Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Post #173 - Israel, Iran and the United States

News feed from Churches for Middle East Peace [full disclosure: I serve on the CMEP board], with comments (which are strictly my own):

U.S. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff arrived in Israel Thursday, January 19, to convince Israel to give sanctions and diplomacy a chance before making any decisions about a military strike on Iran. [Is there any reason to believe that diplomacy has truly been tried? How many meetings have actually been held, and how many opportunities squandered?] He also wanted to show U.S. solidarity with Israel and emphasize the close bond between the two countries. The relationship between Israel and Washington has been strained recently in large part because Israel believes the United States and Europe aren’t being tough enough to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. [The toughness toward Iran is certainly more than has been shown towards North Korea and Pakistan, both of which have been consdierably more belligerent toward their neighbors than Iran.]

The sanctions on Iran have forced President Obama to walk a thin line between showing support for Israel and not harming the economy this election year. [How can a major disruption of world oil supplies not harm the economy?] Escalating tensions and the just the threat of a military confrontation with Iran would likely drive up oil prices at a time when much of the world is focused on economic recovery. Stuart E. Eizenstat, a former senior official at the Treasury and State Departments who helped draft sanctions against Iran during the Clinton administration told the New York Times, “To appear to back off, when the Iranians are proceeding pell-mell with their nuclear program, would be very difficult for the administration, particularly in an election year…On the other hand, sanctions could harm the economy and his re-election chances. It is an excruciatingly difficult set of choices, and one he will face sooner rather than later.” [Unless, negotiations that proceed on the basis of shared interests and mutual respect are initiated.]

On January 15, the United States postponed a joint exercise with the Israeli military to avoid escalating the situation in the region. The exercise, which sought to integrate U.S, - Israeli missile tracking and interception technology, would be geared to simulating an Iranian response to an Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities. According to reports from Inter Press Service, the Obama Administration did not want to participate unless Netanyahu could assure the U.S. president that Israel won’t attack Iran without Washington’s approval. Publically, officials said the decision was mutual and the exercise will be delayed until the second half of 2012. [Funny how Iranian war-games in their own backyard are viewed as provocative, while the United States would never tolerate such exercises in the Grand Banks or the Gulf of Mexico. Yet, the United States stations warships close to Iran's borders on a routine basis.]

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak tried to ease tensions with the United States ahead of Gen. Dempsey’s visit by telling an Army radio station, “We haven’t made any decision to do this [strike Iran]. This entire thing is very far off. I don’t want to provide estimates [but] it’s certainly not urgent.”

Gen. Dempsey’s short visit to Israel included meetings with Barak, Israel’s military Chief of Staff Lt. Benny Gantz, President Shimon Peres, and Prime Minister Netanyahu. [So, having gone through special envoy George Mitchell, the Secretary of State and a series of lower-level officials to little effect, we are now just talking arms and attack strategies.]

Monday, January 30, 2012

Post #172 - Decaying Bridges

In Iran's Zagros Mountains, not far from the ancient city of Isfahan, there is a mountain called Helen. The volcanic peak that all know about in the State of Washington was named for a saint. Perhaps this one is as well...

Helen Jeffreys Bakhtiar hailed from Boise, Idaho. In the 1950's she was a public health nurse in Iran, having already spent a hitch in the United States Navy, reaching the rank of lieutenant commander. Helen was working as part of what is known in Iran as "Asl-e-Chahar" -- a translation of Point Four, the shorthand name for an American international development program that began under President Harry S. Truman. It was the fourth pillar of his foreign policy agenda, as enunciated in his inaugural address. Americans with expertise in a variety of fields, such as agronomy and hydrology, helped improve the lives of the villages that dot Iran's more fertile regions, as their colleagues did in many other countries. Point Four was a precursor to the later International Cooperation Administration and the Agency for International Development.

Like other such programs, including the U.S. Peace Corps and the Hospital Ship Hope, their success most often rested on the character and commitment of the individuals charged with doing the actual work out in the field. The impression made by Helen Jeffreys on her Iranian colleagues and constituents was so lasting and profound that not only that mountain, but an entire region, was named in her honor.

Her great-granddaughter, Samira Ghaffari, tells us that Kuh-a-Helen (Helen's Mountain ) "is home to a wide variety of species, including brown bears, leopards, wildcats and eagles. Iranian environmentalists have marked the mountain and the surrounding forests as a protected area."

