Mahmoud Ahmadenijad had more than one sinister moments when he sat down with reporters at the Warwick Hotel on Monday. It was a breakfast meeting -- Mahmoud walked in a few minutes late -- but we doubt reporters ate very much. How could they when they must've been so busy writing down one incendiary and offensive statement after another tumbling out of the Iranian president's mouth.
After he'd insulted the Israelis and made his usual hateful remarks about homosexuals, Ahmadinejad got straight up sinister. Somebody asked about Salman Rushdie who just last week had the bounty on his head raised, and the aging leader smiled. "Salman Rushdie, where is he now?" he said. "There is no news of him. Is he in the United States? If he is in the U.S., you shouldn't broadcast that, for his own safety."
Turns out Rushdie is in the United States. He's in Los Angeles promoting his latest book, Joseph Anton, a memoir about his years in hiding as a result of the fatwa issued by Iranian clerics after the publication of his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. The Los Angeles Times published a delightful little piece about his visit on Monday morning not too long after Ahmadinejad spoke to reporters in New York. (If Rushdie goes missing, everybody blame the LA Times, okay?)
What's kind of weird about Ahmadinejad's threat, though, is how those very journalists covered his remarks. It's a real mixed bag. If you read sources like Reuters, who took note of Ahmadinejad's threat against Rushdie in blunt terms, you might be led to believe that the author should be hiding in a bunker somewhere in the Canadian wilderness. They make it sound like Ahmadinejad was viscously serious. But then if you turn to The Washington Post, who leads their story about the event with a bold photo of Rushdie out in public, signing autographs and wearing a white suit of all things, you'd be led to believe that Ahmadinejad is quite the jokester. According to The Post, Ahmadinejad was grinning and "adopting a joking tone" when he made the remarks.
Was Ahmadinejad kidding when he threatened Rushdie? We could ask the same question about the Iranian President's intentions when he called the Israeli state a "fabrication" that should be "eliminated." You might also wonder if the man is serious when, later on Monday, he told Piers Morgan that homosexuality is "something ugly" and said he "cannot judge" the Holocaust.
It doesn't really matter if Ahmadinejad is joking or not, because at this point, we all know that he is the world's most well-positioned troll. Enough people expect him to say awful and insulting things when he's put in front of other people that the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon had to pull him aside before any of this week's General Assembly events in order to tell him to behave and watch his mouth.
But hey, the guy's almost finished with his presidency, and he has only so many more opportunities to stoke the fires. We'll be expecting fireworks on Wednesday when he addresses the world from the UN podium, probably for the last time.