U.S. Peace Activists Meet President Ahmadinejad (A Critique by Ardeshir Ommani)


Goudarz Eghtedari
by Goudarz Eghtedari

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during the days of his participation at the United Nations 2008 Annual General Assembly meeting had met with about 150 peace activists, some of which represented dozens of groups and organizations.  To facilitate the logistics and lining up the guests to the meeting, the Iranian Mission to the United Nations led by Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee, chose the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), directed by Mark Johnson, for the task.  Following is the Critique that Ardeshi Ommani Co-founder of the American Iranian Friendship Committee (AIFC) has written about this event and the FOR's handling of the meeting. Please also read my response to Ardeshir Ommani's critique -> Click here.


U.S. Peace Activists Meet President Ahmadinejad
October 12, 2008 New York City
By: Ardeshir Ommani , Co-founder American Iranian Friendship Committee (AIFC)
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during the days of his participation at the United Nations 2008 Annual General Assembly meeting had set aside two hours from his busy schedule to meet with about 150 U.S. peace activists, some of which represented dozens of groups and organizations.  This by itself was a great success for the people and the government of Iran in their quest for peace.  To facilitate the logistics and lining up the guests to the meeting, the Iranian Mission to the United Nations led by Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee, chose the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), directed by Mark Johnson, for the task.

Criticism Vs. Cooperation

As far as the management of the logistics and order of the meeting was concerned, FOR’s staff did an excellent job.  But when it came to the selection of who and which organizations would be given the chance to express their ideas on building peace with Iran and ask questions from Iran’s president, using the seemingly legitimate factor of time limitation and categorization, FOR excluded all those voices that did not fit into its vision of challenging the domestic policies of the Iranian government, elevating criticism of the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran above cooperation between the anti-war movement in the U.S. and the Iranian people. 

Exploiting Iran ’s political, demographic and economic vulnerabilities results in undermining the Islamic Republic, the very path that strengthens war and sanctions and prevents Iran from pursuing its independent course in its international relations.  The practical effect of this resulted in the undemocratic exclusion of those voices who expressed solidarity with the Iranian society.

Where were the Iranians?

In his opening statement, FOR’s director, Mark Johnson, exuberantly informed the audience that about one-third of the participants in the meeting were visitors to Iran in the past three years as members of interfaith dialogue and cultural exchange delegations.  It should be noted that the vast majority of these are directly or indirectly connected to FOR and its related interfaith connections.  Many individuals in the room came from primarily pacifist and religious-semi-religious organizations, the majority being white, non-Iranian, with a very limited participation of people of color in attendance.  What was most appalling was the fact that no speaker was chosen from Iranian-American organizations that have been tirelessly active in the U.S. peace movement for years.  To some, including those of us from the American Iranian Friendship Committee (AIFC) present at the meeting, the loaded and antagonistic questions by some speakers directed at President Ahmadinejad made us wonder if some of the speakers hand-picked by FOR’s leadership had ever heard of the atrocities committed by the U.S. against the Iranian people: Fostering and supporting the eight-year devastating war against Iran, the U.S. downing of the Iranian passenger plane over the Persian Gulf, killing all 290 passengers and crew members, including 66 children, for which the U.S. government has never issued an apology, and the host of economic and investment sanctions imposed by the U.S. government on the Iranian people over the last 29 years, following the popular revolution that overthrew the U.S.-installed dictatorial regime of the Shah of Iran.  Truly, it was embarrassing that President Ahmadinejad himself felt it necessary to mention some of these injustices committed by the U.S. , given the absence of acknowledgment by some of the peace organizations.

