I heard screaming sirens followed by shrieking motor cycles when Ahmadinejad himself entered, accompanied by a phalanx of Iranian secret service, all of whom were larger than he. He was indeed a small man, almost diminutive, and marched straight across the lobby in what seemed at the time like a goose step a few feet away from me, staring directly at me while waving and smiling in my direction.
I did not wave or smile back.
I couldn’t. Indeed, I was frozen. I felt suddenly breathless and nauseated, as if I had been kicked brutally in the stomach. I was also dizzy. I wanted to throw up. But no one had touched me and I hadn’t eaten anything for hours.
It was then, I think, that I found, or noticed, or understood, religion personally for a moment.
Here’s what I mean.
For most of my life I had rationalized the existence of bad people – or, more specifically, placed them in therapeutic categories. They were aberrant personalities, psychologically disturbed. It wasn’t that I thought better economic conditions or psychoanalysis or medication or whatever could fix everyone. I was long over that. Some people… serial killers, etc…. had to be locked away forever. They would never get better. But they were simply insane. That’s what they were.
Still… I had seen whacked murderers like Charles Manson, late OJ Simpson, up close and this wasn’t the same. This was more than the mental illness model. Far more. For one thing, I had never before had this intense physical sensation when confronted with another human being. Nor had I wanted to vomit. Not for Manson. Not for anyone. This was different.
It was almost unreal, like being in a movie, in a certain way. I know comparisons to Hitler are invidious, in fact usually absurd, but I was feeling the way I imagined I would have felt opposite Hitler.
I was in the presence of pure Evil.
Now that’s a big word and I have spent my life reluctant to use it. But there it was – popping up out of my mouth within seconds of the Iranian leaders disappearance into the hotel elevator. For once, “psychopath” or “sociopath” did not feel remotely appropriate. Only the E-word would suffice.
The next day Ahmadinejad spewed his Holocaust denying bile to the United Nations plenum – ratifying that evil, if not the repellent Durban I – and some, but not nearly enough, of the state representative’s walked off. Enough would have been all of them.
A short time after that, I saw the Iranian again, up close and personal, although I really didn’t want to do it.
In fact I would have preferred to be almost anywhere else but in that room with him at a press conference as he twisted the logic of the journalist’s questions, turning the word “democracy” into “tyranny,” “freedom” into “oppression” and “tolerance” into “racism.”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know how to address or question evil, although by then I knew to my core I was facing it.
This was the guy that my president wanted to talk with?
That night I felt agitated. I couldn’t sleep well – from jet lag, of course, but also from digesting this experience. So I took an Ambien around two a. m. to get some rest. Not more than twenty minutes later someone banged on my door.
I sat up in my bed. The three floors above me had been taken by the Iranian delegation. Had they come to get me? Was I the next Daniel Perle? I knew UN officials had been reading my reports on the conference…. which weren’t friendly… why not the Iranians?
I lay there in bed for a moment wishing I hadn’t taken that Ambien. Then I screwed up some courage, threw my feet over the side and stumbled groggily to the peephole.
No one was there.
Had it just been some drunk banging on the wrong door? Or my perfervid imagination? I didn’t know. But I did know I didn’t want any more to do with Evil. I had had enough. I took another pill and went off to a drugged-out sleep.
So how does this make me religious?
Well, just as there are no atheists in foxholes, maybe no one is an atheist when confronted with what he finally acknowledges to be Evil. If there is Evil, there must be Good, no? And some force governing this game, something that, well, looks over it.
I know I am being irrational here, so I will stop. Being in the presence of Ahmadinejad’s evil, fleeting and haltingly put me in the presence of something else.
It’s strange come to things that way, but there you are. This doesn’t mean, of course, that you will find me at temple on the Sabbath or any other holiday for that matter. Or even spending much time admitting I am religious. I may even deny it. I’m not a joiner anyway, except in the old Groucho Marx sense about clubs and members. And any belief in the Ten Commandments can be ascribed to the practical. It’s just a smart way to live a happy life, as most of us know – pragmatic, really. And I’m certainly not about to give up carnitas.
Still… I wonder what happened to that thirteen-year old boy.
Maybe I’ll meet him some day again.
This Roger L. Simon and I’ve been Talking Through My Hat.