A delegation of Christians sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee and the American Friends Service Committee has been to Iran, and discovered that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is actually a Quaker. Well, not exactly. But they did bring back tidings of peace and good will toward men from the man who said that Israel should be wiped off the map, and whose religious leadership repeatedly refers to the United States as the “great Satan”:

As Christian leaders from the United States, we traveled to the Islamic Republic of Iran at this time of increased tension believing that it is possible to build bridges of understanding between our two countries. We believe military action is not the answer, and that God calls us to just and peaceful relationships within the global community.

Actually, the leaders in question do not, by and large, believe that military action is ever the answer, as I’ll get to in a moment. But they go on:

We are a diverse group of Christian leaders from United Methodist, Episcopal, Catholic, Baptist, Evangelical, Quaker, and Mennonite traditions. The Mennonites have 17 years of on the ground experience in Iran. We were warmly welcomed by the Iranian people, and our time in Iran convinced us that religious leaders from both countries can help pave the way for mutual respect and peaceful relations between our nations.

I’m glad they got a warm welcome from ordinary Iranian people. I do wonder which Iranian “religious leaders” they’re referring to, though, and whether they’re leaders with any power (say, any members of the Guardians Council). But this is when they get surrealistic:

Our final day included a meeting with former President Khatami and current President Ahmadinejad. The meeting with President Ahmadinejad was the first time an American delegation had met in Iran with an Iranian president since the Islamic revolution in 1979. The meeting lasted two-and-a-half hours and covered a range of topics, including the role of religion in transforming conflict, Iraq, nuclear proliferation, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

What the delegation found most encouraging from the meeting with President Ahmadinejad was a clear declaration from him that Iran has no intention to acquire or use nuclear weapons, as well as a statement that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be solved through political, not military means. He said, “I have no reservation about conducting talks with American officials if we see some goodwill.”

I’m happy for the delegation that they were encouraged by Ahmadinejad’s “clear declaration” that Iran “has no intention” to develop or use The Bomb. I’m sure that the the rest of the world–whose governments, militaries, and intelligence services (including those throughout the Arab world) are virtually unanimous that Iran has every intention of at least building nukes. But the Iranian president would never lie to a delegation of American Christians, would he?

I’m also glad to hear that he says the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be solved through political, not military means.” That means we can put to rest all that nasty news that Iran has been arming Hezbollah, provided the weaponry for the terrorist rocketing of northern Israel last summer, and the training for the kidnapping operation that led to the 30-day war of 2006. And we can ignore those reports that Iran and Hamas are allies, with Iran likely financing the terrorist organization. We can also forget about the support the Iran has long provided for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group.

Sorry if I sound irritated, but the naivete of these people is simply astounding. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised when I look over the participants: four Mennonites, four Quakers, the chief operating officer of Sojourners, the executive director of Pax Christi, the general secretary of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, the director of government relations for the Episcopal Church, and the associate general secretary for interfaith relations of the NCC. Of this group, the first eleven are definitely pacifists, and I’d be surprised if the last two aren’t also. Though pacifism has a long and honorable history within Christianity, in recent decades its practitioners have insisted on trying to influence the world’s politics through the twin modus operandi of bottomless anti-Americanism (and an anti-Israelism that verges at times on the anti-Semitic) combined with infinite credulity regarding the motives and actions of tyrannical regimes. Check out the work of the American Friends Service Committee for just one glaring example.

Well, the delegation’s statement wouldn’t have been complete without a set of recommendations:

We believe it is possible for further dialogue and that there can be a new day in U.S. – Iranian relations. The Iranian government has already built a bridge toward the American people by inviting our delegation to come to Iran. We ask the U.S. government to welcome a similar delegation of Iranian religious leaders to the United States.

As additional steps in building bridges between our nations, we call upon both the U.S. and Iranian governments to:

● immediately engage in direct, face-to-face talks;
● cease using language that defines the other using “enemy” images; and
● promote more people-to-people exchanges including religious leaders, members of Parliament/Congress, and civil society.

As people of faith, we are committed to working toward these and other confidence building measures, which we hope will move our two nations from the precipice of war to a more just and peaceful relationship.

So, to sum up, these are folks who really believe in talk. The right kind of talk, of course–“enemy” language won’t do, we have to treat the sponsors of a conference on Holocaust denial as if they’re right around the corner from being our bosom buddies. Beyond that, the delegation has nothing for us save “confidence building measures,” whatever those might be. Nothing about Iran abandoning its support for terrorist groups, or its insistence on enriching uranium, or its language of annihilation directed at Israel. This is supposed to move us from the “precipice of war.” Thanks for the suggestions, folks.

UPDATE: You’ll be glad to know that, though for some reason the statement doesn’t mention it, the delegation did raise the matter of the Holocaust with the president of Iran. According to Mark Breach (who at the FaithAmerica.org blog is listed as a member of the delegation, though his name doesn’t appear on statement at the NCC):

And as planned, the delegation broached the issue of the Holocaust, commenting to Ahmadinejad that his statements about the Holocaust have made the work of those wanting to build bridges toward Iran much more difficult.

In response, he said what has been said previously, that he is concerned that the Holocaust is what allowed for the creation of the state of Israel. “On the pretext of the Holocaust, some people were brought to this land,” he said referring to Israel.

“If it is historical fact, why is no one allowed to study it?” he asked. These comments were not much different than what he said at the meeting in New York last September.

Ahmadinejad did say that this is not about going to war with Israel, but said he wants to see the Palestinians have the right to determine their future through the ballot box. “Palestinians should be allowed to decide for themselves,” he said.

So Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust makes bridge-building more difficult. Not, “is a reprehensible rewrite of history;” not, “is a despicable attempt to rehabilitate Nazism;” not, “is an affront to millions of victims of tyranny;” not, “is understood in the West to be a vile expression of anti-Semitism.” No, apparently they didn’t tell him any of this. Instead, they said, it makes it harder to improve relations with you. Imagine these folks flying to Berlin in late November 1938: “You have to realize, Mr. Chancellor, that these Nuremburg laws and this Kristallnacht thing–which we know your government had nothing to do with–are making it harder to build bridges between your country and the United States. Do you think you could tone down the rhetoric a bit so we can make some progress on the diplomatic front?” I hate to say it, but the truth is that these folks are so scared of risking upsetting the truly evil in the world that when they actually have a chance to step up and show some guts–to speak truth to power, as it were–they rarely if ever do. Venting their spleens at the U.S. government entails no risk whatsoever. But there they were with one of the world’s premier anti-Semites, and what did they do? They talked about “building bridges.”

UPDATE: Many thanks to Debbie for pointing out that the sponsorship of this group was by the Mennonites and Quakers rather than NCC. I’ve corrected the post to reflect this.