A Fake Obituary
Most Americans cannot spell his name.
Most Americans cannot pronounce his name.
But virtually every American knows the threat that his name evoked.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the sixth president of Iran, peacefully died in his sleep on Friday. He was 56.
That name and all its butchered pronunciations invariably embodied a cloud of disdain, anxiety and sheer terror across the U.S. The face of this man, plastered on the covers of nationwide news magazines and the front pages of major newspapers for the past six years, was an unfailing symbol linked to American fear.
Under consistent international pressure and scrutiny about his nation’s nuclear ambitions and its never-ending hostile relations with Israel, the Islamic conservative’s presidential career always carried negative undertones.
The devout Shiite wavered between contradictory defenses when questioned about an Iranian nuclear program: claiming that the program was peaceful, flat-out denying the existence of it altogether or justifying it with the notion that his country was under threat.
However, most recently, his presidency, in its second and last four-year term, was the one under a more substantial threat as the Iranian currency continued to plummet in value under the politician’s failing economic policy and this year’s American-led sanctions on Iranian oil. As Tehran citizens took to the streets in the largest riots in two years, Ahmadinejad again placed himself on the defensive — blaming others for the ever-declining rial.
In a 2012 Associated Press interview, the president said his nation was in a better position than before he took office in 2005, adding the need for American “bullying” to subside for a new world order. In the interview, he dismissed questioning about an Iranian nuclear program.
"God willing, a new order will come together and we'll do away with everything that distances us," Ahmadinejad said to the Associated Press. "Now even elementary school kids throughout the world have understood that the U.S. government is following an international policy of bullying."
President Barack Obama’s recent words at this year’s U.N. General Assembly loom over Ahmadinejad’s death. As Obama spelled out the hope for diplomacy with Iran, he conveyed a caveat — that the time for a negotiated solution is limited and the U.S. would take whatever means necessary to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon.
But Ahmadinejad has always referred to the U.S. as the culprit.
"Bullying must come to an end," he said in an Associated Press interview at the U.N. General Assembly, “Occupation must come to an end.”
This grand spotlight on Ahmadinejad did not always exist; during his first election, Ahmadinejad was an unknown man. America not only had no qualms about this new rising power, but overlooked his climb completely.
It wasn’t until the false allegations about his role in the 1979 hostage crisis at Tehran’s American Embassy emerged after his first election victory in 2005 that Americans began to turn their heads.
From the outset of his presidential career, the strict Islamic adherent continued to plague the world with fright and outrage: he rejected the existence of the Holocaust, demanded the destruction of Israel, and, despite his insistence that Iranian nuclear proliferation was peaceful, he prompted the world to watch with skepticism as he spawned a dramatic shift in the international landscape.
The world was not his only audience, however, as he interacted with an Iranian leadership and youth that nostalgically looked at their past wars, according to a 2006 article by Newsweek.
“Ahmadinejad plays to ... a longing for confrontation, a belief that a quarter century ago, when revolutionary Iran was ready to challenge the world, send countless youths to martyrdom in the fight against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, endure missile attacks on its cities, suffer poison-gas attacks against its troops—in those days the regime of the ayatollahs was purer, more noble, more popular and ultimately more secure,” the Newsweek article said.
With the emergence of the nuclear-research program at the beginning of his presidential career, Ahmadinejad was able to rally in a strong nationalist backing that grew above and beyond the previous small support system, according to the Newsweek article.
That drastically changed in the 2009 Iranian election when Ahmadinejad’s unexpected landslide victory sparked some of Tehran’s most intense protests in which the opposition called him a dictator and accused the president of stealing the election, according to a 2009 New York Times article.
In this rise of one of the most controversial leaders, the irony lays in his childhood as no one from Ahmadinejad’s youth would have anticipated him to become this eminent symbol of danger and insecurity.
In fact, according to the Newsweek article, an old friend of the former president said that while young Iranian activists were concocting the American Embassy scheme, Ahmadinejad actually opposed the plan.
“When you look back at Ahmadinejad's reputation in those years, [you see] how unimpressive he seemed,” the article said. “He was a follower, not a leader.”
After leaving his hometown of Garmsar with his family for Tehran as a 1-year-old boy, young Ahmadinejad became known as a studious soccer player who was engaged with student protests.
Ahmadinejad attended the undergraduate and master’s programs at Iran University of Science and Technology and finally became a university faculty member in 1989. In 1997, Ahmadinejad received his doctorate in transportation.
During his time at the university, Ahmadinejad also held many government positions including governor of Maku and Khoy, advisor for the ministry of culture and higher education and governor general of Ardebil.
The son of a blacksmith soon became the husband of a college lecturer and a veteran of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. He was elected mayor of Tehran in 2003.
From there, he became one of the most influential actors on the worldwide stage and one of the most feared figures in American history.
Ahmadinejad’s survivors include his wife, Azam Sadat Farahi; a daughter and two sons.