Davar Ardalan, whose parents were raised in America and then moved back to Iran, is Samira's mother. Ardalan wrote a book called "My Name is Iran: A Memoir" (in fact, one of her names is the same as the country), published in 2007. She is also a producer for National Public Radio. Her father took a job helping to build housing for the Iranian National Oil Company workers, starting in the mid-sixties, when the Shah of Iran was (or seemed to be) firmly in place on his peacock throne. Davar married in Iran and was there until after the Islamic Revolution took place.

Helen's daughter, Mary Laleh Bakhtiar, wrote a book about her mother, called Helen of Tus: Her Odyssey from Idaho to Iran, as well as a book about her father Abol Ghassem Bakhtiar, who was a physician.

What is the significance of this family history? It is representative of a host of intertwining personal histories that link Iran and the United States.

There was Gertrude Nye Dorry, a women known to hundreds of Peace Corps volunteers as the "mother" of English language instruction in Iran. She not only helped prepare Americans to teach, but literally "wrote the book" on the field, authoring many textbooks and teachers' guides. Holding a PhD degree from the University of Michigan, she positively influenced the character of US-Iran relations through her academic prowess and organizational skills. Thousands learned English because of her efforts, allowing them to study abroad, pursue careers in the sciences or go into the diplomatic service. Dr. Dorry died back in the States, but she left a huge hole in the Iranian educational landscape when she left.

Sadly, though many Iranians are making their mark on US society in a variety of fields, American impacts on Iranian consciousness now are virtually confined to the goods that are now unavailable to Iranians due to sanctions, the troubling thoughts of a possible attack, and the denunciations of Iran that have become a regular feature of U.N. meetings and weekly press conferences.

Bust of Baskerville, Constitution House, Tabriz
Most famous among the Americans held in esteem by Iranians was Howard Baskerville. Born in North Platte, Nebraska, and killed outside Tabriz in 1909 helping to defend constitutional government in Iran, his name is known by most Iranians even now. Baskerville is commemorated to this day by a monument erected beside the Ayandeh River in the heart of Isfahan. Baskerville said, "The only difference between me and these people is my place of birth, and this is not a big difference."

Post #171 - More Bridges

More on groups that are trying to connect Americans and Iranians...

A group called Citizens for Diplomacy Not Confrontation has promoted the idea of American and Iranian lawmakers meeting one another to find common ground and address common concerns. They have traveled to Washington, DC and lobbied their elected officials to “think outside the box” of U.S.-Iran relations of the past thirty years. CDNC has proposed that the Congress “do what the administration has failed to do” – establish a dialogue with counterparts in Iran.

Amb. Zarif, with UN Secy.-Gen. Ban Ki Moon
In November 2006, a group of students from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University, Medford, MA) and The Kennedy School of Government (Harvard University, Cambridge) traveled to New York City with Jebsen Center for Counter-Terrorism Studies deputy director Paula Broadwell to visit the home of the Hon. Javad Zarif, at that time the Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations. Ambassador Zarif, his wife Maryam, and their guests enjoyed a private dinner and a rare opportunity to openly discuss topics vital to both nations. The Ambassador and his wife Maryam gave the students a tour of their residence which contains three works by artist Marc Chagall. Three months after this dinner, Boston University arranged a video teleconference for Ambassador Zarif that was attended by 1,200 students.

The Third National Assembly of United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of over 1300 national and local groups, many of whom have lobbied against war with Iran, met in Chicago in June of 2007. The delegates heard from a dozen Iranian citizens who had traveled from Iran and cycled their way through Italy, Germany, France and England before reaching the United States. The group, called Miles for Peace, brought wishes for reconciliation and cooperation from the people of Iran. Common people, as well as mayors and legislators, had returned the favor by welcoming them warmly in each of the countries they visited. Their creed reads in part: “Humanity is an indivisible entity. The world is home to all humans. No man or nation does not need other men or nations. No nation is superior or inferior to any other nation.”

Enough Fear, whose name gives the group's motivation with great economy, has built a website that features hundreds of photos of people all around the world who are telling their leaders: "Stop!" "It's time" they say, "to put a stop to dangerous cycle of threats and provocation...it's our lives that are at stake." See: www.enoughfear.org/

The Shalom Center, based in Philadelphia, sees unity at the roots of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Their call -- emanating from American religious communities -- is for "a serious effort to make peace with Iran." Signatories of this call have included officials of the American Jewish University, Islamic Society of North America, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church and others.In each of these citizen initiatives, the goal has been to afford Americans an opportunity to see “those people” who live somewhere “over there” become real people with real faces and feelings.

