By Libby Hughes, Special to capecodtoday
The ring around the Kennedy School of Government was tight, tight, tight with security on Sunday afternoon September 10. The Boston Police, Cambridge Police, Harvard Police, and the State Department Security were everywhere.
Spectators and Protestors
The reason? The former President of Iran was scheduled to talk at the John F. Kennedy Forum. The line for ticket holders stretched half way down Eliot Street. Close to 200 protesters were holding up signs, attacking Mohammad Khatami. Television reporters were interviewing them and spectators stood in clusters watching in gun-shy amazement.
Before entering, this reporter had to give up her umbrella, let her handbag be searched, and let an official go over her with an electronic gadget. Once inside, she headed to the press section. Two seats were left. Like the Gubernatorial debate at the same place, it was jammed with 800 people. This group was composed of Iranians, faculty, students, and journalists.
The student sitting next to me was Iranian. He was jabbering in Farsi with a variety of friends. We began talking. He told me how popular this man had been among young people in Iran. Twenty million turned out to vote for him in 1997. Eight years later they were disillusioned because Khatami didn’t live up to his promises. Yet, the new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was not to their liking.
A hush fell over the audience a few minutes before 4:00 p.m. Khatami’s Iranian entourage was ushered into a special section. From behind a red curtain, Mohammad Khatami strode onto the platform. He wore his cleric’s apparel of black turban, a long sand-colored cape over a white linen shirt. His eyebrows were bushy, arched in dramatic black. His trimmed beard was salt and pepper. His countenance was benign.
The introducer quoted from a statement issued by President George W. Bush this week. Apparently, a reporter asked the president why he issued a visa to Khatami. Bush replied that he was interested to hear what he had to say from voices other than the present government.
The philosopher and connoisseur of Western Civilization spoke for 30 minutes in Farsi, translated by a young Iranian. His opening remarks traced the early history of America with references to Abraham Lincoln.
Cycle of Violence must stop
His main theme was to stop the cycle of violence. He emphasized the need for the East and West to re-evaluate their positions by moving away from a posture of anger to pursue a dialogue. He chastised the West for using old methods of colonialism and imperialism. He underlined the message of liberty and justice for all from Muslims. He said that the Western world needs spirituality and the East needs to transform and move toward the inevitability of democracy. Khatami strongly condemned 9/11 and advised moving away from violence and anger.
An hour of questions from students and others
He did not agree that Israel should be “wiped off the face of the earth” as stated by Ahmadinejad, but he felt America was too biased in favor of Israel. “For 50 years Palestine has been eliminated,”said Khatami. The audience applauded.
Perhaps the most interesting question related to Osama bin Laden and his activities. Khatami replied that 9/11 was a crime and it was not in line with the teachings of Islam for peace and justice. Again he referred to the cycle of murder-revenge, revenge-murder that had to stop.
When asked about the promise to suicide bombers of going to heaven, he said, “Those who put someone in hell, will not go to heaven.” Enormous applause.
“The path to democracy is a gradual process that needs patience,” he stated. However, he denied giving millions of dollars in support of Lebanon; Hezbollah.
The Iranian students alongside me felt the remarks were not strong enough and the translation was not always accurate. When Khatami was thrown a wild question from a student, he smiled broadly with a twinkle in his eyes. I asked the Iranian student about this. He laughed and said, “This is why young people liked him and voted for him—his manner.”
After the talk, security was even tighter.
A dialogue had begun—even if in an academic setting.