Psychiatric question of the week: what is the greater, more morbid delusion--denying history or denying reality?
President Ahmadinejad of Iran has justifiably come in for the lunatic label for his denial of history. I tend to agree with former AIG CEO Maurice Greenberg on this point: anyone who denies the overwhelming historical evidence of the Nazi holocaust is revealing a certain disconnect with reason (but note that Mr. Greenberg added that Ahmadinejad is "crazy like a fox").*
But that (as Greenberg suggests) does not necessarily mean that Mr. A. has lost his grip on current reality. In fact, a close reading of his UN speech indicates that this guy has more of a geopolitical grip than our own delusional denizen of the West Wing (which, as we shall see, is not saying a great deal). Let's look at some portions of the man's speech (full text here), and see what lies beyond the spin.
Occupation of countries, including Iraq, has continued for the last three years. Not a day goes by without hundreds of people getting killed in cold blood. The occupiers are incapable of establishing security in Iraq. Despite the establishment of the lawful Government and National Assembly of Iraq, there are covert and overt efforts to heighten insecurity, magnify and aggravate differences within Iraqi society, and instigate civil strife...It seems that intensification of hostilities and terrorism serves as a pretext for the continued presence of foreign forces in Iraq.
People are being bombarded in their own homes and their children murdered in their own streets and alleys. But no authority, not even the Security Council, can afford them any support or protection. Why? At the same time, a government is formed democratically and through the free choice of the electorate in a part of Palestinian territory. But instead of receiving the support of the so-called champions of democracy, its ministers and members of parliament are illegally abducted and incarcerated in full view of the international community.
On Iranian nuclear development:
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a member of the IAEA and is committed to the NPT. All our nuclear activities are transparent, peaceful and under the watchful eyes of IAEA inspectors. Why then are there objections to our legally recognized rights? Which governments object to these rights? Governments that themselves benefit from nuclear energy and the fuel cycle. Some of them have abused nuclear technology for non-peaceful ends, including the production of nuclear bombs, and some even have a bleak record of using them against humanity.
So, is this the speech of a leader who's lost contact with reality—that is, current reality? It sure doesn't seem like it. Now if you're asking, "is the guy telling the truth about his opinions and motivations?" you might have some grounds for further inquiry, no doubt about that. He is a politician, after all. But before I would place my trust in what Rush, O'Reilly, or the New York Post have to say about him, I'd seek some analysis from someone who knows the game and has been on the playing field himself—someone, for example, like Akbar Ganji, the distinguished Iranian dissident.
Let's now compare this with the words of our own demonstrably demented ideologue:
America and our coalition partners will continue to stand with the democratic government you elected. We will continue to help you secure the international assistance and investment you need to create jobs and opportunity, working with the United Nations and through the International Compact with Iraq endorsed here in New York yesterday. We will continue to train those of you who stepped forward to fight the enemies of freedom. We will not yield the future of your country to terrorists and extremists.
Earlier this year, the Palestinian people voted in a free election. The leaders of Hamas campaigned on a platform of ending corruption and improving the lives of the Palestinian people, and they prevailed. The world is waiting to see whether the Hamas government will follow through on its promises, or pursue an extremist agenda.
Despite what the regime tells you, we have no objection to Iran's pursuit of a truly peaceful nuclear power program. We're working toward a diplomatic solution to this crisis. And as we do, we look to the day when you can live in freedom -- and America and Iran can be good friends and close partners in the cause of peace.
As bizarre a nexus of delusion as you will meet in the most high-security psychiatric facility. The man is fundamentally undermining the overwhelming opinion of his own intelligence community; he is telling the people of Lebanon that their democracy will be rebuilt through the mass murder of their civilian population and the destruction of their country's infrastructure; and he is seeking a diplomatic solution with a nation whose leader he can't even look in the face, though they're in the same building at the same time.
So we have one leader with a grasp on geopolitical reality but not historical reality; another with an ever-broadening delusion that encompasses both current reality and history—both remote and recent history. Did another alternative appear at the UN last week?
Yesterday, the devil came here. Right here. Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today, this table that I am now standing in front of.
Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the president of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world. Truly. As the owner of the world.
I think we could call a psychiatrist to analyze yesterday's statement made by the president of the United States. As the spokesman of imperialism, he came to share his nostrums, to try to preserve the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world.
They say they want to impose a democratic model. But that's their democratic model. It's the false democracy of elites, and, I would say, a very original democracy that's imposed by weapons and bombs and firing weapons.
What a strange democracy. Aristotle might not recognize it or others who are at the root of democracy.
What type of democracy do you impose with marines and bombs?