Leila Zand
Leila Zand, an immigrant from Iran (and current director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Iran Program), wrote last winter: "I live in upstate New York, where I have a beautiful backyard…with flowers and trees…butterflies and birds. Every morning I take my coffee and go to my backyard." Zand imagines the situation of an Iraqi woman “who has to listen to the sound of explosions instead of songs of birds,” and wonders “if there are any birds still alive in Baghdad.” She says:

"I am happy that I am not in Iraq…I am happy I am not in Iran to live with the fear of the American army surrounding me: in Afghanistan to the east, Iraq to the west, the Persian Gulf to the south and Azerbaijan and Kyrgystan to the north. I am happy that I don’t have to live with the fear of a war starting every moment.
"I am happy that I am not there. But what about those people who live there?...Our nation is in the war but we don’t feel it in our daily lives…But should we be happy when another human being exactly like us is suffering every moment? Should we be relaxed having our coffee every day without any sympathy for another creature of our God?
"I came from…war myself…I was there when my countrymen exploded on landmines…I was there and saw with my own eyes, when a mother had to bury her kids with her own hands. I was there when a father wanted to bury his kids in the living room so he wouldn’t miss them. I was there when my school exploded…I was there and listened to the people burning and screaming with pain. “I am burning, help, help.”…I still hear these people while I am drinking my coffee in my backyard. I live with these memories every moment. These are parts of my life.
"I believe that as long as there are human beings in this world who are suffering from bomb explosions and attacks on their lives, we cannot have our coffee in peace while listening to the birds."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Post #170 - Building Bridges

Though our two countries seem never to have been farther apart, there are now a number of different groups bringing Americans and Iranians together.

A group called Search for Common Ground (SFCG) in 1996 began a series of discreet meetings between well-placed but unofficial Iranians and Americans. Since that time, dozens of citizen-to-citizen exchanges have involved wrestlers and basketball players, astronomers, environmentalists, educators and lawmakers. Assisting the Institute of International Education [Full disclosure: my employer from 1985 to 2005], SFCG supported the Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program, which placed Iranian graduate students in US universities to teach Persian language. A conference held in September 2004 was titled: “The Call for a New World Order: Dialogue among Civilizations Revisited” [a reference to the UN initiative Dialogue among Civilizations that was proposed by the then-president Khatami]. Panel sessions at the conference included: “The Role of Interfaith Dialogue,” and “The Role of Diplomacy in Dialogue among Civilizations.” It is precisely the rich possibilities that exist at the nexus between faith and diplomacy that led me to start this blog.

Network 2020 is an independent nonprofit organization that helps prepare next-generation leaders in the United States to participate meaningfully in the creation of policies promoting global security. Network 2020 fielded two trips to Iran in the fall of 2006. Delegates conducted more than 50 interviews in six cities and several villages, to gain a better understanding of contemporary Iranian thinking and attitudes. “Within Iran,” they found, “political debate persists, skepticism about the government’s motives abounds, and liberal civil society institutions have been tenacious. While Western analysts usually portray the country in terms of a crude division between 'reformists' and 'conservatives,' the reality is far more nuanced, and political alignments and personal ideology can be fluid.” Their recommendations: reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Iran, building up expertise on Iran, working with the Iranian government on a variety of issues, opening congressional hearings on how to improve relations, and expansion of people-to-people programs and linkages.

The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), an organization committed to non-violent social change, has been bringing together people whose leaders are in opposition since before World War I. FOR organized trips to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, to Vietnam in the 1960's and most recently to Iran. The FOR delegation which I joined in May 2006 included men and women from all parts of the United States: a United Church of Christ clergywoman and a Buddhist peace activist from New York, a publisher from Louisville,
an artist from Philadelphia, a professor from Olympia, WA, an anthropology student from Oakland and a child psychiatrist from Amherst, MA. Our group leaders were an Episcopal nun who had lived and worked in Iran for six years, and an author of books on Gandhi and Martin Luther King. FOR, headquartered in Nyack, NY, has continuing sending delegations each year since then.

