Much of western media reports reacted with outraged dismissals to Ahmadinejad‘s and Gaddafi‘s UN speeches on Wednesday. However, despite their populist and provocative style, the message should be taken seriously.
While their lack of political correctness and exaggerations might have put you off, they shouted what a significant proportion of the world’s population believes.
The Huffington Post analyzes the main arguments in Gaddafi’s speech in five slides: the Palestinian plight; the unjustified Iraq war; unequal representation at the UN; the UN as a western product; and world domination by Security Council veto powers. This doesn’t sound particularly radical; these arguments are all over academic papers, too.
Ahmadinejad calls for everybody to drop their nuclear weapons instead of excusing himself for his own nuclear program. But it makes sense if you put yourself in his shoes. Why should Pakistan be allowed nukes and not Iran? In his speech at the Durban Review conference earlier this year, Ahmadinejad insisted strongly that Israel was a racist regime. You can find all sorts of explanations as to why Israel pursues the policies it does, but you can’t resent the Arab Israelis and the Palestinians for feeling discriminated against.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t necessarily agree with the Iranian and Libyan heads of state. I just want to warn against dismissing them too quickly as authoritarian madmen. Western self-righteousness offends many, and they may choose to react in violent ways. Think al-Qaida, for example.
Indeed, the West would be wise to engage with Ahmadinejad and Gaddafi’s criticisms. These days, belonging to the liberal democracy club doesn’t necessarily equate moral superiority.