JACKI LYDEN, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.
Today is International Holocaust Memorial Day. The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution yesterday condemning the denial of the Holocaust. The only abstention was Iran, where last month the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad held a conference that cast doubt on the Nazi genocide. The conference provoked worldwide outcry.
Now more than 100 Iranian exiles have signed a petition adding their voices to the chorus of condemnation. We spoke with two of the signatories: Afshin Molavi, a journalist and author, and Azar Nafisi, author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran."
I asked Azar Nafisi what went through her mind when she first learned about the Holocaust conference.
Ms. AZAR NAFISI (Author, "Reading Lolita in Tehran"): Well, I thought not again and not in my name.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. NAFISI: Because the fact of the matter was that certain events, historical events like the Holocaust or apartheid, do not just implicate the people who are the criminals or the victims in the matter. It implicates the whole humanity. And it should transcend any form of political manipulation. And President Ahmadinejad was manipulating this tragic event in the worst sense of the word, and in the name of Iranian people whose voices could not be heard by the rest of the world - whose protests could not be heard.
Mr. AFSHIN MOLAVI (Journalist, Author): I think I felt that very much the same way. And you - when I saw it on TV, I thought about it on two levels. You know, first you think, you know, what a devastation of this history, of this, you know, of this horrible tragedy of the Jews. But then on a more personal level, as an Iranian - an Iranian-American - I think to myself, what sort of image is this portraying of Iran to the international community?
And, you know, one of things that I often notice is in America is that often Middle Eastern countries are often defined in many ways by their governments. For us Iranians, we've had 27 years of the Islamic Republic of Iran, with this scowling image accelerated by Ahmadinejad and Iran being defined by the politics of Holocaust denial and uranium enrichment. And those of us who know Iran and understand it, know it's a far more dynamic and sophisticated place than, in many ways, both the media image portrays and the Islamic Republic of Iran portrays it as.
LYDEN: Let's turn a corner in this because it isn't only about the Holocaust conference and Iranian attitudes regarding the West and the greater world, but American attitudes; specifically, the administration's position. Iran is rising to the top of the Bush administration's agenda. And in his State of the Union Address this week, the president mentioned Iran five times, stressing the Iranian role in Iraq and support for Shiite extremists.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Radical Shia elements, some of whom received support from Iran, formed death squads. The result was a tragic escalation of sectarian rage and reprisal that continues to this day.
LYDEN: What response did you have to Iran being named in this way, Afshin?
Mr. MOLAVI: Well, you know, the response I have in general is that I get the sense that the administration oftentimes - to my frustration - doesn't see some of the nuance that is taking place in Iran today. One of the interesting things that is going on today is a pushback against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad within the Iranian political elite. There have been petitions signed by Iranian economists directed at Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saying he's bankrupting and ruining the economy.
LYDEN: Inside Iran.
Mr. MOLAVI: Inside Iran, yeah. There has been an open letter by 150 members of the Iranian parliament directed at the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saying his policies are undermining the Iranian economy and national security. And there is this significant pushback of Ahmadinejad. And there is, I think, an opportunity there.
LYDEN: Is that pushback, Azar Nafisi, coming because of President Ahmadinejad's insistence on developing nuclear capability?
Ms. NAFISI: Well, you know, a lot of times with the Iranian politicians, we act as if we just didn't know anything about them and we just discovered something. I mean, Iran has always had nuclear ambitions for the past 30 years. Almost 30 years, it has been supporting terrorist groups and it has been using belligerent rhetoric. But I think one thing that the policymakers in the U.S. forgot about Mr. Ahmadinejad is that his violent rhetoric and his repressive measures at home are not a sign of strength, but of weakness.
And we should take this opportunity to encourage the dissent and the divisions and the more democratic-minded voices to speak up, rather than reduce Iran into a country that is nuclear.
LYDEN: Writers Azar Nafisi and Afshin Molavi, thank you both very much for being with us today.
Ms. NAFISI: Thank you, Jacki.
Mr. MOLAVI: Thank you, Jacki.