Tuesday, May 09, 2006

My Baby Just Wrote Me A Letter

So everyone's favorite Holocaust-denying psychopath has caught the correspondence bug. Personally, I think he should start a blog.

In the letter, which I read because I really don't want to do prelim-related stuff right now, he sounds... remarkably less psychopathic. (Except for that little bit where he says something to the effect of "let's assume for a minute, strictly as an exercise, that the Holocaust actually happened." And that quixotic rant about the American media.) He writes some good things and makes some good points. But that doesn't make him any less of a hypocrite.

Bush is planning to relegate the letter to File 13. I wouldn't. Not replying makes A-Train look like the good guy and makes Bush look like he's rejecting an honest overture. My strategy? Call his bluff. Ahmadinejad needs to be encouraged to put his money where his mouth is. I'd write back to him something like this:

Mr. President,

I read your letter. In it, you relate to me your desire to build a world where peace and justice reign supreme. This is a vision I share with you. As you said, the followers of Jesus Christ, Mohammed, and Moses (peace be upon them all) all seek to build such a world.

Your criticisms of America's past actions are well taken, especially with respect to your nation. The West has not been kind to your nation, and I understand that. There are many things that our country has done that future leaders have regretted. I am sure that many of my policies will fall under the same category, as will many of yours.

You accuse me of failing to live up to our nation's high ideals. This is perhaps true. But as Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) once said, let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

You claim to believe that "the killing of innocents is deplorable and appalling in any part of the world." Yet you give material support to groups such as Islamic Jihad, who recently slaughtered over twenty innocents in Tel Aviv. You decry the banishment of Palestinians from their homes in 1948, yet it is this same banishment that you seek to inflict upon the Jews who have made the shores of the Mediterranean and the hills of Jerusalem their home. You criticize me for the prisons in Guantanamo, but your regime routinely imprisons those who simply disagree with its policies. Is this - any of this - consistent with the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)?

How, Mr. President, can you claim to pursue peace while you contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and support terrorists? How can you claim to respect your brothers in the Book while denying the Holocaust, seeking the destruction of Jewish homes, and encouraging the spread of anti-Semitism? How can you serve the cause of human rights if you do not afford such rights to your own citizens? And how is any of this serving God?

Your knowledge of history is extensive. Your obsession with it, however, is self-defeating. We cannot take back that which we wish had never happened. We cannot offer restitution for wrongs long past. We cannot concern ourselves with what should have been. We can only look at our present situation and determine what we can do now to pursue justice.

And so it is in this spirit, Mr. President, that I offer you a shovel, that we may bury our hatchets once and for all. To work towards peace, we must not build nuclear weapons but seek to disarm ourselves and our friends. We must not saber-rattle regarding Israel, but help create a situation where Jews, Muslims, and Christians of all colors can live together in peace in our shared Holy Land. We must, as Gandhi once said, become the change we wish to see. And if that change is peace, justice, and brotherhood, then we must become peaceful, just, and brotherly to ourselves and to those who we perceive as our enemies.

One of our Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, once said this: "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection." Mr. President, the bonds between our nations are surely strained. But let us not continue to sink into recriminations. We are both but men - we cannot be perfect purveyors of God's will. Though we will both falter, I believe strongly that by burying the bitterness of the past and working together peacefully, we can help create a world of which God and all our prophets would be proud.


If he's bluffing, such a letter would make him look like the bad guy for offering an olive branch and then withdrawing it. If he's serious, we have ourselves a resolution. It's a win-win situation.


Mike said...

Wait, people still write letters in the 21st century?

(I've been dying to make that joke, but haven't really found the proper venue - so I guess this is as good as any.)

The thoughts you write in your response echo my own as I read the letter. I completely agree that we should respond in kind (call his bluff, as you put it). I'd respond further, but I gotta run right now.

Barzelay said...

Beautifully written, Mr. Woodhead. But I wonder whether kind and lofty correspondence from both sides won't simply pass by like so many white lies, obscuring the very real conflicts under the surface? Both Presidents say they love freedom and tolerance while their policies indicate otherwise. Do we really need Bush to once again espouse these virtues, at best ignorantly, and at worst, insincerely? And does it really matter that Ahmadinejad says the same things (though peppered with the occasional Holocaust denial)?

It should come as no surprise that, to me, the word "polite" has resoundingly negative connotations. Being polite means ignoring problems. It means putting on a kind face. It means hiding the truth, at least of one's feelings and usually of more. It is unfortunate that our world is still so frought with politeness. And the kind of politeness about which I'm writing is found nowhere as prominently as it is in politics, particularly in international relations. But such politeness is dangerous. Of course diplomacy is bound to fail, when being blunt and upfront is considered to be impropriety, and when important topics or truths are off-the-table and swept under the rug.

And so I wonder what good it does, such a back-and-forth. All of the Presidents in the world believe in freedom and tolerance; not a single one would likely say otherwise. But if their freedom, and their tolerance, is all just a bunch of words, then what good does it do?

And so my letter would be much more frank, much more blunt. I'd call him out on his hypocrisy in a much more blatant, and much less kind way. But then, Bush can't do that--because everything Bush can say to him is also considered by many to be true of Bush.

Barzelay said...

Uh, nevermind. I just read the letter. Not very polite, after all. Hehe. I retract my previous comment. But the funniest part is this:

"The people of Africa are hard-working, creative and talented..."

And despite hardships, very articulate.

Ben said...

There's a time and a place for everything, Barzelay. Sometimes the blunt truth you espouse is the best way to go. Sometimes, it's best to use language to soften the edges of what you are saying and to hedge around things. Sometimes, it's important to leave certain thoughts unsaid.

To illustrate, I give you the examples of 2 great men: Stephen Colbert and Abraham Lincoln.

Colbert's recent performance was brilliant and necessary. Bush needed to be called out on his hypocrisy and terrible policy. More importantly, the press - at that very moment engaged in a make-nice lovefest with this terrible president - needed to be called out on how much they had given Bush a free pass in prior years.

But let me take an example where the blunt truth you espouse would not be a good idea. In the 1850s, Lincoln was trying to pull together a viable anti-slavery party in Illinois (or at least a viable party opposed to the SPREAD of slavery). Unfortunately, 2 of the most passionate anti-slavery groups were German-American immigrants and the Know-Nothings (the virulently anti-immigrant party which are the ideological predecessors to Tom Tancredo, the most infamous of the sodomites) (see prior posts in Jeff's blog). Lincoln was correctly contemptuous of the Know Nothings. He wrote this to a friend: "Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation we began by declaring that 'all men are created equal.' We now practically read it 'all men are created equal, except negroes.' When the Know-Nothings get control, it will be read 'all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.' When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty - to Russia, for instance."

So did Lincoln publicly call out the Know-Nothings on their bigotry? No! He believed it was more important to unite the immigrants and the anti-immigrant bigots behind the anti-slavery cause. Which is what he did; he hedged and obfuscated and avoided the issue, thereby helping to create the Illinois Republican Party. And eventually he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams - not only halting the spread of slavery, but abolishing it. If he had taken the Barzelay path of blunt truth, all the time, to everyone, he would have failed.

As lawyers, we are trained to use language as a weapon and a shield. We learn how to be blunt, clear, and penetrating. And we learn how to hedge, obfuscate, and shift topics. It is my firm belief that both are necessary.

And Jeff, that's an awesome letter