The president of the United States, yesterday, said to us, right here, in this room, and I'm quoting, "Anywhere you look, you hear extremists telling you can escape from poverty and recover your dignity through violence, terror and martyrdom."
Wherever he looks, he sees extremists. And you, my brother -- he looks at your color, and he says, oh, there's an extremist. Evo Morales, the worthy president of Bolivia, looks like an extremist to him.
The imperialists see extremists everywhere. It's not that we are extremists. It's that the world is waking up. It's waking up all over. And people are standing up.
I have the feeling, dear world dictator, that you are going to live the rest of your days as a nightmare because the rest of us are standing up, all those who are rising up against American imperialism, who are shouting for equality, for respect, for the sovereignty of nations.
If we walk in the streets of the Bronx, if we walk around New York, Washington, San Diego, in any city, San Antonio, San Francisco, and we ask individuals, the citizens of the United States, what does this country want? Does it want peace? They'll say yes.
But the government doesn't want peace. The government of the United States doesn't want peace. It wants to exploit its system of exploitation, of pillage, of hegemony through war.
It wants peace. But what's happening in Iraq? What happened in Lebanon? In Palestine? What's happening? What's happened over the last 100 years in Latin America and in the world? And now threatening Venezuela -- new threats against Venezuela, against Iran?
He spoke to the people of Lebanon. Many of you, he said, have seen how your homes and communities were caught in the crossfire. How cynical can you get? What a capacity to lie shamefacedly. The bombs in Beirut with millimetric precision?
What we now have to do is define the future of the world. Dawn is breaking out all over. You can see it in Africa and Europe and Latin America and Oceanea. I want to emphasize that optimistic vision.
We have to strengthen ourselves, our will to do battle, our awareness. We have to build a new and better world.
Those are the words of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who was branded "El Lefty Loco" (the New York Post); "the firebrand" (Washington Post); and here's how the "poll" at townhall.com spins it (perhaps many readers would be puzzled over the choice between A and B).
Well, who's the lunatic among these three? Which one is the best candidate for commitment? Before you decide, here's an excerpt from the DSM-IV, the diagnostic manual of western psychiatry:
Psychosocial functioning is variable. Some individuals may appear to be relatively unimpaired in their interpersonal and occupational roles. In others, the impairment may be substantial and include low or absent occupational functioning and social isolation. When poor psychosocial functioning is present in Delusional Disorder, it arises directly from the delusional beliefs themselves.
Now, take a look at Bob Herbert's column from Monday's New York Times:
Until five months ago, Bilal Hussein was part of a team of Associated Press photographers that had won a Pulitzer Prize for photos documenting the fighting and carnage in Iraq.Now he’s a prisoner, having been seized by the U.S. government.
You might ask: What’s he been charged with?
The answer: Nothing.
Mr. Hussein, an Iraqi hired by The A.P., was taken into custody by U.S. forces in Ramadi last April 12. As in many similar cases, U.S. officials have been saying — without disclosing evidence to back up their comments — that he had improper ties to the insurgents.
But neither the Americans nor the Iraqis have officially charged Mr. Hussein with anything.American officials were telling reporters, without offering any evidence, that Mr. Hussein had been collaborating with insurgents. He hadn’t been. It turned out he was completely innocent. In fact, he was a kind of timid guy who was less than thrilled about having a job that required him to shoot combat footage.
This is a spooky time in history. It’s one thing for tyrannical regimes like the old Soviet Union and Communist China to bulldoze the very idea of human rights and human decency by engaging in such atrocities as detention without trial, torture and other forms of state terror. It’s something else completely when the United States, the greatest symbol of liberty that the world has ever known, begins to head down that hellish road.
Now also recall who among our three rhetorical gladiators had to deny threatening the head of the Pakistani government with a bombing "back to the stone age." (By the way, do you believe that this threat was never made?)
So now, I ask again: who exactly, among the three speakers at last week's UN shoutfest, is delusional?
*My astute co-blogger, Terry McKenna, sent me this comment: "I disagree about holocaust deniers who are not westerners. For in a world where millions have beern slaughtered, the jewish slaughter probably does not seem remarkable. The holocaust is our sin, not theirs." Clearly, Terry's point must be well taken, especially where we are sorting out issues of madness from what is merely a cultural context (psychiatric professionals know that it's a common mistake to impute mental illness where there is only cultural variation). Still, I think that people everywhere know mass murder when they see it: after 9/11, thousands of ordinary Iranians massed in the streets of Teheran in candlelight vigils, in recognition of the horror that had befallen America. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the Bush years is that from a single point in history where the entire world—even our so-called enemies—was with us, our despicable government inexorably turned them all against us.