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Published on August 24th, 2010 | by Daniel Luban


Michael Ledeen’s Sudden Distrust of the Iranian People

Neoconservative activist Michael Ledeen has for years been among the most aggressive Iran hawks on the right. He has steadily pushed for U.S.-backed regime change in Tehran, and during the 2009 post-election crisis was one of the leading voices attacking the Obama administration for not taking a more aggressive stance against the Islamic Republic. He still continues to insist, somewhat coyly, that he opposes a military strike against Iran — but if an Israeli or U.S. strike actually occurs, I for one will not be holding my breath waiting for him to denounce it.

Like most neoconservatives, Ledeen has no hesitation speaking on behalf of The Iranian People and proclaiming their overwhelming hatred not merely of Ahmadinejad or Khamenei but of the Islamic Republic itself. A constant trope of his writing is the virtuous, secular, freedom-loving, pro-Western Iranian People oppressed by a totalitarian government, eagerly awaiting assertive U.S. action to deliver them from their oppressors. So confident is Ledeen of the Iranian People’s hatred of their government and sympathy for the U.S. that he denies that a military strike would rally the populace around the government. (He recently attacked Jim for attributing the “rally round the flag” view to him, although ironically it seems that Jim’s only error was to attribute to Ledeen a saner, more moderate view than the one he actually holds.)

All this background is relevant because Ledeen is now attacking Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf for, among other things, fundraising for the Park51 project in Iran. Or, to be precise, for not explicitly stating that he would never fundraise in Iran. This, apparently, is evidence for his treachery, Islamism, totalitarianism, terrorist sympathies, and so on.

Now, the New York Post story that Ledeen links to conflates fundraising in Iran with accepting “cash for the project from Holocaust-denying Iranian nuke nut Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.” (Keep up those journalistic standards, Rupert Murdoch!) But of course, there is no evidence that any fundraising Imam Rauf might hypothetically do in Iran would be coming from the government, much less from Ahmadinejad himself. Rather, a fundraising trip to Iran would involve soliciting donations from — well, from none other than those same freedom-loving, pro-Western Iranian People.

So we have a paradox. According to Ledeen, the Iranian People are virtuous, secular, and pro-Western when the subject is fomenting regime change against their government. However, if any of these Iranian People donate to the Park 51 project, they are immediately to be regarded as crazed, violent, Islamist, and anti-American, and their support is to be taken as proof of the project’s extremist ties.

Of course, the ugly current that underlies Ledeen’s allegation — the implication that if any Iranians give money to fund the project it is ipso facto suspect — is nothing new. We saw much the same thing in the attacks on J Street, where critics tarred the group as “anti-Israel” because of the bare fact that some of its donors had Arab names. In Ledeen’s case, however, the contradictions involved are particularly glaring.

About the Author


Daniel Luban is a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Chicago. He was formerly a correspondent for the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service.

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