By Alon Ben-Meir, professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU
As it happened, Ali Khamenei, Benjamin Netanyahu, Vladimir Putin, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan were all walking in one of the UN’s corridors. To show that he is just an ordinary human being and a humble man, Khamenei shouted, ‘hey Vladimir, Tayyip, Bibi, come over here! Why don’t we all sit down and chat about so many things we all have in common.’ Curious to hear what Ali has to say, they hesitantly start walking toward him, (he) who was already seated at a round table with a view of the East river.
Ali: How are you all doing, I hope you’re feeling well.
Tayyip: Given the mess I am facing at home and abroad, you should know how I feel.
Vladimir: Oh I feel great; everything is fine with me. How about you, Bibi?
Bibi: What do you all care how I really feel?
Ali: We really don’t. This a nice view, isn’t it? The river, the beautiful buildings… you know, the UN should move to Tehran.
Bibi: Why on earth should the UN be relocated to Tehran?! What have you got to offer?
Ali: Well, Persia is the greatest civilization, we have lasted for thousands of years; like no other country, we are at the heart of the most strategic spot on earth. Tehran is the center of the universe, easily accessible from everywhere.
Tayyip: This is ridiculous! If the UN goes anywhere, it should be to Istanbul – after all, we inherited the riches and the culture of the great Ottoman Empire; we are also the bridge between east and west. And Istanbul – well there is no greater city in the world than Istanbul.
Bibi: Forget it, Jerusalem is the place where the UN should be located; it’s the birth place of the great monolithic religions, and absolutely no other city can rival Jerusalem.
Vladimir: Nonsense, when were you last in Moscow? Do you know how much Moscow has to offer? Look, in any case we will veto any resolution to relocate the UN unless it is Moscow.
Bibi: Listen, the UN is not going anywhere. But let me go back to you, Ali. Tell me, Ali, what did you mean when you said we have so much in common? God forbid we should have something in common.
Ali: Come on now, don’t invoke God’s name in vain. Don’t you think we are all hungry for more power? Don’t we all want control of our neighbors? And tell me, how about the so-called ‘violation of human rights’? We all thrive on that, don’t we?
Tayyip: Wait a minute Ali, speak for yourself. We don’t do such things in our country. Turkey is a model of Islamic democracy in all aspects; everybody is free and happy in my country.
Bibi: Oh yes, tell me more. Nobody abuses his people more than you do – well, maybe Ali.
Ali: Bibi, now you’re going too far. I am a pious man! I treat every one of my subjects with dignity.
Bibi: Yeah, you’re right Ali, the poor Iranian people are your subjects alright, and you know very well how to subjugate them. Another thing, I know you want to have a nuclear weapon to blow us all out.
Ali: Yeah, we want a nuclear weapon just to scare everybody, especially those Sunnis around us. We don’t want to blow you out, because if we try, you have plenty of nuclear weapons to kill tens of millions of Iranians. Well, they will all become martyrs, which is fine, but the real problem is that we don’t know if the Islamic Republic of Iran can survive, and for me, this is more important than anything else.
Bibi: Do you really think I believe you? Don’t think for a moment that we will let you have these kinds of weapons; we know what to do.
Ali: You don’t know how clever we are, we know how to hide things, we have done that for many years and we will surprise you yet. Why do you think we did not make any real concessions and agreed only this week on another extension? We know how to outsmart these gullible Americans.
Vladimir: Look guys, what are you all talking about? Human rights abuses, nuclear weapons, what else is new? Let’s talk about the real things – gas, oil, business, and money – that’s what really matters. We in Russia calm things down or buy people out with money. If money does not work, which is seldom in Russia, we flex our muscles. That’s why we don’t worry about human rights.
Tayyip: You must be kidding, Vlad. You’re trying to calm thing down, my foot; you are a ruthless man, even worse than Bibi.
Ali: Tayyip is right, look at the terrible things that you have done, Vladimir. First you annex Crimea, then you send troops and weapons to east Ukraine, hundreds are killed, and you still pretend that you don’t want to annex the rest of the country.
Vladimir: What’s this got to do with being ruthless? We offer the Ukrainians gas and money, but they did not listen. They want to join the West, they are crazy. In any case, Ukraine belongs to Russia and that’s that. Who’s going to stop me, Obama? I am not like Bibi, who wants to annex all of the West Bank and chase the Palestinians out—that’s really ruthless.
Bibi: Look, Obama can’t stop me either, he is still busy thinking about what to do, he will never put his foot down, and I know it. But leave Obama aside. Are you telling me, Vlad, that I want to annex Samaria and Judea? How can I annex territory that belongs to the Jewish people? I resent those who call Israel an occupying power.
Tayyip: Don’t be ridiculous Bibi; you occupy land that does not belong to you and on top of that, you created the largest open prison in Gaza. Unfortunately, Obama has no clue what to do. See, I am a liberator; I have been fighting to liberate the poor Palestinian people in Gaza, but you and your American friends, forget it; you are heartless, all of you.
