European negotiators, intent on reaching a peaceful agreement with Iran about its controversial nuclear program, resorted to a tactic that has recently proven to be the most reliable way to elicit a response in much of the Muslim world.
Remembering the extraordinary reaction to Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad and, again last week, demonstrations by an Iranian Turkish minority over a new cartoon that, they think, portrays them in an unfavorable light, the Europeans opted to incorporate a cartoon in their latest proposal that depicts bombs dropping on Iranian nuclear facilities.
During the next meeting with the usually smiling but dismissive Iranian nuclear negotiator, the French representative held up the explosive cartoon.
The Iranian negotiator sat back, and asked, “This cartoon is upsetting. Is it intended to be a hint?“
“I’m afraid so,” the British negotiator volunteered.
“Do you mind if I excuse myself?” he requested. “I must report this to our President!”
Then he ran with his Koran to call Iran.
“What? Another western cartoon that is insulting to Muslims?” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad exploded. “Wait till the mighty mullahs I report to hear about this! Email me a copy right away!”
When the dutiful Ahmadinejad received it, he quickly printed it out and ran from mullah to mullah, as he often does, displaying the cartoon in his smiling, deferential way.
“What? A cartoon showing our sacred nuclear plants being blown up?” the mullah who ranks highest in the official order of the Muslim menagerie gasped.
"It looks that way," the President said. "What should we do?
“If the Iranian people get wind of this,” the wise cleric noted, “they might realize how much danger our inflammatory policies are exposing them to.”
“We don’t want that to happen,” Ahmadinejad agreed.
“No, no, remember, never trust the average Iranian. We haven’t, in our farseeing wisdom, provided them with enough education. So they could turn on us.”
“But if the bombs go off, they might suspect something,” the President dared to suggest.
“And what happens if our own military gets wind of the cartoon?” the mullah speculated. “They could also suspect we’re exposing them to unnecessary danger.”
“And make a preemptive attempt to save their own lives,” President Ahmadinejad put forward. “That is, I regret to report, they could stage a coup.”
“So it seems, like it or not,” the mullah brooded, “we must respond to the cartoon.”
“Or, if you’ll excuse my frankness, we could all be gone with the wind.”
“No, no, my turban could fly off, and I can't have that,” the cleric maintained. “Every child isn’t born with one for nothing. It’s Allah’s way of telling us always to wear one.” Then he reflected, “Anyway, after all these years, I forget what the top of my head looks like, and I don’t know how I’d react to seeing myself without it.”
“But I’ve defended our nuclear program so much, I sure could use a way to save face,” Ahmadinejad pleaded.
“No problem,” replied the mullah. “What if we have a cartoon drawn of you handing over an atom bomb to the Europeans, but with a nice big apologetic smile? Like first they make a joke; then we make a joke back?”
“I like it. I always wanted to be in my own cartoon.”
“And you can be. After all, you’re not Muhammad.”
“But where can I get a cartoon?” President Amadinejad wondered. “We just our leading cartoonist in jail for insulting the Turkish minority.”
The cleric considered the difficulty and then an inspiration sprouted under his darkened scalp. “Tell him if he draws it we’ll let him out of the clinker.”
“You are so wise, excellency,” the President replied. “I’ll call the jail right now.”
“No, no, go in person,” the mullah advised. “Then he can draw the cartoon while you’re there – 'from the life,' as infidel artists say.”
“Right again. It’s off to jail I go.” He rose and, as he turned to hurry off, exclaimed, “Allah, be praised! Being the President is one thing. But getting to be in a cartoon – even Muhammad can’t say that!”
“Excuse me,” the mullah said, somewhat taken aback by the allusion to Muhammad, and wagged his finger for Ahmadinejad to come closer. “You fail to understand, Mahmoud. The entire way you conduct yourself is, if you will excuse my advice, a cartoon. Be more serious, like me.” Then, pointing to his prized turban, he added, “And, by the way, it’s time you started wearing one of these sweaty delights yourself.”