Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Where's Mahmoud?

To date, I have said practically nothing about Iran's diminutive holocaust denying president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Surprisingly, nobody's written in to ask why a blog devoted to dictators hasn't devoted so much as a single post to such a prominent world leader who is frequently described as a dictator. And since nobody's asked, I can go ahead and explain why. Mahmoud's exclusion from Dictators of the World cannot be construed an endorsement of his politics, or his ability to govern Iran democratically. Mahmoud has been shut out from DotW because he's not a dictator.

Yes, you heard me right the first time. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not a dictator. Ahmadinejad is the president of Iran, and Iran certainly is ruled by dictatorship. Mahmoud himself, however, is not the dictator of Iran. It seems that many people have forgotten, although I can't imagine how, that Iran is no run of the mill dictatorship, but a theocracy run by a dictator. During the American hostage crisis, nobody knew, or cared, who the president of Iran was, because everyone on earth by that point recognized the dictator calling the shots in Iran. So, I hear you cry, if Iran is a dictatorship, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad isn't the dictator of Iran, who is? That honor goes to Iran's "supreme leader", the reclusive Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In fact, Ahmadinejad can claim halfway credibly that his election was perfectly democratic - in a sense. For you see, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's election as president was only made possible when the theocrats in the Ayatollah's 12 man Guardian Council approved of Ahmadinejad's candidacy in the first place, signifying in advance that the presidential figurehead running the day to day affairs of Iran would be utterly compliant in advance with the wishes and desires of "Supreme Leader" Khamenei. So why is it that we don't hear more about the real dictator of Iran? Whatever other failings Khamenei may have as a politician, he certainly gets credit for staying out of the limelight. His name and image adorn billboards in Iran, but he stays extremely quiet when it comes time to discuss his job as Iran's dictator. His role as "guardian of the Iranian revolution" means he is free to involve himself as much, or as little, in Iran's domestic and international affairs as he pleases. Frankly, without Khamenei telling him what do, think and say, we can safely say that we have no idea how Ahmadinejad would rule Iran if he were merely left to his own devices.

So why haven't we heard more in the western press about the Ayatollah that actually rules Iran? It's very hard to say for sure. It could be because he is, if anything else, a powerful Muslim religious leader, and as we've all learned since 2001 or the Danish cartoon riots, the Western press has been very careful about offending Muslim religious sensibilities by calling a holy man a dictator, even if he is. Secondly, as I noted above, Ali Khamenei does most of his work behind the scenes. Unlike his very public predecessor, Ali Khamenei does not have the air of the firebrand cleric who never met a photo opportunity he didn't like. Rather, Khamenei is content to tell a puppet like Ahmadinejad what to do, and let Ahmadinejad take the political heat. It's probably nice work if you can get it.

As Iran's nuclear standoff with the planet intensifies, keep your eyes peeled for any mentions of Ahmadinejad's boss in the press. At present, those mentions are few and far between, but with Iran consuming an ever greater percentage of reporting, his name is bound to come up ... eventually. Until then? Khamenei is perfectly content having you believe that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is actually Iran's dictator.