Everyone expected Iranian president Hassan Rouhani to hit back after US president Donald Trump yesterday called his government a “corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy.”
But probably not everyone expected him to do it with quite so much elegance.
The president of a country that developed a nuclear program to strike fear into the hearts of its neighbors chose to use his slot at the UN to talk instead about its history of soft-power influence. Dressed in his trademark white turban and a dark robe, Rouhani spoke of Persian literary masters from the 12th and 13th centuries.
To promote our culture, civilization, religion and revolution, we enter hearts and engage minds. We recite our poetry and engage in discourse on our philosophy.
Our ambassadors are our poets, our mystics and our philosophers. We have reached the shores of this side of the Atlantic through Rumi and spread our influence throughout Asia with Saadi. We have already captured the world with Hafez; we therefore are in no need of new conquests.
Where Trump’s favorite word during his speech (after “American” and “United States”) was “sovereignty,” Rouhani’s was “moderation,” which he used no less than 10 times. And to rebuke Trump, who yesterday listed “violence, bloodshed, and chaos” as Iran’s chief exports and threatened to pull the US out of the 2015 six-party nuclear deal with Iran, Rouhani broke, briefly, into poetry.
Here is that retort from the official English translation (pdf) of Rouhani’s speech. We’ve added a few line breaks.
Moderation seeks neither isolation nor hegemony;
It implies neither indifference, nor intransigence.
The path of moderation is the path of peace;
but a just and inclusive peace:
not peace for one nation, and war and turmoil for others;
Moderation is freedom and democracy;
but in an inclusive and comprehensive manner:
not purporting to promote freedom in one place while supporting dictators elsewhere;
Moderation is the synergy of ideas and not the dance of swords;
And finally, the path of moderation nurtures beauty.
Deadly-weapons exports are not beautiful; rather, peace is.
For all this literary flourish and references, Rouhani did eventually change tack, pointedly describing Trump and his administration as “rogue newcomers to the world of politics.” The poetry sounded much better than the prose.