Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"But think of the things that were done to Iranians!"

An interview with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Editor's note: This interview originally appeared in Der Spiegel.

By Dieter Bednarz, Erich Follath and Georg Mascolo

April 14, 2009 | Mr. President, so far you have traveled to the United States four times to attend the General Assembly of the United Nations. What is your impression of America and the Americans?

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, I am pleased to be able to welcome you to Tehran once again, after our extensive conversation almost three years ago. Now on the USA: Of course, one cannot get to know a country like the United States in short visits, but my speech and the discussions at Columbia University were very special to me. I am quite aware that a distinction must be drawn between the American government and the American people. We do not hold Americans accountable for the faulty decisions of the Bush administration. They want to live in peace, like we all do.

The new U.S. president, Barack Obama, directed a video address to the Iranian nation three weeks ago, during the Iranian New Year festival. Did you watch the speech?

Yes. Great things are happening in the United States. I believe that the Americans are in the process of initiating important developments.

How did you feel about the speech?

Ambivalent. Some passages were new, while some repeated well-known positions. I thought it striking that Obama attached such high value to the Iranian civilization, our history and culture. It is also positive that he stresses mutual respect and honest interactions with one another as the basis of cooperation. In one segment of his speech, he says that a nation's standing in the world does not depend solely on weapons and military strength, which is precisely what we told the previous American administration. George W. Bush's big mistake was that he wanted to solve all problems militarily. The days are gone when a country can issue orders to other peoples. Today, mankind needs culture, ideas and logic.

What does that mean?

We feel that Obama must now follow his words with actions.

President Obama, who has called your aggressive anti-Israeli remarks "disgusting," has nevertheless spoken of a new beginning in relations with Iran and extended his hand to you.

I haven't understood Obama's comments quite that way. I pay attention to what he says today. But that is precisely where I see a lack of something decisive. What leads you to talk about a new beginning? Have there been any changes in American policy? We welcome changes, but they have yet to occur.

You are constantly making demands. But the truth is: Your policies, Iran's disastrous relations with the United States, are a burden on the global community and a threat to world peace. Where is your contribution to the easing of tensions?

I have already explained this to you. We support talks on the basis of fairness and respect. That has always been our position. We are waiting for Obama to announce his plans, so that we can analyze them.

And that's all?

We have to wait and see what Obama wants to do.

The world sees this differently. Iran must act. Iran must now show goodwill.

Where is this world you are talking about? What do we have to do? You are aware that we are not the ones who severed relations with America. America cut off relations with us. What do you expect from Iran now?

Concrete steps, or at least a gesture on your part.

I have already answered that question. Washington cut off relations.

Are you saying that you would welcome a resumption of relations with the United States?

What do you think? What has to happen? Which approach is the right one?

The world expects answers from you, not from us.

But I sent a message to the new U.S. president. It was a big step, a huge step. I congratulated him on his election victory, and I said a few things to him in my letter. This was done with care. We have been and continue to be interested in significant changes taking place. If we intend to resolve the problem between our two countries, it is important to recognize that Iran did not play a role in the development of this problem. The behavior of American administrations was the cause. If the behavior of the United States changes, we can expect to see important progress …

… that could lead to a resumption of diplomatic relations, perhaps even to the reopening of the U.S. embassy, which was occupied in 1979, the year of the revolution?

We have not received an official request in this regard yet. If this happens, we will take a position on the matter. This is not a question of form. Fundamental changes must take place, to the benefit of all parties. The American government must finally learn lessons from the past.

But you should not?

Everyone must learn from the past.

Then please tell us which lessons you are learning.

We have been under pressure for the past 30 years, unfairly and without fault on our part. We have done nothing …

… according to you. Americans see things quite a bit differently. The 444-day hostage crisis during which 50 U.S. citizens were held from late 1979 until early 1981 in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran is still a collective American trauma today.

But think of the things that were done to Iranians! We were attacked by Iraq. Eight years of war. America and some European countries supported this aggression. We were even attacked with chemical weapons and [Western countries] aided and abetted those attacks. We did not inflict an injustice on anyone. We did not attack anyone, nor did we occupy other countries. We have no military presence in Europe and America. But troops from Europe and America are stationed along our borders.

The Western governments are convinced that Iran supports terrorist organizations and that Iran has had dissidents killed abroad. Perhaps mistakes were not just made by the one side?

Do you wish to imply that the troops are deployed along our borders because we allegedly support terrorist organizations?

We neither said nor implied that. But the accusation of support for terrorism has been made. Where is your constructive contribution?

