Letters to Ahmadinejad

In late November, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad penned an open letter to the "Noble American People." This week, noble American people respond. Below, author Edward Schwarzschild introduces the Iranian president to Jewcy's "Letters to Ahmadinejad" feature. Greetings, President Ahmadinejad, and may peace … Read More

By / January 22, 2007

In late November, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad penned an open letter to the "Noble American People." This week, noble American people respond. Below, author Edward Schwarzschild introduces the Iranian president to Jewcy's "Letters to Ahmadinejad" feature.

Greetings, President Ahmadinejad, and may peace be upon us all.

My name is Ed Schwarzschild, and I was once a president, too. More than thirty years ago, when I was in the sixth grade, I was elected student president of Rowland Elementary School (now closed, alas) in the northeastern suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Two years later, at Elkins Park Middle School, I was elected vice president of my class. Then, four years after that, at Cheltenham High School, I was elected secretary of the senior class. At that point, the downward trajectory of my career as an elected official seemed undeniable and I left politics altogether.

Still, over the years, I have done my best to stay informed. I read, I think, I vote. I am, more often than not, disappointed and angered by the policies and actions of the world’s so-called leaders, including, recently and especially, the policies and actions carried out by you and President Bush.

You probably aren’t expecting letters from the eclectic mix of writers and thinkers who have contributed to this project of replying to you. Allow me briefly to describe what a few of my fellow “noble Americans” and I have attempted here. Not long ago, you addressed a letter to President Bush and another to “the American People.” President Bush has made it clear that he has no intention of answering your letters. It’s regrettable that he’s failed to reply, though hardly surprising given that he has failed in so many other ways before and since the disputed election of 2000.

These days, I make my living as a writer and an English professor, and because of that (and maybe also because I’m old-fashioned and naïve), I believe that personal letters should be answered. Even difficult, infuriating, deliberately misleading letters like yours. I can’t compel President Bush to write you a letter. I can’t compel President Bush to do anything. Few people can. But I figured that since I am, by the will of my great grandparents and the accident of my birth, an American, I could reply to you myself. And since you addressed “the American people” and not just one American, I encouraged several other citizens of these United States to reply with me.

I understand President Bush’s desire to dismiss your letter out-of-hand; it doesn’t take much imagination to spin out possible reasons for his epistolary silence. Perhaps he can’t confront the truth of your assertions about the destructive, dehumanizing effects of this country’s actions at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and elsewhere. You’re surely right to claim that “such behavior… offends global public opinion, exacerbates resentment, and thereby spreads terrorism, and tarnishes the U.S. image and its credibility among nations.”

You are also correct, it seems to me, when you point out that the “U.S. administration’s illegal and immoral behavior is not even confined to outside its borders.” Obviously, the simplest thing for President Bush to do is to ignore, downplay, and/or disavow evidence of his own hypocrisy. I’m no psychologist, but this pattern of behavior might be called denial. And you, of course, know a great deal about denial.

I won’t discuss your hate-mongering campaign against the historical fact of the Holocaust. Instead, I’ll point out, as I’m sure you’re aware, that Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and the B
ush administration’s “war on terror” are the subject of intense national debate, a debate which led in our most recent election to the large-scale defeat of those who support President Bush’s agenda. Can you say the same about the level of debate within your own country?

Perhaps you can. As several of my fellow letter-writers point out, your administration recently suffered a resounding defeat of its own—apparently, your policies and actions are at least as unpopular with noble Iranians as Bush’s policies and actions are with noble Americans. It’s clearly true, as you say, that Iranians and Americans “have common concerns, face similar challenges, and are pained by the sufferings and afflictions in the world.” Some of us have begun to realize that many of these “sufferings and afflictions” result from our poor choice of “leaders”.

I confess that when I first conceived of this project, I imagined sending you advice derived from my own long-ago experience as an elementary school student leader. After many conversations and several drafts, though, I decided that my response needed to be more serious-minded. Still, I’m struck by your and President Bush’s co-dependent behavior, which seems so childish in only the worst sense of the word.

Name-calling? Lying? Refusing to share? Longing for the largest, most expensive toy? The silent treatment? I find myself tempted to scold you both with the words my parents often said to me when I misbehaved, even when I was a popularly elected president: Grow up!

In any case, this handful of noble Americans is writing to you in the hope that an open, honest, and mature correspondence is somehow possible. Your letter elicited a full spectrum of replies. In the days to come, you’ll have the opportunity to read letters from men and women who are young and old; gay and straight; conservative and liberal; and Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. We were born and raised in many different parts of this country, east coast, west coast, and in-between. We are mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons, and daughters, building careers as poets, novelists, professors, and speechwriters. And, as you’ll see, we deploy a wide range of rhetorical strategies, including mockery and scorn, but also analysis and criticism.

So, we’ll wait to hear back from you. In the meantime, we remain relatively noble Americans, hoping for better understanding among all people everywhere, and peace throughout this troubled world.


Ed Schwarzschild

P.S. Please feel free to add a link to this site at your flashy new blog!


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