Also mostly absent were representatives within the U.S. anti-war movement who represent struggles in ‘third-world’countries, such as activists in the Latin American, African, Asian and even Middle Eastern populations.  Some of these organizations’ statements and questions were found among the printed list of participants, and presented very illuminating discussions on the issue of war and peace with Iran, yet their representatives were not among those selected to present a “public face and a public voice”.  This was disappointing at the very least.  There are Palestinian, Muslim, and Asian leaders who organize within their indigenous communities to oppose war and oppressive policies of domination in their original homelands, and we saw very few of these present. Mr. Johnson made a special remark to the Iranian delegation that Jewish peace groups were absent, and attributed this partly at least, to the suggestion that the Jewish community has some fear that their interests would not be “protected” in “negotiated resolutions to conflicts in the Middle East broadly framed”.  However, Jewish Voices for Peace, Jews Against the Occupation and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice that are in support of Iran were not represented.  Were they even invited?  

            In their presentations and queries, some of the participants who vaunted as champions for peace and normalization of relations between the U.S. and Iran focused almost entirely on domestic woes of Iran and the government of the Islamic Republic’s mal-administration of justice with regard to ethnic minorities, the rights of women, youth, and gay groups, than how to remove impediments in the way of establishing peace between the two countries.  In their questions to President Ahmadinejad, what was largely ignored by the speakers chosen to address him were the crimes committed by past and present U.S. administrations in Iraq and Afghanistan and their continuous military presence in the Persian Gulf, with threats of another war, this time against Iran . 
The Meaning of Peace

We would like to ask, “What is the meaning of peace between the U.S. and Iran at this stage of development?  We must point out that the U.S. government and even both presidential candidates, Senator McCain and Senator Obama, have not taken the war option off the table in their dealings with Iran .  Under this condition, peace between the two countries must be defined only as an absence of war and elimination of this option is necessary as a starter.  

            For the U.S. government or individual peace activists to challenge the conduct of the Iranian government with regard to women, gay groups, ethnic minorities, issuing visas, or its foreign policy with respect to a third country, for example, Israel, sounds like imposing pre-conditions for establishing peace or an attempt to interfere in the domestic or foreign policies of Iran.  Some of the questions posed by members of the chosen group are as follows:

•      Priscilla Fairbank from Women Against War asked President Ahmadinejad: How can people-to-people contacts between U.S. and Iranians be effective if the Iranians who “interact with or seek the support of U.S. citizens or U.S. non-governmental organizations” are being “accused of trying to bring about the overthrow of the Islamic Republic of Iran?”  Ms. Fairbank, formulating the query in this manner, without citing a concrete case of arrest and injustice, generalizes that, firstly, Iranians that her tour group have come into contact with have been arrested, and secondly, implies that this is an indication of lawless conduct on the part of the Iranian government.  We would say that Ms. Fairbank’s question amounts to an accusation, by way of insinuation, calling into question the legitimacy and actions of the Islamic Republic.  We are reminded that there is an amazing similarity between this approach and the anti-Iraq campaign carried out by the U.S. government during twelve long years of sanctions, prior to launching its military assault on that country.  

 •     A second question was posed by Rev. William Sinkford, the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations who raised concern about the status of women, gays and “minorities” in Iran .  As a person with dual citizenship and co-founder of the American Iranian Friendship Committee (AIFC), my question to Mr. Sinkford is whether Iranians as a nation and a government in their pursuit of peace with the U.S. asks for changes in the legal, social and ethical systems within the United States, which have driven millions of young women and children to be treated less than the price of a commodity in the media of the advertising industries or on the streets of New York and Los Angeles, pretending or wishing to find a place in the dingy studios of Hollywood.  For signing a peace accord with Washington to remove the military option from its war table, should Tehran place a pre-condition on such a relationship by asking for example, the U.S. police force or the entire legal edifice of the U.S. to treat the minority populations, such as blacks, Latino(a)s, Mexicans and the recent immigrants from Pakistan and Afghanistan more humanely?  Wouldn’t such requests be encountered with laughter and interpreted by the State Department as a fruitless attempt at interfering in the domestic affairs of the U.S. ?  If such inquiries do not fall within the domain of establishing peaceful relations between the two countries, then why do some organizations in the U.S. peace movement consider such questions and positions on Iran ’s internal issues as proper and constructive?  If, in the sphere of initiating peaceful relations between the U.S. and Iran , no such conditions have been proposed by the Iranian authorities, then why did Ms. Fairbank and Rev. Sinkford feel at ease to inject such toxic substances in the fragile course of building peace between the two nations?  One may ask if these individuals out of their feelings of ideological or racial superiority justify their demands for political and social change in Iran .
Rand Corporation Project