The International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, based in the nation's capital, sees that what it calls “identity-based conflicts” often can resist solution through traditional diplomacy alone. The Center's mission is to bring religion into the dialogue in an effort to achieve better outcomes for inter-ethnic or tribal hostilities and conflicts that have a clash of cultures or faiths as a key element. Its Iran Initiative has brought together Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy and laity, worked with government officials and lawmakers, and sponsored events that encourage examination of differences and commonalities.

Eastern Mennonite University, an institution with a long tradition of attention to conflict resolution and ecumenism, has had scholars attend the Jami'at Al-Zahra Theological Seminary in Qom, Iran, where some 900 international students (among a total of over 12,000) from over 40 countries study theology and spirituality at no cost (except for language instruction). The Mennonite Central Committee was a co-sponsor of a 2007 delegation of religious leaders who traveled to Iran and met with officials, including the President of Iran. One of the delegation members, Jeff Carr, wrote: "What is clear to me . . . is that we must find a way to tell our stories and to have our stories heard. And then we must begin to write a new narrative together. One that comes out of humility, mutual respect, and shared understanding. I am convinced it is the only path for a true and lasting peace with justice."

The Catholic University of America's Council for Research on Culture and Values has maintained a dialogue with faculty of the Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran who are part of the United Nations human rights network of academic institutions. (The last joint meeting, to the best of my knowledge, was held at CUA in Washington, DC in June of 2005.)

The New College of California has a mission statement that says it is “committed to education in support of a just, sacred, and sustainable world. We cherish intellectual freedom, the search for social justice, respect for differences, and a belief in collective responsibility for the welfare of all people.” New College planned another trip to Iran for the summer of 2007. The program gives its students four credits toward fulfilling their Humanities requirement, based on the experience they have on such as trip.

Photo taken by a Global Exchange participant
California-based Global Exchange is a membership-based international human rights organization dedicated to promoting social, economic and environmental justice around the world. Founded in 1988, Global Exchange has worked to increase “public awareness of root causes of injustice while building international partnerships and mobilizing for change.” The organization has been sending American travelers to Iran since 2000, hoping to “demystify and contextualize the negative images of Iran, while shedding some light on the many contradictions and realities of life in the Islamic Republic.”

(To be continued in my next post.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Post #169 - The Drums of Diplomacy

A number of individuals and groups are beginning to push back against the rush to war with Iran.

The International Movement for a Just World (JUST) "invites citizens of the world to join a global campaign aimed at averting a colossal catastrophe in West Asia." The campaign, entitled, "NO TO MILITARY INTERVENTION IN SYRIA; NO TO MILITARY STRIKES AGAINST IRAN" will collect signatures from "people in every continent to demonstrate to the centres of power in the West and their allies and proxies in West Asia and North Africa (WANA) that any military action by them against Syria and Iran in whatever form or guise is totally unacceptable."

Although JUST wants Iran to be "totally transparent about its nuclear programme and remove any suspicion that it is developing nuclear weapons," it also urges Israel to "immediately eliminate its huge nuclear arsenal," saying that these actions would constitute "a positive step towards peace in the region."

The on-line paper The Independent said this week: "The decision...by the European Union to ban imports of Iranian oil...makes even more perilous a confrontation that could yet lead to war..."  What also does not help matters, they said, is "the baying for military action from ill-informed Republican candidates on the 2012 campaign trail..." President Obama, they wrote, "has thus far played a difficult hand with impressive steadiness...But, in an election year, the pressure on Mr Obama to be 'tough on Iran' will only grow. As tensions increase, it is vital to remember that the West's goal is to bring Iran not to the battlefield, but the negotiating table...In short, the time for a deal has not yet run out. Nor must our patience."

Picture accompanying LA Times article
An editorial in the Los Angeles Times of January 10 was titled, "Iran war talk: Can we stop playing Hitler whack-a-mole?" The article notes how every conflict eventually calls forth the same terminology and imagery, whether speaking about Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qaddafi or Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad -- the ultimate scare tactic of finding yet another Third Reich looming somewhere in the world. They cite a bi-partisan list of those who treat a nuclear weapon in Iranian hands as an "unacceptable" outcome, quoting Mitt Romney and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta using nearly identical language on this point.

