention by others, that relations between the governments was disrupted.
You’re aware that Saddam attacked Iran with the support of Western states. That incurred an eight-year war that was a very heavy one. Hundreds of thousands of people died as a result. But as soon as Saddam was removed, the two nations and people became friendly again. So, our friendship has deep roots, extended in a long history.
These did not happen as a result of the occupation of Iraq. Of course, it’s natural that every country tries to benefit the most it can from developments in its neighborhood. But our interest lies in the stability and security of Iraq. The more secure Iraq is and the stronger the popular government there, it’s better for the people of Iran.
AMY GOODMAN: So, did the US’s toppling of Saddam Hussein, getting rid of Saddam Hussein, increase Iran’s influence in Iraq?
PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: [translated] We don’t interpret it as influence, as such. That’s not how we observe our relations. We consider ourselves two friendly countries. It’s the people that bring about the friendship. On a very vast scale, they are interconnected. So, our relations come from history. And our outlook need not be one of influence or how to take advantage of the conditions there. We like to have a strong Iraq and a developed one and a unified one. That will benefit us.
AMY GOODMAN: We continue our interview with the Iranian president after break.
AMY GOODMAN: When the Iranian president visited New York last year, he gave a speech at Columbia University. He was asked about attitudes to homosexuality in his country.
PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: [translated] In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. We don’t have that in our country.
AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, I asked the Iranian president to clarify his statement.
PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: [translated] I didn’t say they don’t exist; I said not the way they are here. In Iran, it’s considered as a very unlikable and abhorrent act. People simply don’t like it. Our religious decrees tell us that it’s against our values, and all divine laws, actually, believe in the same. Who has given them permission to engage in homosexual acts? It’s considered as an abhorrent act. It shakes the foundations of a society, the family foundation. It robs humanity. It brings about diseases.
It should be of no pride to the American society to say that they defend homosexuals and support it. It’s not a good act, in and by itself, to then hold others accountable for banning it. And it’s not called freedom, either. Sure, if somebody engages in an act in their own house without being known to others, we don’t pay any attention to that. People are free to do what they like in their private realms. But nobody can engage in what breaks the law in public.
Why is it that in the West all moral boundaries have been shaken? Just because some people want to get votes, they are ready to overlook every morality? This goes against the values of a society. It is the divine rule of the Prophets. And then, of course, in Iran, it’s not an issue as big as it is of concern here in the United States. There might be a few people who are known. In general, our country would not accept it. And there’s a law about it, too, which one must follow.
AMY GOODMAN: July 19th is a day that is honored around the world, where two gay teenagers, Iranian teens, were hung. This is a picture of them hanging. They were two young men, named Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni. Do you think gay men and lesbians should die in Iran?
PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: [translated] No, there is no law for their execution in Iran. Either they were drug traffickers or they had killed someone else. Those who kill someone else or engage in acts of rape could be punished by execution. Otherwise, homosexuals are not even known who they are to be hung, in the second place. So, we don’t have executions of homosexuals. Of course, we consider it an abhorrent act, but it is not punished through capital punishment. It’s basically an immoral act. There are a lot of acts that can be immoral, but there’s no capital punishment for them.
I don’t know where you obtained these pictures from. Either they’re a network of drug traffickers or some other — or people who generally might have killed someone else. You know that we take our sort of social security seriously, because it’s important. What would you do in the United States if someone picked up a gun and killed a bunch of people? If there is a person to complain, then there’s capital punishment awaiting the person. Or drug traffickers, if they carry above a certain amount, volume, of drugs with them, they can be executed in Iran.
AMY GOODMAN: There is the death penalty in the United States, but many in the progressive community feel that it is wrong and are trying to have it abolished.
PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: [translated] Well, there are different opinions about it. It’s lawmakers, legal professionals and sociologists that must examine it, see what best suits every society, because the rights of the society sit above the rights of the individual. I don’t wish to say anything about it, to make a comment, because there are experts who must do it.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to turn for a moment to the Palestinian struggle. Our program has often reported on the fight for self-determination of the Palestinian people. But over the decades, most groups within the Palestinian national movement have concluded that the eventual peace between Israelis and Palestinians will come through a two-state solution, although there are still problems of the right of return, of the fate of Jerusalem, the boundaries of that state that have not been worked out. What is your view of how peace will be achieved, through a one-state solution or through a two-state solution?
PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: [translated] I believe that we should look at the problem from another perspective. To find cure for a disease, we do not necessarily just deal with how it looks, but with the root causes of a disease. We must destroy the root causes of it.
You’re aware that over a hundred peace plans have been offered to this day for the Palestinian crisis. But all have failed. Why? If we can answer that why, then we’ll find the right solution.
The first reason is that none of the solutions have actually addressed the root cause of the problem. The root cause is the presence of an illegitimate government regime that has usurped and imposed itself on, meaning they have brought people from other parts of the world, replaced them with people who had existed in the territory and then forced the exit of the old people out, the people who lived there, out of the country or the territories. So there have been two simultaneous displacements. The indigenous people were forced out and displaced, and a group of other people scattered around the globe were gathered and placed in a new place.