Apparently, the orientation of some of the peace groups have borrowed a page or two from the recent publication of Rand Corporation which advises U.S. foreign policy makers and the supreme commanders of the U.S. Air Force.  Rand’s release of its recent study, Iran’s Political, Demographic and Economic Vulnerabilities is formulated on a conclusion that launching a war from without on Iran will result in weakening the U.S. position and interests in the entire region of the Middle East and it recommends using “soft power” for exploiting the ethnic and demographic vulnerabilities, and mobilizing the disenfranchised and pro-western section of the population to bring pressure or turn against the Islamic Republic.  Imagine conducting a study of 70 million peace-loving Muslim citizens which emphasizes their vulnerabilities, and suggests ways to undermine their economic and political system of government!  Is this even ethical?  Shouldn’t the leaders of these peace and reconciliation organizations distance themselves, their questions and polices from such politics of intervention and subversion?

It seems that a minority of the American peace movement, the liberal factions coming in all hues, such as the social democratic Nation magazine, have assumed the role that no longer can be played by the U.S. troops.  And if we think that FOR’s carefully hand-picked individuals chosen to present their questions aloud exceeded their primary mission of educating the American public to pressure Washington to abandon its plan of attacking Iran, read the Robert Dreyfuss Report in the The Nation’s Blog section of the on-line magazine of September 25, 2008.  Among the critics of President Ahmadinejad, this Nation writer achieves the medal of dishonor and disrespect.  In his personal attacks and character assassination of Ahmadinejad, his tirade matched that of Dr. Lee Bollinger of Columbia University where the President was invited to speak.  If last year the task of attacking Ahmadinejad was relegated to the most right-wing of the U.S. intellectuals, this year the job of defaming him fell to the social democrats who share interests and destiny with the neo-conservatives.  In his two-page piece “Ahmadinejad Meets U.S. Peace Movement”, Dreyfuss gleefully declares, “The questions to Ahmadinejad weren’t softballs: What about Iran ’s crackdown on human rights and dissidents?  Iranian policy toward Israel ?  Iran ’s foot-dragging on issuing visas even to peace movement representatives?” Then in a demeaning statement attacking Ahmadinejad for his religious sentiments, Dreyfuss falsely likened him to Rev. Pat Robinson, but neglected to note that Robinson publicly called for the outright assassination of the president of Venezuela , while the president of Iran is known to have respect and friendship for Hugo Chavez.    

Anti-Iranian Dreyfuss Report

As far as the issuance of Iranian visas to the American peace activists are concerned, apparently Robert Dreyfuss of the Nation magazine did not notice the factual information provided to him in the letter issued by Mark Johnson, the Director of FOR to all those who were invited to the meeting of September 24 with President Ahmadinejad.  In that announcement Johnson clearly stated that in the span of the last few years FOR has been able to send several delegations, consisting of close to a hundred peace activists to Iran .  Medea Bejamin also is aware that Global Exchange and members of Code Pink have been successful in visiting Iran .  Now let’s compare these figures with the negligible visas granted by the U.S. government to Iranian scholars or anti-war activists.  To anyone with a fair sense of judgment, where should the complaints of our peace activists be directed?  To our understanding, they must rather make their complaints to the U.S. State Department and Department of Justice and ask them the reasons that dozens of Iranian scholars – alumni of Iran 's prestigious Sharif University headed for a reunion in California – either had their visa applications rejected or were deported after arriving here with valid US visas.

            While it is a noble or perhaps subjective idea to build the citizen-to-citizen contacts, at the same time let us be realistic and admit that there are individuals among us whose objectives, in personal or official capacities, is to change the socio-political system of Iran. 

