Iranian presidential candidate does Reddit AMA

Reddit was once a site by, for, and about the concerns of "internet people." But in the past year, it has seen its popular AMA (ask me anything) sub-forum has become a popular way for celebrities, scientists, politicians and others to gain legitimacy with the online masses. Even President Obama did one.

The latest aspiring leader to allow Reddit users to ask him anything is Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi, a long-shot candidate for the Iranian presidency. Amirahmadi is a professor at Rutgers who left Iran for the United States in 1975 because of the political situation. He registered as a candidate for the 2005 presidential election but allegedly was disqualified by the Guardian Council for his joint U.S. citizenship.  

Here are some of the highlights from yesterday's session: 

In 2005, I put my name down as a candidate, but it was not really serious. I entered the race about one month before the election day and my purpose was not really to stay the course, but rather to make a statement. Much of Iran's intelligentsia was boycotting that election and I was afraid that by boycotting, we are going to get someone elected that will not be hospitable to democracy and human rights. History proven me right.

In my administration there will be no restriction on any type of media. I believe in free speech.

The biggest problem for Iran is a lack of trust between the US Iran. I have lived 40 years in the US, I understand both cultures and laungages. I can easily build trust between the two countries. particularly because I have never been part of the problem between the US and Iran. I have tried to be part of the solution for 25 years.

He also touches on women's rights, the persecution of Baha'is, homosexuality, his favorite ice cream flavor, and his own thoughts on space travel.

Why is he doing this? Well according to Amirahmadi:

At this point, no candidate (not me, not Messrs. Ghalibaf, Velayati, etc.) is allowed to publicly campaign in Iran. In that sense, all candidates are in the same boat. No candidate can publicly campaign until he gets the approval of the Guardian Council, which will be delivered in late-May. So far, my campaign has been very active campaigning in the United States, Dubai, and the United Kingdom. We will be travelling to Iran in March, but not for public campaigns. With your help, we want to take our message of peace around the world.

Several Iran watchers, expatriates and Iranians (using proxies to gain access to Reddit) came out claiming that many of Amrahmadi's proposals aren't even within the scope of presidential power, even if he manages to obtain permission from the Guardian Council to run. They're still waiting for a response.

Amirahmadi has promised another AMA on February 12 starting at 6 PM EST. Iran's election is scheduled for June 14, 2013. I suppose an Ahmadinejad AMA might be too much to hope for.  



Do Palestinian and Israeli textbooks teach kids to be enemies?

During last year's GOP primary, candidate Newt Gingrich boldly asserted that Palestinian schoolchildren "have textbooks that say, ‘If there are 13 Jews and nine Jews are killed, how many Jews are left?'"

Could the situation really be that bad? And what about the other side? How are Palestinians portrayed in books used by Israeli children?

A recently published study, sponsored by the US Department of State attempted to answer these questions. This three year study, the largest ever done on the topic, examines "depictions of the other" in Palestinian Authority, Israeli State, and Israeli Ultra-Orthodox textbooks. To the surprise of many, the contents were really not that bad, considering the amount of built-up resentment both sides have to work with.

As Bruce Wexler of Yale University, one of the study's leading authors, said during a briefing at the National Press Club on February 6, the first US discussion of the project:

The big picture is not that there are these made up things about the other. There are, unfortunately, plenty of true things about the other that do the service of portraying them as negative without making any false statements.

Of course, there were a few egregious examples. A passage from an Ultra-Orthodox, "Israeli Studies" textbook for 2nd graders reads:

A convoy of bloodthirsty Arabs marched to that settlement, the purpose was clearly to loot the property of the Jew and burn down their houses.

And a Palestinian Islamic Studies book for 6th graders asks students to complete the following exercise:

Through studying history and experiencing the events and reality in which we live:

A - Mention some violent events against our people by the enemies.
B - How do enemies and occupiers deal with the people of occupied countries?
C - How did the Muslims deal with the people of conquered countries?"

Israeli state textbooks came out the most favorably, with 49 percent of their depictions of "the other" being negative, compared to 73 percent in ultra-Orthodox books and 84 percent in Palestinian books. But this did not stop the Israeli government from lashing out at the writers before the report was even published. In a press release, the Israeli Ministry of Education skeptically questioned the authenticity of the "study":

An examination of professionals within the Ministry of Education and outside it of the materials prepared by the bodies that "conducted the research," clearly reveals that it is biased, unprofessional and significantly lacking in objectivity.

Ironically, the report also found Israeli state textbooks to be the most comfortable with self-criticism.

ABED/AFP/Getty Images