Saturday, September 09, 2006

Khatami in the Cathedral

The Weekly Standard:
"Interfaith dialogue" is all the rage these days: understanding our commonality by celebrating our differences. Or something like that. It's infected venerable pillars of establishment religion, such as the National Cathedral in Washington. There, they've found a way to take the edge off all the God 'n' Jesus talk by featuring speakers like Larry Dossey, a mind-body expert who "celebrates the healing power of music, touch and mystery." Which is not to say they don't boldly espouse the most hallowed tenets of the Episcopal tradition, such as offering a "Five Pillars of Islam" course through their Cathedral College.

The National Cathedral, then, was the perfect setting to welcome former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, the senior most Iranian to visit our country in nearly three decades. With his need-for-understanding patter, his undeserved reputation among world leaders as a "reformer" and a beacon of tolerance (disputed by the 200 or so Iranian exiles who lined the Cathedral sidewalks accusing Khatami of everything from journalistic repression to coddling terrorists to murder), and with his tendency to throw not-so-subtle elbows at American leaders (he's compared George W. Bush's rhetoric to that of Osama bin Laden), Khatami is shaping up as the Persian Jimmy Carter. READ MORE

Nitpicky, over-analytical pedants might ask, "How can we have a dialogue when your successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, keeps threatening to wipe Israel off the map?" Details . . . Starting a dialogue can be a messy business. Sometimes, you have to scream before you can whisper, just so you have everyone's attention.

Khatami, for his part, isn't a screamer. Aside from the occasional jaw-dropper--like calling Hezbollah "a shining sun that illuminates and warms the hearts of all Muslims and supporters of freedom in the world"--he mainly speaks the language of reconciliation, giving addresses like his famed "Dialogue Among Civilizations." The U.N. thought the concept such a swell idea that Kofi Annan declared 2001 the "Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations." The dialogue sort of got off track around September of that year, after wayward members of our shared Abrahamic tradition blew up the World Trade Center.

At the Cathedral the evening of September 7, Khatami's "interfaith dialogue" turned out to be more of an intrafaith monologue, since he did most of the talking, and in Farsi no less. Journalists were given full translations of the speech beforehand. "The bad news," said one, "is it's boring. The good news is it's short--we'll be home in time for football." Speaking in the flowery, abstract verbiage of a political philosopher, which he was until he signed on to the Iranian revolution, Khatami spoke of "the contradictions between individualistic liberalism and collectivist socialism," of the West's need to "take a step forward and view itself from another angle," and of how "democratic systems" oughtn't be "limited to liberal democracies."

Earlier, Khatami told reporters that Iran is just making nuclear energy, not weapons, even though he was saying so just a week after Ahmadinejad passed out awards to his nuclear scientists on Iranian national television, for such meritorious accomplishments as "notable management of the building of centrifuge taps, and other sensitive and complex components."

The crowd--a radical chic mélange of gray D.C. eminences and powdered and polished Iranians--gave him a standing ovation, unintimidated by the protesters outside, who tried to shame them with photos of Iranians back home getting hung from cranes and buried up to their waist before being stoned. Maybe, as our hosts suggested, he really is building a bridge between civilizations. A suspension bridge. As in, you'd have to suspend lots of disbelief to think his pretty rhetoric leads anywhere.