Mr. Khatami comes to Washington
What’s wrong with Western civilization? According to the former President of Iran Mohammed Khatami, a lot—and it all dates back to the Renaissance. In a speech last night at Washington’s National Cathedral, Khatami asserted that the West is “the greatest victim of over reliance on reason.” I’m clearly a victim in denial, as I always ...
What's wrong with Western civilization? According to the former President of Iran Mohammed Khatami, a lot—and it all dates back to the Renaissance. In a speech last night at Washington's National Cathedral, Khatami asserted that the West is "the greatest victim of over reliance on reason."
I’m clearly a victim in denial, as I always thought that reason was something we should strive for. I expect most of Khatami’s audience at the Cathedral last night were hoping for some coded message about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and what a possible compromise would entail. Instead, they got a rather waffling philosophical speech that resembled nothing more than an essay by a wannabe intellectual. Nevertheless, the vast majority rose to give him a standing ovation at the end. This disappointed me, even if it didn’t surprise me. I have no issue with Khatami coming here to speak. As the Bishop of Washington pointed out, one of the blessings of living in America is that there is freedom of speech. But it seems odd for people—many of whom struck me as the self-styled ethical types who would sit on their hands rather than clap for various members of the Bush administration—to leap to their feet for a man under whom many, and egregious, violations of human rights occurred.
It kept being stressed yesterday that Khatami was the “first reformist” president of Iran, as if this somehow made him morally unimpeachable. But as Robin Wright points out in the Post, he didn’t actually reform very much. The argument that he’s better than Ahmadinejad because he doesn’t seem to be itching to destroy Israel at the first opportunity is obviously true on a pragmatic level. But that doesn’t make him worthy of applause in and of itself. If we really want to have a “dialogue of civilizations,” a better person to invite to the National Cathedral would be the Iranian political philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo. Jahanbegloo has just been released after four months in the notorious Evin prison.
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