Monday, November 7, 2011

Post #54 - Threat and Fear

"...fear not, for I am with thee, and I will bless thee..." (Genesis 26:24) 

As Roosevelt famously said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” In contrast to that sage advice, while offering nothing in the way of realistic courses of action to deal with Iran, our leaders have simply raised their color-coded threat levels and jacked up the level of fear in people's hearts. Over the long haul, fear is immobilizing, disabling and, if it lasts long enough, fatal. We don't need more fear; we need more real courage and creativity. Meanwhile, how do we deal with the fear that we feel?

Chris Hedges says about his book on what happens to nations and people when they prepare for war, "This is not a call for inaction. It is a call for repentance.” Repentance has been notably missing of late as an American public policy stance, even as the Christian faith has been touted loudly in the public arena.

Fr. John Chryssavgis
“Repentance,” John Chryssavgis writes in his book Soul Mending, “is resurrection begun...repentance is a fundamentally joyous, restorative return to life in its fullness.” In this case, repentance might mean a picking up where we left off under a previous president. I was present at a meeting of the American Iranian Council when then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright finally acknowledged our complicity in the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh. We still have not taken our full responsibility for the Shah's reign, which, while viewed as “West-leaning,” was also characterized by brutal oppression and a scandalous squandering of Iran's wealth. We have not owned up to our collusion in a million Iranians being exposed to chemical agents that Saddam sourced from our country and others in the West, delivered by missiles guided with West-supplied satellite intelligence. Such repentance might lead us to “life in its fullness” as we establish an authentic way of relating to people and the nation of Iran. As Chryssavgis says, “the primary orientation of not toward out past, but toward our future.”

Before we can make a sincere repentance, we must engage in genuine examination of self. Metropolitan Anthony has written: “we must judge ourselves in order to change.” If we cannot immediately change, we can at least talk. President Kennedy, as he stood at the western face of the U.S. Capitol to take his oath of office in 1961, said, “we should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate.”

The Iraq Study Group, a 2004 working group established under the Council on Foreign Relations and co-chaired by Robert Gates and Zbigniew Brzezinski before that, and a 2001 Atlantic Council of the United States Working Group, co-chaired by Lee H. Hamilton, James Schlesinger and Brent Scowcroft, have all called for serious direct engagement with Iran.

On my last trip to Iran, I visited the tomb of the Persian king Darius at Nagsh-e-Rostam, and saw what was carved there in stone. The standard set by him in the fifth century is still a good one for the present situation: "I am of such a sort that I am friend of right, I am not a friend to wrong./ It is not my desire that the weak man should have wrong done to him by the mighty, nor is it my desire that the mighty should have wrong done to him by the weak./ What is right, that is my desire."

James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers (#51, 1788):

"If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, to oblige it to control itself."

Angels may be watching, but we men and women have to plot a course to peace with Iran, with Islam and with the rest of the world. As an Indian poet put it, "The winds of grace are always blowing. It is but for us to raise our sails."

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