The 18-page letter from Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to President Bush is gaining a lot of attention for its religious imagery and its call for Bush to look closely at his own religious convictions. It reads, says the Wall Street Journal editorial board, like "the Unabomber's manifesto." Ouch. Words from crazy people who threaten to blow up mailboxes and obliterate entire countries deserve a close examination from every angle possible. And while the media in America are jumping all over the religion angle, particularly the New York Times, they have failed so far in explaining the significance of this religious language:
While the letter laid out a litany of policy disputes with the United States, it was also personal, urging President Bush, who is candid about his religious conviction, to examine his actions in the light of Christian values. As he has done in the past, the Iranian struck a prophetic tone, which is certain to be well received by his core supporters and mocked by his opponents.
"We increasingly see that people around the world are flocking towards a main focal point that is the Almighty God," he wrote. "Undoubtedly through faith in God and the teaching of the prophets, the people will conquer their problems. My question to you is: 'Do you want to join them?'"
The letter was framed entirely in religious terms but also laid out a populist manifesto of anti-Americanism, offering illustrations of what has won the Iranian a following among many ordinary people throughout the Middle East. He presented himself as the defender not only of Muslims but of all oppressed people, including those in Africa and Latin America.
As the WSJ editorial aptly said, Ahmadinejad "needs to broaden his daily media sources beyond the BBC." From my own reading of the letter, Ahmadinejad is attempting to connect with what he sees as a commonality with Bush, which is a strong belief in religion in the public square. Ahmadinejad either needs to broaden his source for news or find better intelligence officers.
Despite what the international media like to say about Bush's religious convictions, Ahmadinejad's sources have failed him in informing him of Bush's religious convictions. Ahmadinejad and the international media could start by reading this article and then this book for a better idea of Bush's religious convictions.