Judging by all the stories told about Mahmoud Ahamdinejad”s alleged involvement in unsavoury activities, the new president-elect of the Islamic Republic must have lived several lives so far. A clipping of the articles published about Ahamdinejad in the past 10 days would persuade a reader that he was, almost single-handedly, behind all the misdeeds of the Islamic Republic in the past quarter of a century.
Seldom has a politician been subjected to such a barrage of negative publicity by the world media in so short a time.
All started when a London-based website known to be close to Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the mullah who lost the election to Ahmadinejad, dug out an Associated Press photo dating back to November 1979. In the photo we see a bearded youth holding the arm of a blindfolded American diplomat, among the hostages at the US Embassy in Tehran, while two other grim-looking teen-agers look on. The website that circulated the photo claimed that the bearded youth was Ahamdinejad. This was followed up with claims by some American ex-hostages that they recognised Ahamdinejad in the photo and remembered him as their chief tormentor.
Anyone with any knowledge of Iran”s current power struggle, however, would know that the whole episode was concocted by Ahmadinejad”s rivals to blacken his image even before he has started work as President of the Islamic Republic.
It soon became clear that the youth in the photo was not Ahamdinejad but another militant named Jaafar Zaker who later died in the Iran-Iraq war. The other two adolescents in the photo have also been identified. At the same time more than a dozen former kidnappers who were involved in the holding of the American hostages have stated that Ahamdinejad was not among them.
The almost unanimous attempt at presenting Ahamdinejad as the devil incarnate, recalls the equally unanimous attempt by the global media eight years ago to portray Muhammad Khatami as an angel in human shape.
They were wrong then and may well be wrong now.
The Islamic Republic is the fruit of a revolution that, like all other revolutions, consists of countless acts that, in ordinary circumstances, would only be regarded as crimes. A revolution is not a garden party, but, more often, a killing field. No one involved in a revolution could remain pure. And Ahamdinejad is no exception.
Let us take a closer look at those accusing Ahamdinejad of crimes that he may not have been involved in. Mahdi Karrubi, the mullah who lost in the first round of the presidential election, was one of the most militant of Khomeinists until a decade ago. In 1993 he represented Tehran in the pan-Islamist conference organised by Hassan al-Turabi in Khartoum the Sudanese capital. There he was named a member of the nine-man presidium of the global Islamist movement. Other members included Osama bin Laden and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
No doubt, Karrubi subsequently transformed himself into a "moderate", showing that people can change in time and by aging.
As for Rafsanjani, the other mullah who lost to Ahamdinejad, his record is not the brightest. Rightly or wrongly, he is, in fact, subject to an international arrest warrant by the Criminal Court in Berlin for his alleged participation in the murder of four Iranian dissidents there in 1992. All you need to do is to read Akbar Ganji”s book about Rafsanjani to know that the defeated presidential candidate was not choirboy.
Even Muhammad Khatami, the outgoing President, has not been unaffected by his association with the revolution. In 1979 he was member of a squad of militants, led by Muhammad Montazeri, alias "Ayatollah Ringo", who hijacked an Iran Air passenger jet to Libya. A glance at Khatami”s articles as a newspaper editor and his speeches as a member of the Islamic Majlis in the 1980s reveals a streak of violence that would be disturbing to any normal human being. But he, too, has been able to transform himself, at least in discourse, into a student of Western philosophy and a commentator on Japanese paintings.
Let us also recall the record of Mostafa Moin, the defeated Khatamist candidate in last month”s election, ands a bitter critic of Ahamdinejad. In 1981-83 he was head of the Committee for Islamic Cultural Revolution in Shiraz, purging hundreds of university professors, jailing scores of them, and forcing many more into exile. Over the years, however, Moin, too, has transformed himself into a "moderate", and now speaks about democracy and human rights.
Most members of the current ruling elite in Iran have similar backgrounds. Most are living in houses and villas illegally seized from their owners who were executed, or jailed or forced into exile. Technically, many of the elite could be prosecuted under Iran”s own laws on a variety of charges ranging from kidnapping to the illegal seizure of property and, of course, murder. This is because they are children of a revolution, which means they were born in violence and terror. To single out Ahamdinejad for vilification is unjust and could be misleading.
What is certain is that Ahamdinejad was the clear choice of those who voted in Iran”s peculiar elections last month. It is also clear that his record, though it certainly includes murky aspects, is not as dark as that of the mullahs he defeated in the first and second rounds of the election.
To describe Ahmadinejad as a conservative and the two mullahs he defeated as "moderate" or "reformist" is ridiculous to say the least.
Ahmadinejad is not a conservative because he does not want to conserve anything. On the contrary, he wants to change things radically. He has promised to stop the plunder of the nation”s wealth by a few mullahs and their acolytes. He is committed to a radical programme of wealth distribution from the mullahs to the poor. He also offers a radical anti-capitalist economic policy based on central planning, government control, and protection for domestic industries. Nor is he a conservative on social issues. Recalling the original message of Khomeini that Iran had "too much freedom", at least in social terms, under the Shah, not too little, he insists that 26 years after the revolution this is still the case.
The ruling elite in Tehran are worried about Ahmadinejad because he threatens to take away their privileges and, worse, bring them to book. During the campaign he asked how could a mullah who did not have two bent farthings to rub against each other before the revolution was now the proud owner of a multi-billion dollar empire? That is not conservative talk.
Ahamdinejad is also no conservative in foreign policy either. With the frankness of a radical he says he will do all he can to prevent the United States from reshaping the Middle East the way President George W Bush wants. He insists that Khomeinist Iran can offer an alternative to the Bush plan for democratisation in the Middle East.
Will the exercise of power, and the realities of life, transform Ahamdinejad into another "moderate" within the next four years? Only time will tell. For now Ahamdinejad must be taken seriously when he says he wants to mobilise Iran”s immense resources for "a second revolution" both at home and abroad.