My Lunch with Mahmoud

Immediately after the recent 2009 Iranian elections, I wrote an open letter to Ayatollah Khamenei, emphasizing the importance of seriously addressing the charges of fraud. You can imagine, then how pleased I was to receive an invitation to have lunch with the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, during his visit to the U.N. with the full knowledge of my gracious hosts that I intended to raise the same subject.

There were about three dozen others at the luncheon, many American Muslim leaders, some of whom had their own delicate issues to raise in a friendly and constructive manner. The opportunity to speak frankly to him is a plus at a time when his regime is under severe fire at home and abroad but, unfortunately, the format denied an opportunity for the back and forth exchange that a serious discussion of the vital issues involving Iran today.

CAIR’s Nihad Awad strongly advised the Iranian President to release the three American hikers who crossed into Iran illegally. Three months later, they are still in detention with the threat of trial over their heads. Ahmadinejad dismissed this suggestion, insisting that illegal entry is a crime to be dealt with by the judicial system. Had we been permitted follow-ups, perhaps we could have pointed out that heads of state often intervene in such situations for the benefit of good international relations and that in any case the issue would make a good topic of conversation for him to have with Barack Obama if he wishes to fulfill his standing offer to openly discuss any aspect of world affairs with the American president in front of the press.

Imam Abdul Malik Johari informed the President that American Muslims accept the reality of the Holocaust, notwithstanding any doubts about the precise numbers. He advised the President that Holocaust denial simply feeds Islamophobia. Ahmadinejad insisted that his position on the Holocaust has been misrepresented and urged us to view his interview with Charlie Rose on the matter. He admitted that he was not around in the 1940s, so he could not speak conclusively on that question, but he emphasized that he is around now and can see what Israel is doing before the eyes of the world using, he claimed, the exceptionalism of the Holocaust as its excuse.

I asked him to separate the question as to who won the Iranian elections from the question of whether any fraud took place.  I pointed out the importance of fighting fraud in the Qur’an, in the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and in the writings of Imam Ali (may Allah be pleased with him). I urged him to have an independent body investigate charges of election fraud. He insisted that the possibility of fraud in the Iranian elections is nonexistent. He argued that the critics have produced no evidence of any fraud. Again I wished we could have been allowed follow-ups as I desperately wished to point out to him how hard it is to gather evidence when you are detained by your own government.

To his credit Mr. Ahmadinejad expressed his sensitivity to constrictions of the format and professed his intention to offer American Muslims an opportunity to meet with him in Iran in a more conversational setting—assuming the American government would allow any of us to attend.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad
Minaret of Freedom Institute

One Response to “My Lunch with Mahmoud”

  1. Khalid Shaukat says:

    I am glad that you pointed out the importance of fighting fraud per instructions in the Qur’an, in the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and in the writings of Imam Ali (may Allah be pleased with him). But sorry to hear that the format was such that did not allow follow-up questions.

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