Hooman Majd admits that he has repeated some hateful things in recent years, said James Toback in Interview. As an occasional live translator for Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the New York–based journalist parroted Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitic conspiracy theories just last month. “It was hard to keep a straight face,” Majd wrote in Salon.com, when Ahmadinejad used a September U.N. speech to repeat claims from the long-discredited Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But Majd claims that many Americans’ ideas about Ahmadinejad are wrong and that they spring from ignorance about Iran. Majd has aimed to bridge the divide with his first book, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ, a highly personal portrait of the country he was born in.

Majd’s work as a translator has given him a unique perspective on the Iranian president. Simply the fact that the regime lets him do it indicates a tolerance for differing opinions: The son of a pre-revolution Iranian diplomat, Majd is an open supporter of Ahmadinejad’s predecessor and political rival, Mohammad Khatami. But he defends Ahmadinejad on certain scores. Majd says the man never claimed there were no homosexuals in Iran, as has been reported. “I can’t believe that was translated the way it was,” he says. What Ahmadinejad meant, Majd says, was that Iran has no open gay culture. As for the Ahmadinejad’s infamous declaration that Israel “must be wiped off the map,” Majd claims that the original Farsi implied no true threats. “Very few things a Persian says,” he adds, “should ever be taken literally.”