We shall miss him. The cheeky smile, the chipmunk eyes, the Spanish Armada beard, the crackpot President who once claimed that a cloud emanated above his head at the UN – then denied he’d ever said such nonsense – and then confessed that he had when confronted with tape of his holy utterance.
Trying to elevate his most trusted lieutenant to his private office, he found his friend accused of sorcery and witchcraft. Only Israel’s ex-Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman – he who once telegraphed the foreign ministries of Europe with photos of the long-dead Grand Mufti of Jerusalem chatting to Adolf Hitler – could match Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for sheer unadulterated nonsense.
It could make you feel sorry – and that takes some doing – for both Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, “Supreme Leader” of the Iranian necrocracy, and for Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of That Country. Both were racists, Ahmadinejad about the Jews, Lieberman about the Arabs, and both shamed their countries. Ahmadinejad knew how to infuriate the Americans, Israel, the Russians, Iranian exiles and the EU all at the same time.
He suggested the Holocaust was exaggerated, that the “Israeli regime” should be “wiped from the map” – the court is still out on that translation, whatever the Israelis may say – and that Tehran would batter on with its nuclear technology, however much Israel and Washington may threaten to bomb Iran. At least Iran’s electoral laws forbid him a Roosevelt-like third innings.
Everyone knew that Ahmadinejad would never be given a finger on any nuclear button – many doubted if he knew the difference between nuclear physics and electrical power – but he provided, effectively (and damningly for Iran’s reputation as a serious, historical state), a hate figure to rival Gaddafi or any of the other ravers of the Middle East. There was a serious side, of course. While we hated him, we paid no attention to his popularity with the poor. Hands up who knew how much prestige he won by instituting pensions for the thousands of sightless female carpet weavers of Iran, blinded by their profession by the age of 40.
Yet who can forget the trough of ugliness, the torture and killings that followed the 2009 disputed election that appalled even his clerical supporters. His simplicity could contain a fearful cynicism. When I asked him after his 2009 election if he would ensure that no young Iranian woman would ever again be hanged like the 22-year-old who was dragged screaming to the gallows while pleading with her mother for help on her mobile phone, he looked at me with those soft eyes and said: “I personally would not even hurt a fly.” And then delivered a lecture on the independence of Iran’s judiciary.
Yes, we shall miss him. But not that much because he’s scheduled, according to a friend of mine, to take up a Tehran academic post as a lecturer in urban planning. Well, at least that will keep him out of the department of nuclear physics.