October 06, 2009

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Jew

Well, the Telegraph has uncovered evidence that the Iranian president just very well might be one:

A photograph of the Iranian president holding up his identity card during elections in March 2008 clearly shows his family has Jewish roots.

A close-up of the document reveals he was previously known as Sabourjian—a Jewish name meaning cloth weaver.

The short note scrawled on the card suggests his family changed its name to Ahmadinejad when they converted to embrace Islam after his birth.

The Sabourjians traditionally hail from Aradan, Mr Ahmadinejad’s birthplace, and the name derives from “weaver of the Sabour”, the name for the Jewish Tallit shawl in Persia. The name is even on the list of reserved names for Iranian Jews compiled by Iran’s Ministry of the Interior.

The Telegraph offers this dumbed-down Freudian interpretation derived from unnamed “experts”: 

Experts last night suggested Mr Ahmadinejad’s track record for hate-filled attacks on Jews could be an overcompensation to hide his past.

This might have something to do with it. But it makes one wonder… Might old Mahmoud’s foreign policy and quest for nuclear weapons derive from something other than a fanatical, irrational, Hitlerian desire to destroy all Jews?

UPDATE!: A reader has alerted me to a contrary report, published today in the Guardian, that brings the Telegraph‘s speculations into doubt:

In the Telegraph’s original story, which sparked a mini-worldwide uproar, the paper claimed that a high-resolution photo featuring Ahmadinejad holding up his Iranian identity card in 2008 revealed that his family had once changed its name from Sabourjian, a Jewish surname that was reported to translate to “cloth weaver,” to Ahmadinejad after he was born, renouncing Judaism and embracing Islam in the process. The apparent stunning revelation led many on the Web to guffaw in amazement and, of course, crack jokes on the irony of the whole scenario.

But today the Guardian, another British newspaper, thoroughly rebutted the claims made in the Telegraph’s piece over the weekend. The paper spoke to Iranian/Jewish historian David Yeroshalmi, who emphatically disputed the Telegraph’s claims about the interpretation of Ahmadinejad’s former surname, which they claimed “derives from ‘weaver of the sabour,’ the name for the Jewish tallit shawl in Persia.” Said Yeroshalmi, “There is no such meaning for the word ‘sabour’ in any of the Persian Jewish dialects, nor does it mean Jewish prayer shawl in Persian.”

Further, the Guardian also consulted with one of their correspondents who has covered Ahmadinejad since his election in 2005, as well as an Ahmadinejad biographer, who stated that the Iranian president’s parents were quite steeped in Islam. They both say that Ahmadinejad’s father, Ahmad Sabourjian, was a religious Shia who taught the Koran, at one point even buying a house near “a religious club that he frequented during the holy month of Moharram,” in addition to saying that Ahmadinejad’s mother is a “Seyyede,” a title given to a woman believed to be a direct blood descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.

As far as why Ahmadinejad’s father changed the family’s surname, the Guardian reports that it had more to do with Iranian class structure than any attempt to conceal a Jewish heritage:

When it became mandatory to adopt surnames, many people from rural areas chose names that represented their professions or that of their ancestors. This made them easily identifiable as townfolk. In many cases they changed their surnames upon moving to Tehran, in order to avoid snobbery and discrimination from residents of the capital. The Sabourjians were one of many such families. Their surname was related to carpet-making, an industry that conjures up images of sweatshops. They changed it to Ahmadinejad in order to help them fit in.

I guess this too-amazingly-ironic-to-be-true story might be, in the end, just that.

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