Iran’s predictably provocative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has done it again, setting off a storm of protests across America with his wish to visit the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York. Not that this is surprising for someone who loves courting controversy — be it denying the Holocaust, calling for the destruction of Israel, or inviting President Bush to a debate on the welfare of the planet. But to many outraged Americans, there could obviously be no more wrenching event than allowing the head of a state that equated 9/11 with the US attack on Hiroshima to visit Ground Zero.
The New York police has expectedly turned down the request, mindful of the possibility of some rooftop sniper triggering mob violence during the visit, which would have branded the US as a violent society in the world’s eyes. We don’t know if President Ahmadinejad had this in mind when he included a visit to Ground Zero along with a controversial speaking engagement at Columbia University.
It is not implausible that Mr Ahmadinejad actually bet on his request evoking such a shrill response that would play right into his hands. All the more so since he could have tried to visit Ground Zero the last time he attended the UNGA meeting. Which suggests this has more to do with the Iranian president’s falling popularity ratings at home. Halfway into his four-year term, many Iranians are apparently disillusioned with rising inflation and Iran’s economic and political isolation from the West. Mr Ahmadinejad’s York sojourn gives him an excellent opportunity to tap into anti-American sentiments amongst Iranians and distract their attention from the limping economy and increasing religious and cultural repression.