The author of the opinion piece says, "I think the American people are just a bit tired of playing Hitler whack-a-mole...And this is starting to give me 2003 deja vu: Everyone knows the Iranians are building a bomb, just like everyone knew Saddam Hussein was pursuing a bomb...Except he wasn't...And even if the Iranians are, what makes everyone so sure they'd use it?
"If we went to war every time someone said something bellicose, we'd be going to war a lot -- uh, I mean a lot more...We didn't want the Soviet Union to get the bomb, but it did. We didn't want China to get the bomb, but it did. Ditto North Korea. And Pakistan...Each time, some argued -- as some, especially Israel, argue now about Iran -- that it would be Armageddon if the bad guys got the bomb...Well, the United States has lived for more than 60 years with thousands of nuclear warheads pointed at it...It's no picnic, but we're still here.
"So why don't we give the war talk a rest. Hitler, after all, is dead."

The Atlantic (in its on-line version) ran an article by senior editor Robert Wright, in which he quotes Bill Keller of the New York Times

Robert Wright
"The point of tough sanctions, of course, is to force Iranians to the bargaining table, where we can do a deal that removes the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran... But the mistrust is so deep, and the election-year pressure to act with manly resolve is so intense, that it's hard to imagine the administration would feel free to accept an overture from Tehran. Anything short of a humiliating, unilateral Iranian climb-down would be portrayed by the armchair warriors as an Obama surrender. Likewise, if Israel does decide to strike out on its own, Bibi Netanyahu knows that candidate Obama will feel immense pressure to go along."

This leads Wright to observe:

"I can hear the armchair warriors (e.g., Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum) responding to Keller now: 'Well what's wrong with a humiliating, unilateral Iranian climb-down?' Nothing, except that humiliating unilateral climb-downs tend not to happen in the real world. For all the talk about how sanctions are supposed to bring about a 'diplomatic solution,' there has been little mention of a basic rule of diplomacy: If you want your demands met, you should give your adversary a face-saving way to meet them. As much as we may dislike Iran's leaders, we're going to have to figure out a way to let them plausibly declare victory to their people if we really want a diplomatic solution."

Iran critic Rick Santorum
One element of a deal that would be important to Iran, Wright says, "would be letting it enrich its own uranium as part of a peaceful nuclear energy program. (And as Princeton scholar R. Scott Kemp explains on Keller's blog, this would offer the key benefit of continued international monitoring.) But this is an unpopular option in Israel and on the American right, and I don't expect Gingrich, Romney, or Santorum to let Obama get away with anything that fits that description. "So far as I can tell, the position of the three people who might be the Republican presidential nominee can be summarized as follows: (1) If Iran doesn't meet our demands we must bomb it! (2) We must make demands that are essentially impossible for Iran to meet! The rest, as they say, may be history"

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Post #168 - Profiling as Policy

Recently (especially since 2001) it has become harder to be Iranians (especially if they are Muslims) living in the United States. Their immigration status often comes under scrutiny. Travel to one's homeland entails having to come back through U.S. Customs, where not every resident (or even U.S. citizen) is treated the same. A recent study by New York University School of Law's Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, offered (according to an InterPress report) “a searing indictment of U.S. immigration practices toward thousands of Muslim immigrants during the past six years.” The report, Americans on Hold: Profiling, Citizenship, and the "War on Terror," documents “expanded security checks” and “citizenship delays...often for years on end. Many have lived in the United States lawfully for many years.” The article goes on to say:

"Airport officials are reportedly required to stop anyone with a 'Muslim name' and name-check that individual against the list...
"The report cites the example of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, which required non-citizen males from 25 countries designated as threats to national security to register formally with the government. With the exception of North Korea, those countries have predominantly Arab or Muslim populations.
"'Discriminatory profiling is illegal under international law and is a poor substitute for real intelligence work,' said Jayne Huckerby, research director for The Human Rights Center.. '..Taking years to identify individuals who are security threats does not make us safer. Ensuring timely and good faith completions of background checks will help the U.S. advance its national security goals,' she said.
"Federal law requires the [government] to grant or deny citizenship within 120 days of an applicant's examination...But many Muslim applicants have been waiting in uncertainty, delaying family and business decisions as their papers are delayed for one, two or even three years.
"The study quotes the immigration service's ombudsman as saying that prolonged name checks “…rarely, if ever, achieve their intended national security objectives."

