Imagine an American president addressing the United Nations and concluding his remarks by praying that God would hasten Christ’s return and unleash the apocalypse. What do you suppose public opinion would be?
Well, something even scarier actually happened at the UN last week, and the world said... nothing.
That’s because the president in question was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. At the end of his September 21 address to the General Assembly, he prayed that Allah would send “the perfect human being promised to all by you.”
That “perfect human being” Ahmadinejad prayed for was the Mahdi, a Shiite messianic figure. What made the prayer so scary was that, in Shiite eschatology, the Mahdi’s return will be preceded by an apocalypse that leaves much of the world dead.
Since Ahmadinejad isn’t some nutcase in a backwoods cabin but, rather, the president of an oil-rich nation actively pursuing nuclear weapons, his prayer should have sent shivers down spines. What we got instead is polite applause and business-as-usual.
The response to a speech by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was even worse: After Chavez called President Bush “the devil” and joked about smelling sulfur left over from Bush’s appearance two days before, delegates broke into applause and laughter.
Now, President Bush doesn’t need me or anyone else to defend him, but the response to Chavez and Ahmadinejad, both inside and outside the UN, was appalling. It’s more evidence that historian Niall Ferguson is right when he says that “it’s a mad world.”
Ferguson, who teaches at Harvard, compared what happened at the UN to a “university faculty meeting.” “Extravagant, long-winded denunciations of the president is what we’ve come to expect from professors,” not politicians.
The madness is a lot more than rhetorical, however: Ferguson cited the coup in Thailand, rioting in Hungary, and the recent assassination of the deputy chairman of the Russian central bank.
Add to this Islam’s violent response to the Pope’s remarks in Regensburg, and the last thing the world needs to do is encourage an apocalyptic Holocaust-denier and a Fidel Castro-wannabe. Yet that’s exactly what happened.
To his credit, President Bush has shown remarkable restraint. That’s good because somebody needs to be the adult. While we all wish that there had never been a September 11 and that history, as some intellectuals in 1990s proclaimed, was over, we didn’t get what we wanted. As the events of the past few weeks show us, we live in an incredibly dangerous world.