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Khatami Comes to National Cathedral By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, September 07, 2006


One of the most unsavory of the Iranian theocracy’s numerous human rights abuses is its persecution of non-Muslims, including Christians.

Not overly concerned with religious liberty, or even the plight of fellow Christians, Washington’s National Cathedral is throwing open its doors today (Thursday) for former Iranian President and Islamic cleric Mohammad Khatami.   Without any sense of irony, by him or the cathedral’s Episcopalian masters, Khatami will talk about how the three "Abrahamic faiths" can build peace in the world.

 

According to the National Cathedral’s website, Khatami was the “first reformist president” of Iran following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Indeed, the website gushes, the mullah was elected with the “broad support of women and young adults” and is “credited with the promotion of the rule of law, democracy, and the inclusion of all Iranians in the political decision-making process.”

 

If the basis of comparison is the Ayatollah Khomeini or the various other thugs, kleptocrats, and sadistic clerics who have governed Iran since Iran’s “liberation” from the Shah, not to mention the current psychotic Iranian president, then perhaps Khatami seems halfway reasonable.  But his presidency from 1997-2005 nonetheless maintained the theocratic reign of the mullahs, who then and now outlaw any real opposition, murder and imprison opponents, and suppress any religious and cultural forces not confirming to their brand of Shiite Islam.

 

Iran’s current nuclear weapons program also accelerated under the presidency of Khatami, as did the arming of Hezbollah terrorists, all of which hardly qualifies him for the Nobel Peace Prize.  But none of these unpleasant details deterred the hospitality of the Washington National Cathedral.

 

“President Khatami’s commitment to a dialogue between civilizations and cultures is an important component in the peace process,” intoned Cathedral Dean, the Very Reverend Samuel T. Lloyd III.  This is much needed in the world today.” Dean Lloyd observed that Khatami is “regarded as a man of peace and moderation.”

 

Similarly enthusiastic was the Reverend Canon John L. Peterson, who directs the cathedral’s Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation at the Cathedral.  “The Cathedral is a place of reconciliation that opens its doors to people of all faiths, and we have a special commitment to embracing the children of Abraham,” said Canon Peterson.  “We have found that the Cathedral is an important platform for dialogue and open discussion.”  According to the Canon, Khatami’s visit is “wholly appropriate” at this time of increasing global tensions, since he will talk about the role of the “three Abrahamic faiths” in shaping peace throughout the world.

 

Liberal Christian clerics like Canon Peterson and Dean Lloyd would be roasted on a spit and flayed until crispy brown if they lived under the reign of the Iranian mullahs, few of whom have much time for “dialogue” and “open discussion.”  Indeed, Christian clerics have been murdered in Iran, and Christians there, along with other religious minorities, stick to the shadows, lest they gain the unwanted attention of Iran’s religious police.   But the National Cathedral has rarely if ever expressed interest in the plight of Christians living under Islamic regimes, in Iran or elsewhere, even though there are even fellow Anglicans struggling to survive under President Khatami’s friends and successors.

 

Khatami was more public relations savvy than his ranting successor.  In 1998, Khatami took time from administering his theocratic police state to ask the United Nations for a “dialogue among the world’s civilizations and cultures.”  This prompted an eager UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to declare 2001 the U.N. Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations. In February of this year, as the National Cathedral has carefully pointed out, Khatami founded the International Institute for Dialogue among Civilizations and Cultures in Tehran.

 

As a distinguished member of the High-Level Group of the United Nations’ Alliance of Civilizations, Khtami is one of 20 international leaders gathered by Kofi Annan and the prime ministers of Spain and Turkey to “establish a relationship of mutual respect between civilizations and rejects religious and political extremism.” Khatami is swinging by the cathedral right after this important meeting at the UN on behalf of moderation.

 

It’s been a busy travel year for President Khatami.  Last month, at the 2006 World Conference of Religions for Peace, in Kyoto, Japan, Khatami stormed out of the hall when Israel's Chief Rabbi, Yonah Metzger, was speaking.   It was apparently unacceptable for Khatami to have to listen to an Israeli rabbi.   Besides, Khatami was probably in a rush to get to his next chat with Kofi Annan on how to counter “religious and political extremism.”

 

Since neither cathedral nor Episcopal Church authorities are likely to express concern about human rights in Iran, the head of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), has spoken up.  In a public letter addressed to Reverend Canon Peterson, USCIRF chair Felice Gaer observed that Khatami’s Iran harassed, imprisoned, tortured and executed Jews, Christians, Sunni and Sufi Muslims, Baha’is, dissident Shia Muslims, and others because of their religious beliefs.

 

“To be candid, it appears that the Cathedral is providing a public platform to an individual who was responsible for implementing and administering policies that resulted in the severe persecution of religious minorities as well as dissident voices within Iran’s own Shiite community,” Gaer wrote.  “Chief among these victimized groups are the very Abrahamic faiths he will discuss in his address.”

 

Gaer also noted that unconditioned “dialogue” between Iran and the West, as Khatami is advocating, is exactly what the current Iranian president is urging to distract from Iran’s current non-compliance with UN resolutions about weapons of mass destruction. “Khatami’s address at the Cathedral on this very topic of ‘dialogue’ could easily be manipulated to make it appear that the Cathedral is conferring the moral high ground to Iran on this critical issue,” Gaer wrote.

 

Maybe Gaer is aware that it will not be the first time that Khatami has used left-wing Western religionists for political advantage.  In December 2003, the Iranian president assured a gathering of the World Council of Churches in Geneva that Iran would not produce nuclear weapons.  "We cannot seek nuclear weapons because of our religious faith, I told our religious leaders," the mullah told his gullible audience.  "The Islam that I know does not allow the use of nuclear weapons, then we cannot go ahead and manufacture them.”  Khatami also embraced democracy.

 

"I think democracy is the only alternative, we can take it as Muslims," Khatami told the clerics, presumably with a straight face.  He warned that the only alternative to democracy was authoritarian and despotic rule, about which the Iranian mullah knows much.  In his fawning response, then World Council of Churches chief Konrad Raiser hailed Raiser’s “thoughtful and penetrating lecture,” “his profound commitment to the dialogue of civilizations,” and his affirmation of an “open and truthful encounter” between Islam and Christianity.  True to form, Raiser faulted the U.S. war on terror and the Iraq war for disrupting interfaith relations, which previously had been moving along swimmingly.

 

Naturally, the WCC did not raise the plight of Christians under Khatami’s Iran. Raiser noted that both Christians and Muslims had been guilty of “discriminating” against the other, but he aimed most of his ire at the “xenophobia and exclusion” of Western nations, who apparently were not hospitable enough to Islamic immigrants.   Khatami enjoyed his visit with Raiser, no doubt.

And no doubt, Khatami will equally enjoy his visit with a friendly crowd at the National Cathedral.  If anyone there expressed any open concern about oppression and persecution inside theocratic Iran, it will only be the demonstrators standing outside the church’s Gothic spires.  Hopefully those demonstrators will at least show Khatami that not everybody is bamboozled by his “dialogue” road show.

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Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.


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