Outside View: Ahmadinejad's 'embraceable you' faux pas

By JAMES ZUMWALT, UPI Outside View Commentator  |  March 19, 2013 at 12:03 AM
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HERNDON, Va., March 19 (UPI) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a diehard Islamist. As such, it was surprising to observe a man who has been so full of hate toward Christians and Jews conduct himself, for a very rare moment at least, as a man of compassion.

Unsurprisingly, the Islamist mullahs in Iran were unhappy with such conduct. But Ahmadinejad's major faux pas, under Islam, provides another glimpse into the God Islamists choose to promote.

The controversy arose when a photograph was published showing Ahmadinejad, in Venezuela for the March 8 funeral of President Hugo Chavez, clutching the hands of Chavez's grieving mother, Elena Frias de Chavez, his cheek touching hers.

It was unclear if the pained expression on Ahmadinejad's face was due to his own grief over the loss of Chavez or to his sudden realization he had been caught in a very un-Islamic embrace with the mother.

When the photograph hit Iran, religious leaders there wasted no time condemning him.

Extremists say the embrace was inappropriate as it is "haram" (forbidden) -- a sinful act that is offensive to God. Even supporters of Ahmadinejad agreed, suggesting the Iranian president had "lost control." One Iranian newspaper tried to claim the photograph had been Photoshopped.

In the end, however, the photo couldn't be denied and Ahmadinejad was lambasted by Islamist clerics for demonstrating he is part of the "deviant current" (meaning he has deviated from the original ideas of the Iranian revolution) plaguing his term.

What was the nature of his sin? Islam forbids Muslim men from touching women who are unrelated to them; thus, Ahmadinejad offended Islam's God with his cheek-to-cheek and hand-clasping embrace.

A member of Iran's Society of Militant Clergy of Tehran noted, "In relation to what is allowed (halal) and what is forbidden (haram), we know that no unrelated women can be touched unless she is drowning at sea or needs (medical) treatment."

The compassion Ahmadinejad demonstrated by embracing Chavez's mother wasn't the only complaint registered by his Islamist brethren, however. He also was criticized for his eulogy, in which he seemed to ordain Chavez as a holy man. He suggested Chavez "will come again along with Jesus Christ and Al-Imam al-Mahdi (the 12th Imam destined in the near future to descend to Earth from his current state of occultation to subjugate all other religions to Islam) to redeem mankind."

Islamists perceive their God to be one intolerant of a man rendering compassion to a grieving female unrelated to them; Christians perceive their God to be just the opposite.

To the Islamist, a Muslim who has "lost control," rendering compassion by a cheeky embrace, has committed a major sin against a God who is feared; to the Christian, in showing such compassion, a believer has pleased a God Who is loving.

Sadly, Islam even frowns upon public displays of emotion between a married man and woman. After a photograph appeared in the international media of an Indonesian Muslim soldier kissing his Muslim wife goodbye before he deployed, the couple became the target of Muslim clerics' criticism.

Interestingly, it was one Muslim's ire, raised more than six decades ago after observing unrelated U.S. men and women embracing each other, that ignited the fires of Islamism we face today.

In 1948, an Islamist Egyptian educator, Sayyid Qutb, sailed to the United States to pursue a master's degree at a college in Greeley, Colo. Welcoming the introverted Qutb to Greeley, the townspeople invited him to a church social. After dinner, the lights were turned down and a popular song of the time, "Baby, It's Cold Outside," was played. Men and women began slow dancing.

Qutb was angered as he observed unmarried men and women dancing, their bodies closely entwined. Upon returning to Egypt in 1950, he wrote an article entitled "The America That I Have Seen" in which he described his observations about American women in words reading more like a cheap novel: "The American girl is well acquainted with her body's seductive capacity. She knows it lies in the face, and in expressive eyes, and thirsty lips. She knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs -- and she shows all this and does not hide it."

For being so enflamed with anger, Qutb seemed to have a most observant eye!

He began writing a litany of works addressing the ills of the West and the need to impose Shariah law to cleanse Muslim society of Western influence, joining the Muslim Brotherhood, which held similar views.

However, his push for an Islamist state ran afoul of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser's plans for the secular nationalist ideology of Nasserism -- leading to Qutb's execution in 1966.

Qutb's teachings, however, weren't lost upon two very prominent Islamist students -- Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. The former would declare war against the United States in 1998, leading al-Qaeda until his death in 2011; the latter then replacing bin Laden as the terrorist organization's leader. Both were known to have been heavily influenced by Qutb's writings.

Ahmadinejad's emotional lapse apparently left the tune of "Embraceable You" dancing in his head. Sadly, the mullahs promote a negative image of Islam in condemning man's compassion toward another human being as a sin against God. They choose to focus blindly on a gender issue, ignoring the needs of a grieving mother who has just lost a son.


(James G. Zumwalt, a retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and infantry officer, served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Persian Gulf war. He is the author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will--Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields," "Living the Juche Lie: North Korea's Kim Dynasty" and "Doomsday: Iran--The Clock is Ticking." He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.)


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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