Another AIC board member was John Esposito, the director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. Esposito is perhaps best known as an apologist for radical Islamism; his Center is the recipient of a $20 million grant from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.
According to Prof. Esposito, it was actually the 1979 Iranian Revolution that catapulted his academic career into national prominence, as his books and articles about the Iranian clergy suddenly took on new relevance. “I owe my Lexus and my career to the Ayatollah Khomeini,” he tells his students at Georgetown.30
Illustrative of Esposito’s thinking about Iran is the following comment from his introduction to Modernizing Islam: Religion in the Public Sphere in Europe and the Middle East, the book he co-edited with Francois Burgat: “…Iran, long regarded as a terrorist threat, has in fact provided a major example of the mobilizing power of an appeal to democratization and civil society.”31 Esposito’s rose-colored formulations about Iran’s terrorist regime continue with commentary about the presidency of Mohammed Khatami: “Khatami’s support for civil society, the rule of law, and democratization, though not imposed, has become part of the political culture and debate within Iran.”32
Esposito manages to garner plaudits from both sides of the Sunni-Shia split, as demonstrated by his August 2005 award from the Saudi-associated Islamic Society of North America. ISNA honored Esposito for his contributions to the understanding of Islam. Sayyid Syeed, ISNA’s secretary general even went so far as to compare Esposito to Abu Taleb, the uncle of the Prophet Mohammad, who never converted to Islam, but defended the new faith nevertheless.33
Ambassador Lowell Bruce Laingen, a former Tehran Embassy hostage and another AIC board member, is president of the American Academy of Diplomacy. He appeared on a December 2007 panel with NIAC founder and president Trita Parsi at the National Cathedral in Washington called “The Dialogue Conference.” The event was sponsored by Episcopal Bishop John Bryson Chane (and is described in greater detail later in this paper).
Surprisingly for the American Charge d’Affaires at the Tehran Embassy in 1979 who, together with his staff, saw his country’s embassy overrun and was then held hostage for 444 days, Laingen consistently displays a lack of outrage over that assault on American sovereignty. In an extensive interview he gave in 1993, for instance, Laingen expressed regret that the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Iran had not yet returned to normal:
…The hostage crisis, if you will, is still with us, now 14 years after the taking of the Embassy. Still with us in the sense that we don’t have now after all those years a relationship with Iran. In many ways that is unnatural….It will be very difficult for Washington, even when the time comes to try to reestablish a relationship, to deal with this public distaste out there among the American public. It is a burden on the future and is going to require some very deft handling on the part of Washington to overcome. Both we and Iran, both governments today, will be bringing a lot of emotional, political baggage to the negotiating table when we sit down eventually and try to talk. I think this is overdue. We should be talking to put this business behind us.34
One of the American-Iranian Council’s most intensive, but ultimately unsuccessful, campaigns was an effort to prevent the renewal of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) in 2001 and to achieve the lifting of U.S. sanctions on Iran. Perhaps Amirahmadi’s most noteworthy achievement as part of this campaign was his recruitment of then-U.S. Congressman Robert William (Bob) Ney (R-OH). On behalf of AIC and its Iranian masters, Ney led congressional efforts to defeat ILSA and encourage a more Tehran-friendly U.S. foreign policy.35