Thursday, December 8, 2011

Post #105 - People-to-People Efforts

Thou hast made me known to friends whom I knew not.
Thou hast given me seats in homes not my own.
Thou hast brought the distance near and made a brother of the stranger.
When one knows thee, then alien is there none; then no door is shut.  (Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore)

As with the former Soviet Union, more intimate knowledge of the West can speed the transition to a more tolerant and progressive society. This time around, however, care must be taken not to repeat the mistakes in Iran during the 1970's, when imposed Westernization and cultural imperialism created a backlash that helped to make the Islamic Revolution possible (if not inevitable).

Exchanges of all kinds of citizens can ensure that scientists can share information on a host of vital topics that they have been unable to discuss with their counterparts for the past few decades. People who are family-oriented and conservative can meet their opposite number in the other society, rather than just being exposed to films or TV shows that reinforce alienating stereotypes. Poets and painters can exchange perspectives both ancient and contemporary on the common challenges of life. The five hundred Americans who now go to Iran each year could quickly become five thousand. A huge percentage of Iranians are eager to visit the United States, if the two governments would clear the way.

An American delegation in Iran
Group such as the Fellowship of Reconciliation (, Global Exchange (, Search for Common Ground ( and others are trying to keep the door open for dialogue with the people of Iran, without simultaneously engaging in the fomentation of political strife in that country, since the fate of Iran ultimately rests in the hands of those who live there.

On the other side, there is at least as much interest in building bridges. Here is a statement that was signed by scores of Iranian activists, decrying the idea of regime change by military assault or covert destabilization:

1. Wars have been the most terrifying phenomena people have confronted since the distant past. In our society, millions of Iranians have been living under the ominous shadow of the eight-year war with Iraq.
The reminiscences of air raid sirens, damp shelters, overnight power cuts, nameless bodies, severed limbs, mothers who lost their children, children who lost their fathers, famine and hunger, homeless refugees and dozens of other frightening pictures at the back or forefront of our minds, vividly or vaguely, whether like a nightmare or a constant fear, is weighing down on everyone of us.
2. In the last years, the mainstream media have tried to downgrade wars to computer games and their visual expressions. A red point starts to blink on the radar screen of NATO modern fighter jets, then there is an apparently small explosion; this is the picture inculcated into the audience by these media. But the reality is more repulsive and bloody; certainly, the story is not the explosion of one red point on the radar screen of a fighter jet; it is about a family sitting at the dinner table in Tripoli, or the tired soldiers who are forced to be in an army center in Baghdad, or a school in Yugoslavia where children are studying , or a local market, lively and crowded, in a Kabul neighborhood, … or every other thing in which life was going on until last moments and now has turned into ashes. We have to put this ugly reality before their very eyes more clearly than before, to reveal the obnoxiousness of war.
3. Wars, with any kind of excuses behind them, are blameworthy. Neither did democracy come out of the cannons of “the allied forces against Iraq”, nor did human rights fly over Tripoli on the NATO fighter planes, nor was freedom achieved for Afghans through American long distance missiles. Under these circumstances and with regards to the past experiences, we will not accept any war, under no name and on no condition, while a radical and widespread movement is developing throughout the world including the region and Iran. Military intervention is an excuse in the hands of undemocratic states to take advantage of these conditions; by calling the situations critical, they suppress the popular movements and their requests and demands more severely. A simple comparison between Iraq and Afghanistan experiences with those of Tunisia and Egypt will reveal the reality to us.
4. The essential nature of the movement of the Iranian people in the past few years have been based on this basic principle that the people inside Iran want to determine their own destiny on the objective scene of their struggle; they do not want any power from outside or inside to be their guardian and decide for them. Therefore, any kind of foreign interference, and in particular military intervention, stands against this principle. All, with any name and in any position, who clap for NATO or American fighters, will not have a place among the people of Iran and they must be frankly told that their policy has gotten separated from the Iranians’ interests. Air raid sirens are started up by those who know will have no place in the future; the future which will be made by the ability and power of the Iranian people after their struggle process. Yes only those who lose hope of people ‘s power to change their own fate and seek their life in “creating crisis” will hail the war.
A U.S. protest against military spending
5. Nevertheless, the Iranian people welcome the support and help from peace activists, freedom fighters, and progressives all around the world, from Wall Street and European Streets to the Arab countries. The Iranians see themselves along with all the other people who fight for freedom and equality and struggle to make “another world”.
6. Those who have signed this statement believe that starting a war on the part of the World Capitalist System, led by the U.S and its internal allies, only hurt the genuine social movement of the Iranian people. War and the critical situation resulted from it not only do not undermine the bases of the dictatorships and are the best excuses for suppressing the social movements and their activists, but also pave the way for gaining power by dependent and undemocratic forces who seek their political life in war, crisis, and suppression.

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