First of all: We do not commit terror, but we are victims of terror. After the revolution, our president and prime minister were killed in a bombing attack in the building adjacent to my office. Our faith forbids us from engaging in terrorism. And when it comes to the constructive contributions we are being asked to make, we have contributed to stabilization in both Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years. While we were making these contributions, the Bush administration accused us of doing the opposite. Do you believe that problems can be solved with military force and invasion? Wasn't the strategy employed by America and NATO wrong from the start? We have always said that this is not the way to fight terrorists. They are stronger than ever today.

Next page: "All peoples are fed up with the American government"

Somalis speak out: Why we don’t condemn our pirates

Several Somali perspectives on Somali pirates

A blogger at Multitunes calls K’naan “the hope of politically conscious rap” and quotes one of his favorite K’naan lines: “Until the lion learns to speak, the tales of the hunt will always favor the hunter.”
A blogger at Multitunes calls K’naan “the hope of politically conscious rap” and quotes one of his favorite K’naan lines: “Until the lion learns to speak, the tales of the hunt will always favor the hunter.”
“As the first pirate attack on a U.S. ship in 200 years comes to a climax, I’m re-posting an essay I solicited and received several weeks ago from K’naan, a Somali-Canadian singer and activist. A video of a performance by K’naan that I filmed at the All Points West music festival last summer (can be seen here).” - Michael Vazquez, editor at URB. Don’t miss Davey D’s unforgettable interview with K’naan, parts 1 and 2, recorded April 12 and posted in the Bay View video section.

by K’naan

Can anyone ever really be for piracy? Outside of sea bandits, and young girls fantasizing about Johnny Depp, would anyone with an honest regard for good human conduct really say that they are in support of sea robbery?

Well, in Somalia, the answer is: It’s complicated.

The news media these days have been covering piracy on the Somali coast with such lopsided journalism that it’s lucky they’re not on a ship themselves. It’s true that the constant hijacking of vessels in the Gulf of Aden is a major threat to the vibrant trade route between Asia and Europe. It is also true that for most of the pirates operating in this vast shoreline, money is the primary objective.

The crew of the hijacked Ukrainian merchant vessel MV Faina stand on the deck under the watch of armed Somali pirates looking as relaxed as if they were one big happy family on Nov. 9, 2008, after a U.S. Navy request to check on their health and welfare, at sea off the coast of Somalia. The Faina, loaded with Russian tanks and artillery, had been seized by the pirates in September. The pirates have never harmed anyone on the ships they’ve seized. – Photo: HO/AFP/Getty Images
The crew of the hijacked Ukrainian merchant vessel MV Faina stand on the deck under the watch of armed Somali pirates looking as relaxed as if they were one big happy family on Nov. 9, 2008, after a U.S. Navy request to check on their health and welfare, at sea off the coast of Somalia. The Faina, loaded with Russian tanks and artillery, had been seized by the pirates in September. The pirates have never harmed anyone on the ships they’ve seized. – Photo: HO/AFP/Getty Images
But according to so many Somalis, the disruption of Europe’s darling of a trade route is just Karma biting a perpetrator in the butt. And if you don’t believe in Karma, maybe you believe in recent history. Here is why we Somalis find ourselves slightly shy of condemning our pirates.

Somalia has been without any form of a functioning government since 1991. And although its failures, like many other toddler governments in Africa, spring from the wells of post-colonial independence, bad governance and development loan sharks, the specific problem of piracy was put in motion in 1992.

After the overthrow of Siyad Barre, our charmless dictator of 20-some-odd years, two major forces of the Hawiye Clan came to power. At the time, Ali Mahdi and Gen. Mohamed Farah Aidid, the two leaders of the Hawiye rebels, were largely considered liberators. But the unity of the two men and their respective sub-clans was very short-lived. It’s as if they were dumbstruck at the advent of ousting the dictator, or that they just forgot to discuss who will be the leader of the country once they defeated their common foe.

A disagreement of who will upgrade from militia leader to Mr. President broke up their honeymoon. It’s because of this disagreement that we’ve seen one of the most decomposing wars in Somalia’s history, leading to millions displaced and hundreds of thousands dead.

But war is expensive and militias need food for their families and Jaad (an amphetamine-based stimulant) to stay awake for the fighting.

Therefore, a good clan-based warlord must look out for his own fighters. Aidid’s men turned to robbing aid trucks carrying food to the starving masses and re-selling it to continue their war. But Ali Mahdi had his sights set on a larger and more unexploited resource, namely the Indian Ocean.

Already by this time, local fishermen in the coastline of Somalia had been complaining of illegal vessels coming to Somali waters and stealing all the fish. And since there was no government to report it to, and since the severity of the violence clumsily overshadowed every other problem, the fishermen went completely unheard.

