Hooman Majd Discusses Working For Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Hooman Majd was born in Tehran, Iran in 1957, and lived abroad from infancy with his family who were in the diplomatic service. He attended boarding school in England and college in the United States, and stayed in the U.S. after the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
Majd had a long career in the entertainment business before devoting himself to writing and journalism full-time. He worked at Island Records and Polygram Records for many years, with a diverse group of artists, and was head of film and music at Palm Pictures, where he produced The Cup and James Toback's Black and White.
He has written for GQ, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The New York Observer, Interview, and Salon, and has been a regular contributor to The Huffington Post from its inception. A contributing editor at Interview magazine, he lives in New York City and travels regularly back to Iran.
Question: How did you get the job interpreting for Ahmadinejad?
Majd: The way it came about was former President Khatami who’s a relative of mine, after he left office in 2006, he came to the United States at the invitation of a bunch of American groups, was given a visa and went to Washington Cathedral, Harvard University, University of Virginia. He asked me to accompany him on his trip in America, sort of an adviser and help him with some of the issues and some of the translations of some of his speeches which I did and at one point in Chicago, before he gave his first speech, he said, “Well, why don’t you just do the interpreting of the speech?” and I said, “Well, I’m not an interpreter. That’s not what I do,” and he said, “Oh come on, your English is really good, you sound like an American, just do it. It’s not going to be a big deal,” and I said, “Okay.” So I did it and it was, I guess, successful. People kind of liked the way it was done and that’s it, I did have the speech in front of me, translated into English which I’ve helped with in the translation. And then I just went on to do it at the Washington Cathedral and then University of Virginia. So, the Ahmadinejad people found out, obviously, found out about my interpretation of Khatami speeches and they ask me if I would… specifically the ambassador to the UN asked me if I would do the interpreting at the UN for Ahmadinejad, who was arriving like literally a few days after Khatami left and I said… well, under the same conditions that I agreed to do it with Khatami eventhough I have a friendship and a closeness to Khatami and he was no longer the president of Iran, I said that the condition would be that I’m able to write about it, nothing is off the record and, to my surprise, they agreed and said, “Fine, do whatever you want.” And so I thought it would be a great opportunity and it would be an interesting opportunity and I get to know… eventhough I’ve met Ahmadinejad before, I would get a closer relationship with him and understand him better and his aides and the people he travels with. So that’s really why I did it and subsequently every year even though I’ve written about my experiences doesn’t seem to bother them and every year they’ve asked me again and I’ve said, “Sure, I’m happy to do it,” and… so that’s how that came about. It’s not… it’s not my profession but I don’t mind doing it.
After translating for former Iranian President Khatami, Ahmadinejad’s people shoehorned the writer in as interpreter at the UN.