Both similarities and differences between Iranians, other Muslims and the general U.S. population deserve scientific study, rather than stereotyping based on rumor and misinformation. A Pew Research Center poll found the following attitudes among the 2.35 million Muslims in America (the number which the Center itself uses, which is not universally accepted as the correct one, since the U.S. Census does not ask religious affiliation):
  • 63% thought there was no natural conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society
  • 58% had “very unfavorable” attitudes toward al-Qaeda
  • 78% felt that suicide bombing against civilians was “never justified”
  • 48% judged the U.S. decision to use military force in Afghanistan “wrong”
  • 55% thought that the US-led war on terrorism was not a sincere effort to reduce international terrorism
Author and professor Noam Chomasky
Regarding the last point: part of the reason the world may not take out anti-terrorism campaign seriously is that, as Noam Chomsky points out (in Failed States), we have often set aside terrorism concerns if they were trumped by various other priorities. Chomsky cites several instances of variance from the Bush doctrine "those who harbor terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves:"

  • Luis Posada Carriles, "one of the most notorious Latin American terrorists" was in the United States when Venezuela sought to extradite him to face charges in the deaths of 73 passengers aboard a bombed airliner. The United States, having hired Posada to work in support of the contras, declined to grant extradition; a Posada associate and terrorist in his own right, Orlando Bosch, was pardoned by President G.H.W. Bush over the objections of his own Department of Justice.
  • Dora Maria Tellez was denied a visa to come teach at Harvard Divinity School, based on her opposition to Nicaraguan tyrant Anastasia Somoza Debayle, who was then favored by the United States.
  • The administration enraged Italian investigators of terrorism in Europe, when it had a terror suspect of interest kidnapped there and sent to Egypt (one of several destinations in the "torture archipelago" we have used). The CIA operatives involved were indicted by Italian courts.
  • Though our National Intelligence Council "predicted that an American-led invasion of Iraq would increase support for political Islam" and Iraq could "provide recruitment, training grounds, technical skills and language proficiency for a new class of terrorists," we still invaded Iraq.
  • The Iranian Mujaheddin who sought refuge in Iraq, the United States and elsewhere after leaving Iran, are on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations, but are not being actively prosecuted for their crimes in Iran or elsewhere; they have been allowed to stay intact within Iraq, and may even have been pressed into service for clandestine actions against Iran.

Post #167 - The Other among Us

"For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country.." (Matthew 25:14)

Omead Razani
The first Iranian-American who died in the Iraq War was a paramedic. Omead Razani had told his older sister, Nooshin, before his death that he saw his tour in Iraq as chance to “treat both Americans and Iraqis.” Both, he said, were “people he cared about.” He died 10 miles west of Falujah, thousands of miles from home, but only a hundred miles from Iraq's border with the land of his parents' birth.

In Speaking of Faith, Krista Tippett writes about Muslims in America as a part of a larger ferment within Islam:

Young Omead Razani
"At its core, Islam is a remarkably egalitarian faith, and this helps to explain the profound and complex roots it has been able to sink in multitudinous cultures. I believe it also helps to explain the vibrant and peaceable integration of a growing Muslim faith in U.S. culture, a phenomenon that has gone largely unremarked alongside news coverage of Islamic unrest in other parts of the world. In 2006, the Islamic Society of North America elected a woman as its president -- a Canadian convert to Islam, a supremely articulate and confident scholar, Ingrid Mattson. Omid Safi has become a leading voice in an energetic convergence of idea and action that calls itself "progressive Islam." And new generations of educated and empowered Islamic women -- some of them daughters of previous generations of Islami elites -- are fashioning a way of life that incorporates religious tradition with a commitment to realizing the egalitarian impulse at the heart of Islam."

Tippett quotes Egyptian-American scholar Leila Ahmed as wondering at the fact that so many question her about the hijab (not actually typical of Muslim women the world over), but so few, if any, ask her, "Why is it that Islam has produced seven women prime ministers or heads of state and Europe only two or three?"

The diversity, toleration and secularism of modern-day U.S. culture mean that a less "traditional" face of Islam is especially evident here. It has been pointed out that American Iranians tend in many ways to be an unrepresentative sampling of the population from which they came. This is due partly to the self-selection of most immigrants, and partly because of factors that act to limit emigration -- chiefly economics. We would do well, however, to know much better this community that can potentially provide a critical bridge between America and Iran.

