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Land joins protest of Ahmadinejad dinner

NEW YORK (BP)–Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land was among those who rallied to protest Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s dinner meeting with members of the World Council of Churches in New York City Sept. 25.

The event was touted as a dialogue to promote peace among clashing worldviews, but Land and others said it amounted to legitimizing a dictator who supports terrorism and denies the Holocaust. Ahmadinejad was in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly.

An estimated 300 people from more than 50 Jewish, Christian and human rights groups including the American Center for Law and Justice and Concerned Women for America rallied outside the Hyatt hotel in Manhattan where the dinner was held. Some chanted and carried signs that said, “No feast with the beast.”

“You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. And you can call a murderous dictator ‘His Excellency,’ but he is still a murderous dictator,” Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said at the rally.

“I am appalled at the moral obtuseness of people, some of whom come from historically pacifist religious traditions, being so eager to talk with a man who advocates ‘annihilation’ and ‘destruction’ of Israel and America,” Land added. “He is within his own country a vicious persecutor of non-Muslims, including Christians, and the 300,000 followers of Bahá’í who live in his country.”

Inside the hotel, around 200 people from various religions attended the banquet sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee, Mennonite Central Committee, World Council of Churches, Quaker United Nations Office and Religions for Peace.

In a statement released Thursday, the Mennonite and Quaker organizers of the event said: “The exclusive purpose of this evening’s dialogue among religious and political leaders is to build peace and understanding between societies that face increasing tension.

“As people of faith, we are obligated to seek peace, especially with leaders and individuals with whom we have serious disagreements. As people of peace, we advocate for our governments and the government of Iran to resolve their conflicts through dialogue. We see this particular event as an opportunity to continue a conversation with the Iranian people and their president,” the organizers said, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Rohinton Dadima, a Zoroastrian priest who said a prayer at the dinner, told Reuters that if Ahmadinejad’s views were changed even 1 percent by what he heard, it was worth holding the event.

“If he can be invited to events like this and see that all religions live in harmony in the U.S., and if he can learn something from it, that’s why I’m here,” Dadima said, according to The New York Sun.

Arli Klassen, executive director of the Mennonite Central Committee, opened the banquet discussion by saying armed conflict would solve nothing and dialogue between differing parties was essential, Reuters reported.

“We are deeply concerned when your statements about the Holocaust minimize or diminish its impact on our world today and on Jewish people today,” Klassen told Ahmadinejad. “We ask you to change the way you speak about the Holocaust.”

Land, who also is a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which urged the cancelation of the banquet, told Baptist Press that by rallying in protest he was exercising a right not afforded to citizens in Iran.

“I thought it was ironic that we were doing in our country what he would throw us in jail or kill us for doing in his country,” Land said of Ahmadinejad. “Thank God for America.”

At the rally, Land recounted reading Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” for a high school civics class.

“I can remember going out to my mother, as I was reading the book, and asking her, ‘Didn’t anybody read this book? Everything Hitler said he was going to do is in this book.’ My mother replied, ‘Yes, some people read it. But they just thought he was a nut,'” Land said.

“Well, he was a nut. But he got control of a country and he led humanity over a cliff into an abyss of horror that caused tens of millions of our fellow human beings to be exterminated,” he said. “Make no mistake about it: Iran is the epicenter of anti-Semitism and terrorism in the world. My mother and father always taught me that you should never, by your silence, be mistaken to be in any agreement when hatred or evil are spoken in your presence.

“Let it be recorded: We are not silent,” Land said. “We condemn this man’s regime. We condemn everything he stands for. We condemn those … who help his evil causes by their witless complicity in meeting with him.”

Joseph K. Grieboski, president of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, was among those who disapproved of the meeting, noting in a Sept. 25 news release Ahmadinejad’s “appalling record in upholding religious freedom and human rights.”

“Simply holding a welcoming dinner is not enough to engage a repressive leader such as President Ahmadinejad,” Grieboski said. “The hosting organizations, whom we hold in such high regard, must directly question Ahmadinejad on Iran’s policies towards followers of minority religions. Silence on these issues is simply complacency.”

The International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem also expressed dismay at the religious organizations’ decision to celebrate the breaking of the Ramadan fast with Ahmadinejad.

“While the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem welcomes efforts to de-radicalize religious perceptions and create an atmosphere of tolerance and respect for our differences, it is outrageous that the main guest at this dinner is someone who so thoroughly mocks and loathes these valued ideals,” Malcolm Hedding, the embassy’s executive director, said.

“Ahmadinejad drinks daily from the same poisonous trough of Jew-hatred that intoxicated Hitler. He denies the Holocaust while aspiring to carry out another one against the Jewish people re-gathered in Israel,” Hedding added. “He rejects everything that the United Nations Charter and genuine interfaith dialogue uphold. We cannot fathom why his Christian hosts would debase their own faith so shamelessly by honoring him at this occasion.”

Before Ahmadinejad’s arrival in the United States, the Christian Embassy delivered a global petition to the U.N. secretary general signed by more than 55,000 Christians from 128 countries calling for a stronger international response to Iran’s growing nuclear threat, including that Ahmadinejad be indicted for incitement to commit genocide against Israel.
Erin Roach is a Baptist Press staff writer. With reporting by Art Toalston of Baptist Press & Dwayne Hastings of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

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