Bibi: First of all, Tayyip, it is none of your business what we do with the Palestinians, especially Hamas; we have major security problems. Tell me, what would you do if thousands of rockets were fired indiscriminately on your cities and people, just say, ‘hey guys, please stop it’?
Tayyip: You know Bibi, if you end the blockade, Hamas will not fire a single rocket.
Bibi: Baloney! I trust Hamas as much as I trust you, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan; you are all one and the same, no difference. You just hate us, period.
Ali: I know what you mean, Bibi, you think we Muslims hate the Jews. No, I hate the Israelis but love the Jews.
Bibi: So what you are saying is that Israelis are not Jews? Now I see, you love Muslims but you hate the Sunnis, isn’t that so?
Ali: Don’t change the subject, we Shiites are the true Muslims; the Sunnis are even worse than you Israelis.
Tayyip: Don’t say that, Ali. You know, you are really something else. I always suspected how much venom you have against us Sunnis – now I know. You should be ashamed of yourself. The Sunnis don’t hate the Shiites, we just don’t trust them; you are always conspiring against us.
Vladimir: Will you stop bickering about Sunni this, Shiite that. This is all rubbish. We in Russia are very lucky, we don’t have this kind of problem because we don’t believe in anything. Forget religion, only troubles come out from religion. For us, only money talks.
Tayyip: Vladimir, how dare you say that about religion? Islam is the purest religion in the world; the Quran teaches us to love each other and sacrifice our lives for one another.
Bibi: Tayyip is right. They kill for each other, they also execute for love – look how much they care for one another in Syria, Iraq, Yemen… oh, yeah, I forgot Afghanistan.
Ali: Now Bibi, you are getting completely out of line, this is just a quarrel in the family.
Bibi: Of course I know that Ali, you only feel obliged to accommodate your butcher friend Bashar to massacre tens of thousands of innocent Muslim civilians. I guess it’s alright – after all, it is all in the family.
Vladimir: Hey guys, this is going nowhere. You see what I mean? Religion is a curse. If I could, I would ban all religious rituals in Russia altogether. Look, why don’t we just talk about the real thing, like I told you before, money and power.
Ali: You keep talking about money, ok, let us talk about money. We all need money to run our countries, so what is the problem with that?
Bibi: You are right Ali, we need money to run our countries. But I think my good friend Vladimir here is talking about what is in it for us.
Ali: May the Almighty have mercy on you. We… I mean, I, me… don’t ever take money to enrich myself, not like you – all of you.
Vladimir: Well, well, Ali, you say you don’t take money, so tell me, what do you live on?
Ali: I take only what the almighty God provides me. But you know, God is very generous to those who worship him.
Bibi: Now I understand why you are such a deep believer! I guess it pays to be a religious man because Allah watches out for his loyal servants and showers them with lots of money.
Vladimir: I have already told you, people do anything in the name of God. They kill, murder, rape, and steal, but in Russia we just do what we have to do. Everybody knows we steal and no one cares and certainly can’t do a damn thing about it. But I want to know about you, Tayyip – since you consider yourself a pious man, do you also depend on God’s generosity?
Tayyip: Listen, God has always been kind to me. I am just like Ali, I do in my country what I please and everyone thinks that I am Turkey’s savior. Look, I tripled the economy in my country in less than ten years. Am I not entitled to skim a few million here and there and make sure that my kids benefit from my sacrifices for my country?
Vladimir: Poor thing, I feel for you. Who the heck do you think you are talking to, don’t you think we know better?
Ali: Listen Vlad, you won’t get anywhere with Tayyip, I gave up on him a long time ago. But now I am not going to let you off the hook, Bibi. Don’t tell me, Mr. Netanyahu, that you are clean and have not stolen any money to spend on your puppet master wife; she will kill you if you lose your job and stop spending money on her.
Bibi: Sure, I spend money on my wife, but remember she is always by my side, so once in a while we bend the rules and charge the government for a few things here and there. Well, a few of my ministers were charged with corruption, but that’s normal. Anyway, right now I am busy expanding the settlements and trying to pass a bill that recognizes Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people – who cares about corruption?
Ali: That’s really how you are going to calm the Middle East, Bibi? But let me just get back to the money situation. Did you mean Bibi, that you steal money only under the table, just like my dear comrade here Vlad?
Vladimir: Wait a minute Ali, I never said I steal under the table. I don’t really have to hide anything, that’s the beauty about my country, Russia the Great.
Ali: Listen guys, I thought we could have a civilized chat and solve some of the pressing problems in our neighborhood, but we don’t seem to see eye to eye. But then if we did, well, it would be worse – how else will we be staying in power?
Vladimir: You said it man, I know my partners here agree with me.
Bibi: Well, at least we agree on something.
Tayyip: Hey, maybe we should meet again soon.
Ali: Don’t be a fool, people will start thinking that we are conspiring just to stay in power