In the anti-war and political opposition movements, there are those who are assigned by the intelligence offices and police forces to carry out politically subversive activities to undermine the objectives of the movement and in this case the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Isn’t it historical fact that the U.S. has used everything from the infamous CIA to diplomats like Kermit Roosevelt to interfere in the normal and internal affairs of Iran ? Perhaps Iran ’s sensitivity to Americans who want to “reach out” to dissident Iranians and NGO representatives has its basis in this past history.  To substantiate this reality, let’s consider two recent cases of police or agent infiltration into legitimate U.S. peace movements right here at home.  On August 5, 2008, the national media reported that a gun-control activist, Mary Lou McFate, who championed the cause for more than a decade and served on the boards of two anti-violence groups, is suspected of working as a paid spy for the National Rifle Association (NRA).

            A second case involves the implantation of police agents in the peace movement.  In an interview on September 13, 2008, on Democracy Now, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher admitted local police authorities had infiltrated and spied on local activists for over a year.  It was the information gathered from these informants which ushered in mass arrests of over 350 activists and their leaderships at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions this summer.  We must end this article by noting that individuals joining a social movement are not a sufficient indication of security clarity and good intention.  In the end, they will be judged by their actions.

            The conclusion we reached following this very ‘historic’ meeting with President Ahmadinejad is that all those honorable and good-hearted people who are working in the peace movement and struggling for a better world must primarily have respect for the societies and governments of the countries that are being threatened by war or sanctions, and defend their sovereignty.


>>>>> Please also read my response to Ardeshir Ommani's critique -> Click here. <<<<<



Recently by Goudarz EghtedariCommentsDate
A lovesick nightingale among owls...
Jun 29, 2012
My Hero Mo
Jun 18, 2012
هزار روز با اوبامایی که نبود
Jan 03, 2012
more from Goudarz Eghtedari

And this is a picture of him and his wife :o)

by Anonymous iranian (not verified) on


What is this incoherent

by sickoflies (not verified) on

What is this incoherent piece of silly tit for tat??

Does US so-called atrocities automatically obsolve the IRI of its own criminal leadership? This line of reasoning belongs to a toddler who throws a temper tantrum in the middle of grocery store.

Your advocacy of the IRI wrapped in a thinly veiled Gobble-like propaganda is beyond pathetic.

American Wife

A few questions...

by American Wife on

1.  The Iranian Mission selected FOR.  Did they not require prior review of his selected guests or their questions?  This they should have done automatically.  Therefore, first criticism could be directed to the Mission itself for not accepting full responsibility.

2.  Under "Where were the Iranians".  This implies that if it HAD been an Iranian (or an approved representative) that the questions wouldn't be so offensive.  If the purpose was to discuss peace activities, what difference does it make what the US has done?  Was this a question and answer of Bush... or Ahmadinejad?  So, you tell me, where WERE the Iranians.

3.  Regarding Ms. Fairbank's question.  It is ridiculous for you to even suggest that her statement is not without basis.  Are you seriously suggesting that there IS full freedom of speech or access.  For God's sakes... you can't even access iranian.com from within Iran.

4.  Regarding Mr. Sinkford.  You grossly exaggerate.  Marriage between members of the same sex is legal in several states.  LEGAL.  Not just tolerated.  LEGAL.  It IS illegal to discriminate against them.  While not suggesting it's a perfect system, there are laws against hate crimes.  Again, you grossly misrepresent and distort facts.

You seem to be far more interested in protecting Admadinejad's "feelings" rather than accept any responsibility for the conditions of the Iranian people WITHIN Iran. 

Everyone, including the US and Israel, should be concerned with a nuclear Iran.  While I believe that attempts at discussions with Iran SHOULD be held WITHOUT pre-conditions, it is simply ridiculous to expect that the US is not going to consider military action if Iran continues or concludes it's threats against Isreal. 

Regarding Iranian scholars being rejected, it is "your understanding".  Please provide proof of such denial.  Otherwise your complaints are simply the same sort of rhetoric heard everyday by the IRI.