Do I think that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should be allowed to speak at Columbia University while in the United States? No--because Iran is supporting the killing of US troops in Iraq. But the problem didn't start in recent Iraq. It started long before, with the US and other Western countries' meddling in Iran and most of the rest of the Middle East. This inflamed nationalistic passions against the United States, which are perfectly rational in the minds of those who hold such passions, and which greatly predate the arrival on the world stage of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (or even the Ayatollah Khomeini). When George W. Bush branded Iran as part of the Axis of Evil --while trying to keep the other side of the story buried--he made things much worse.
Besides the fact that diplomacy (at least at one point in time--I'm not sure about it now) could have reaped enormous peace dividends, the epithet Axis of Evil seems a simplistic attempt to squelch all discussion and debate, and to brand our opponent hopelessly irrational and somehow less human than ourselves. Iran has its own story, but those of shallow minds in America don't want you to know what it is. And here we stand once more on the brink of mutual nuclear annihilation.
Like so many times before, the truth can be found on both sides of the issue, and that truth is aching to be told.
The Enemy is Us
Come to think of it, a lot of us have our own Axis of Evil--that political enemy or enemies with whom we have forsworn all discussion as hopelessly and impossibly counterproductive. Somehow branding our local political enemy as part of our Axis of Evil gives us that sense of self-superiority that we need in order to feel that only our side of the issue has any merit.
That's wrong. It has to stop.
A recent musing by the Salt Lake Tribune's Paul Rolly helped me to think more clearly about my feelings on this issue (Hat Tip: Utah Amicus). Here's the paragraph that particularly got my introspective juices flowing:
"What is the greatest problem facing public service today?" the young Republican governor [Jon Huntsman, recently] asked the old Democrat [Cal Rampton, three-term Democrat governor who recently passed away]. Without a pause, Rampton replied: "The lack of civility. People don't dare cross the political divide. The system has become too darn mean."My dad was a Democrat (and I'm sure he would still be if he were still alive--I personally am a CRID-Constitutionalist Republican Independent Democrat). He was involved in state Democrat party politics, and he became good friends with then-governor Scott Matheson, so I'm sure he had at least an association with Calvin Rampton. I still respect Cal Rampton and Scott Matheson as two of the greatest governors Utah has ever known. I never remember my dad speaking ill of 'the other party'. He took enough of it from 'the other party' to know that it was painful enough to take, and he was man enough to have no desire to dish it back.
What is it about human nature that we think we are wise when we are merely snide? Why is it that winning a political argument is more important to so many than being friends?
In light of clear history, George W. Bush was wrong to brand Iran, Korea, and Iraq as charter members of the Axis of Evil. In much the same way, we are wrong when we brand our political opponents with the same broad and bristling brush.
Everyone has his or her story. Each of our stories motivate our world views, in nearly every case for clearly rational and good reasons. Everyone's story is worth understanding. Until we have heard their stories, no political opponent should be on our Axis of Evil.
Once we know their story, we'll much more likely than not be very glad we did not put them there.