Iran??¢â???¬â???¢s New Gangster-in-Chief

Not long after Iran’s new president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected, the allegations started: he was among the jihadists who seized 70 Americans in the American embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979, and held them for 444 days while Jimmy Carter wrung his hands and quailed, discovering that liberal pieties were impotent to free them. And not only that: Ahmadinejad was alleged to be one of the young Iranian men pictured in a notorious photograph, standing next to a heavily blindfolded American hostage.

Some of the hostages were certain they remembered him. “You don’t forget someone like that,” said former hostage David Roeder. “They had me handcuffed to a chair and at least during the first few sessions, blindfolded as well. But once the blindfold came off, they had developed a plan that Ahmadinejad was instigating. Because I was not cooperating, they threatened that they were going to kidnap my handicapped son and send various pieces of him — fingers and toes is what they mentioned — to my wife if I didn’t start cooperating.” Five other hostages agreed that they remembered Ahmadinejad. However, others among Roeder’s fellow hostages professed never to have seen Ahmadinejad before. Ahmadinejad does seem to have been a member of the Office of Strengthening Unity, which planned the embassy caper. However, Iranian officials, including the ringleaders of the embassy takeover and hostage seizure, denied that Ahmadinejad was involved.

Then new allegations surfaced. Austria’s Interior Ministry is now investigating Ahmadinejad’s alleged involvement in the July 1989 execution-style murders of Abdul-Rahman Ghassemlou, leader of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (which opposed the mullahs’ regime), and two others in an apartment in Vienna.

As suspicions mounted around the world that Iran’s new president was a thug representing the most unsavory and ominous aspects of the mullahocracy he represents, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi grew indignant — and pointed his finger at a predictable culprit: “The charges are so evidently false that they don’t deserve an answer. It’s clear that it’s mere lies….We advise the Europeans not to fall into the trap of the Zionist media.”

Ah, the Zionist media. Of course. No doubt Ahmadinejad and Asefi were sure that such an explanation would play well on Al-Jazeera, but for those interested in a more reasonable assessment of the new president, troubling questions remained.

These questions centered around the abundant evidence that it would make little difference even if Ahmadinejad weren’t himself a kidnapper and assassin. Late last week he exulted that “a new Islamic revolution has arisen and the Islamic revolution of 1384 [the current Iranian year] will, if Allah wills, cut off the roots of injustice in the world. The wave of the Islamic revolution will soon reach the entire world.”

The Islamic revolution of 1384 (2005)? Did Ahmadinejad therefore mean that his election heralded a break with the regime installed by Khomeini’s Islamic revolution of 1979? Not exactly. On June 26, the day after his election, he visited Khomeini’s tomb and laid a floral wreath on his grave. Just in case anyone still wasn’t sure, Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency spelled it out: Ahmadinejad, it reported, “renewed his allegiance with the late founder of the Islamic Revolution Imam Khomeini at his mausoleum in southern Tehran Sunday morning.”

The questions the media are asking about Ahmadinejad should be recast. Rather than wondering if he is the man in the photo next to the hostage, or the murderer of Abdul-Rahman Ghassemlou, reporters should be asking: Mr. Ahmadinejad, do you disapprove of the storming of the American embassy in 1979 and the holding of the hostages? Do you deplore the murder of Ghassemlou? Will you bring the perpetrators of both to justice?

Hamid Reza Asefi would no doubt see in such questions just more Zionism. That would be illustrative of the fact that nothing has changed in Tehran with Ahmadinejad’s victory — and that the mullahs’ regime poses more of a threat to reasoned discourse and the peace of the world today than it ever has before.