When Roger Cohen, the foreign-affairs columnist for the New York Times, traveled to Iran in January and February, the country he found was a revelation. Unlike the images of raging crowds chanting “Death to America” and fanatical Islam familiar to the West, what Cohen claimed to have discovered was a land whose bazaars were rich with the fragrance of incense and whose people were “sensual” as well as “educated” and “tolerant.”
In a series of op-ed columns published in February and March, and at an appearance at a Los Angeles synagogue during which he was confronted by Iranian exiles, Cohen’s determination to debunk what he sees as the distorted reputation of the Islamic Republic was undaunted by outrage from Jews and other observers more mindful of Tehran’s record of tyranny at home and support for terrorism abroad. Though he acknowledged that Iran was an “unfree society,” Cohen believes confrontation with it—even over its drive to acquire nuclear weapons—is not merely misguided but wrong.
Despite the regime’s promulgation of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, he thinks the popular conception of Iran is overblown and lacking in “nuance.” Comparisons of the Iranian government and its leaders to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were, he wrote, absurd if not an insult to the six million victims of the Holocaust. The focus on Iran’s behavior and nuclear ambitions was, he said, a distraction for American foreign-policy planners who would be more usefully employed promoting recognition of the Hamas and Hizballah terrorist groups as legitimate players in the Middle East with whom the State of Israel—which, according to Cohen, is in no position to criticize Iran for human rights violations—ought to be made to negotiate concessions.
Click here to read the rest of this article from the May 2009 issue of COMMENTARY.