It’s kind of one of those rare instances in history that some powers decided to do for their own interest. Look at the consequences. Ever since it came into being, this regime, there’s only been nothing more than wars, aggression, displacement and usurpation. It seems this is what this regime is out there to do, to fight wars, to threaten, as if if they stop doing that, they will get destroyed themselves. It seems that that was their mission, to start with. That’s the problem.
A second reason is that none of those peace plans offered so far have given attention to the right to self-determination of the Palestinians. If a group of people are forced out of their country, that doesn’t mean their rights are gone, even with the passage of sixty years. Can you ignore the rights of those displaced? How is it possible for people to arrive from far-off lands and have the right to self-determination, whereas the indigenous people of the territory are denied that right?
We have to really resolve these two issues. Then the problem will be resolved. Otherwise, it won’t. We look at a government that has come to power through the vote of the people, called Hamas. It was economically besieged, no medicine getting in, attacks carried out every day on them. How exactly are they to resolve the situation, unless they pay attention to those two causes?
This Zionist regime does not have a chance of remaining in the region, because it has not established roots with the region. It’s like an alien creature that’s come into your body. Imagine an extra piece of metal like a pin going into your body, a nail. Your body will reject it. As long as the nail is in your body, your body just doesn’t function. And as long as it’s not removed, you won’t have a cure. You just can’t bring others from elsewhere, kill the rights of the indigenous people and force yourself on the place. Our links and ties with the body of the Palestinian people is very strong.
None of the people in Palestine agree with what you just said. If there were to be elections right now today, the Hamas would get reelected, even with more votes than it got last time.
AMY GOODMAN: So, do you think Israel should be eliminated?
PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: [translated] We believe that people have to decide and choose their own fate, the right to self-determination. If they would like to keep the Zionists, they can stay; if not, they have to leave. What do you think the people there want?
AMY GOODMAN: You would support a two-state solution, if they do?
PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: [translated] Wherever people decide, we will respect it. I mean, it’s very much in correspondence with our proposal to allow Palestinian people to decide through free referendums. We’ve been saying this for several years as a proposal. But those who use democracy as a pretext everywhere else are not — don’t think the Palestinians need democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Right now, we’re joined on the phone by the Iranian American activist Kourosh Shemirani from Queer Iran Alliance. He’s published widely on the subject of how international gay rights advocacy about Iran can face the danger of slipping into pro-war propaganda.
Kourosh, welcome to Democray Now! Your overall response to the Iranian president’s comments on the issue of the hanging of the young gay teens to Israel and Palestine?
KOUROSH SHEMIRANI: Thank you, Amy. Well, it seems like this year President Ahmadinejad is under stress more and more. He’s trying to be more diplomatic in what he’s been saying in the past few years.
About the execution of the supposed gay teenagers, that has not really been proven. There’s been big debate about that from the human rights organizations about whether they were hung because they were gay. So, even, you know, bringing that up with him, I think, is a little tricky. And he was able to dismiss the — actually, I mean, the government has been able to dismiss that accusation easily, because the case itself was never brought to light and is not — the facts that are not known. And he — but what he basically said that was quite interesting is that he said that, you know, homosexuality or sodomy is not punishable by death in Iran, which is, of course, not true. There is that law in Iran. And another thing, that is true, because there are so many different laws on the book that negate this one law, that he can say that it doesn’t exist on the books. I mean, the legal system in Iran is so complicated that you can have a law that says one thing and many laws that negate it. And that’s the case with sodomy. So, in a way, with him being forced to say that the law doesn’t exist is a continuation of him trying to sort of cover for himself.
In a Larry King interview the day before, two days ago, he basically said that we do not — the government does not go into people’s private lives, and people’s private homes is their own place, we do not intervene in what they do in their own home, which is again not true. So he’s trying to sort of put an act of faith on the various policies and the various things that happen to Iranians, in general, gay Iranians, in particular. And at this point, I’m not really sure where it’s going.
He’s been recently playing cat and mouse with the media, is asking about these questions. Before coming, he had a very long interview with an official Iranian news agency, Press TV, about the question of Palestine-Israel, and he has been stressing the fact — the idea that the Iran government is not against Israeli people, they’re just against Zionism. And this has become a very big sort of debate in Iran about whether or not, you know, Iranians and the Iranian president should say that we’re friends with the Israeli people, and he stood by that. So, he’s changed his rhetoric on that to a large extent. And this year, he’s getting a lot more play with the way he’s talking about Israel. I think he has said — this point that he’s made about the Palestinian people having the right to choose their own destiny, and the referendum, choosing whether they want to live in a Zionist regime, he’s said these things before. It’s just the US media has not reflected it until this year.
AMY GOODMAN: Kourosh Shemirani, we’re going to have to leave it there. I want to thank you for being with us.