This barrel, once filled with toxic – possibly radioactive – waste, washed ashore in Somalia after the 2005 tsunami. The Times of London reported online in March 2005 that the tsunami “stirred up tonnes of nuclear and toxic waste illegally dumped” off the coast of Somalia. – Photo: Somalinet
This barrel, once filled with toxic – possibly radioactive – waste, washed ashore in Somalia after the 2005 tsunami. The Times of London reported online in March 2005 that the tsunami “stirred up tonnes of nuclear and toxic waste illegally dumped” off the coast of Somalia. – Photo: Somalinet
But it was around this same time that a more sinister, a more patronizing practice was being put in motion. A Swiss firm called Achair Partners and an Italian waste company called Progresso made a deal with Ali Mahdi that they were to dump containers of waste material in Somali waters. These European companies were said to be paying warlords about $3 a ton, whereas to properly dispose of waste in Europe costs about $1,000 a ton.

In 2004, after a tsunami washed ashore several leaking containers, thousand of locals in the Puntland region of Somalia started to complain of severe and previously unreported ailments, such as abdominal bleeding, skin melting off and a lot of immediate cancer-like symptoms. Nick Nuttall, a spokesman for the United Nations Environmental Program, says that the containers had many different kinds of waste, including “uranium, radioactive waste, lead, cadmium, mercury and chemical waste.”

But this wasn’t just a passing evil from one or two groups taking advantage of our unprotected waters. The U.N. envoy for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, says that the practice still continues to this day. It was months after those initial reports that local fishermen mobilized themselves, along with street militias, to go into the waters and deter the Westerners from having a free pass at completely destroying Somalia’s aquatic life.

Now, years later, the deterring has become less noble, and the ex-fishermen with their militias have begun to develop a taste for ransom at sea. This form of piracy is now a major contributor to the Somali economy, especially in the very region that private toxic waste companies first began to bury our nation’s death trap.

Now Somalia has upped the world’s pirate attacks by over 21 percent in one year, and while NATO and the EU are both sending forces to the Somali coast to try and slow down the attacks, Blackwater and all kinds of private security firms are intent on cashing in.

But while Europeans are well within their rights to protect their trade interest in the region, our pirates were the only deterrent we had from an externally imposed environmental disaster. No one can say for sure that some of the ships they are now holding for ransom were not involved in illegal activity in our waters.

The truth is, if you ask any Somali, if getting rid of the pirates only means the continuous rape of our coast by unmonitored Western vessels and the producing of a new cancerous generation, we would all fly our pirate flags high.

It is time that the world gave the Somali people some assurance that these Western illegal activities will end if our pirates are to cease their operations. We do not want the EU and NATO serving as a shield for these nuclear waste-dumping hoodlums.

“The truth is, if you ask any Somali, if getting rid of the pirates only means the continuous rape of our coast by unmonitored Western vessels and the producing of a new cancerous generation, we would all fly our pirate flags high. … [O]ne man’s pirate is another man’s coast guard.” - K’naan

It seems to me that this new modern crisis is truly a question of justice, but also a question of whose justice. As is apparent these days, one man’s pirate is another man’s coast guard.

This story first appeared April 13, 2009, in the Huffington Post.

Somalis are defending their land and shores

A Somali pirate stands guard on the coast of Hobyo, where his compatriots were holding the Greek tanker MV CPT Stephanos last October. According to early reports, the three Somali pirates killed by the U.S. Navy Sunday were teenagers – 16-19 years old. – Photo: © Badri Media/E.P.A./Corbis
A Somali pirate stands guard on the coast of Hobyo, where his compatriots were holding the Greek tanker MV CPT Stephanos last October. According to early reports, the three Somali pirates killed by the U.S. Navy Sunday were teenagers – 16-19 years old. – Photo: © Badri Media/E.P.A./Corbis
As for the “pirates” of Somalia, it is an encouraging case but also a very sad one. According to some, these so called “pirates” are professional Somalis with different careers behind them; that is, most of them were doctors, engineers, pilots, computer scientists, professors and so on.

I was told by a friend of mine that these ex-professional Somalis were converted to their new job when foreign big boats started clearing their shores, that is, their sea products, different types of fish and sea food. Some of the big international ships come to the Somali seashores in order to dump their toxic waste.

The Somalis are defending their land and their shores, I think very bravely. But it worries me to see that the U.S. and Europeans - the French in particular - are working actively to occupy Somalia.

The world is tired about their terrorist lies, so they are coming to occupy Somalia in the name of “pirates.” Believe me, the Somalis will fight until one person is left in their land.

This is a simple African woman’s opinion.

Renowned historian Runoko Rashidi shared this email message he received April 11, 2009. It is signed, “Your Sister in the Horn of Africa.”