In December 2006 Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad kicked off a two-day conference dedicated to examining whether the Holocaust took place.
In October 2008 he addressed the audience the International Congress on the 800th birth anniversary of Rumi.
Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi, of course, was the Sufi teacher whose wildly ecstatic poetry has achieved as profound a resonance in readers and listeners down through the centuries as any poet who ever lived.
Ironic, isn’t it, that, as his most successful translator Coleman Barks pointed out in 2001, an Iranian was America’s bestselling poet. His popularity, especially with those who consider themselves hip, has only grown since.
Does that mean Ahmadinejad has seen the light? Um, maybe not.
Two weeks later, in response to ongoing oppression since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Sufis in western Iran attacked a Shiite mosque. In response, police and paramilitary troops demolished parts of a Sufi monastery with bulldozers.
There’s no love lost between Shiites, many of whom are prone to intolerance, and the freewheeling Sufis. Ahmadinejad’s appearance at the conference then was probably just a formality.
Still, can you imagine George Bush giving the keynote speech at a Walt Whitman celebration?