Hon. Jimmy Delshad
Thousands of Iranians received their higher education (and exposure to Western culture) in the United States during the mid-20th century, including the previous Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, who earned his doctorate in international relations from the University of Denver. The Iranian cohort reached a high of over 60,000 students in the United States in 1977. Many, perhaps a million, current U.S. residents (many of them American citizens) have family roots in and emotional ties to Iran; they tend to be well-educated and economically successful. One thinks of tennis great Andre Agassi, CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour, entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar (CEO of E-Bay), or Jimmy Delshad, elected in 2007 as Mayor of one of America's glitziest communities, Beverly Hills, California.

The Iranian Studies Group at MIT did a report entitled “An Overview of Socioeconomic Characteristics of the Iranian-American Community based on the 2000 U.S. Census” in February 2004. They found that those in the community who had earned a BA degree or higher were 57.2% (compared with 24.4% for the rest of the U.S. Population); 27% of the survey group had a graduate degree. Per capita income among them was some 50% higher than that of the U.S. as a whole. Interestingly, only 3% of Iranian-Americans live in unmarried households, compared to 7% national.

Another study (“Who Are We?: the Iranian-American Community” showed that most of those who consider themselves Iranian-American arrived in the period 1970-1979 or in the decade following. Some 77% were ethnic Persian, 10% Azeri and the rest a mix of the eight or ten other ethnic groups represented in the Iranian population. Only half are Muslim (most non-practicing), as opposed to almost 98% Muslim within Iran itself; 3% each are Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian and Baha’i, while 21% described themselves as “spiritual”, but with no organized religious affiliation and 18% agnostic or atheist. Less than half of those who are married have an Iranian spouse.

Some have compared Iranian-Americans to Cuban-Americans. Many of them came after a revolution changed their country profoundly. Most are not supporters of the current regime in the country of their birth. Similarly, the younger generation of Iranian-Americans are not as rabid in their loathing for that government, more willing to entertain the idea of talks and compromise, just as their second-generation Cuban counterparts are. Sadly, their parents are the ones that the U.S. political establishments listens to most often. For those who seek peace, rather than violent confrontation -- most Iranian-Americans among them -- time is on our side....if things can just hold together for another few years.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Post #166 - A Puzzlement...

The following was posted on Mondoweiss.net by co-editor Adam Horowitz. He said that it came from the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv and was translated from the Hebrew by MW contributor Shmuel):
Israel: We Won't Give Advance Notice of Attack on Iran
Sunday Times reports that Israel told Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff it would give only twelve hours' warning, for fear that Obama would try to prevent [an attack].
Maariv NRG, 22/1/12
JCS Chair, Martin Dempsey
Israel informed Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, during his visit over the weekend, that it would not request US authorisation for an attack on Iran, and that it would give only twelve hours warning before launching such an attack, according to this morning's Sunday Times.
According to the report, Netanyahu does not trust Obama and believes the President might do everything [in his power] to prevent an attack if informed in advance, for fear of rising oil prices in an election year.
Recently, Obama called Netanyahu asking for clarifications regarding [a possible] attack [against Iran]. According to the Sunday Times report, the conversation was strained, and the Prime Minister explained his position, insisting that he would refuse to share details with the White House, should such an attack be launched. According to the report, the differences between the two sides increased further in the wake of Dempsey's meeting with Defence Minister Ehud Barak at the weekend.
Times reporter Uzi Mahnaimi adds that outwardly, Israel and the United States are trying to downplay the crisis, but the two countries would appear to be on a collision course.
For example, Dempsey claimed that Israel and the United States had agreed to postpone the scheduled joint military exercise and that the postponement would serve [the interests of] both sides. The fact is however, a defence source told the Sunday Times, that this is false. "We were shocked", said the source. "The exercise had been planned for two years."

Assuming that the piece is based on pretty solid sources, it must beg the question: if the Israelis do not trust the U.S. leadership, what does that actually mean? In other words, what would they be afraid might happen if they consulted their North American ally? It would seem that it must be one of the following:

1. That the U.S. president or secretary of state would attempt to persuade them to desist in their planning.

Would that really be a serious concern? If our track record on settlements is any guide, Israel is perfectly capable of resisting persuasion, cajolement or even arm-twisting by the Americans.

2. That the United States would let it go forward and then denounce it after-the-fact, disclaiming any responsibility for it.

{Map from Infowars}
This seems an unlikely scenario, since the president has made it clear that the military option is "not off the table" and our country has rarely, if ever, publicly opposed any major initiative of Israel (yes, perhaps we have objected to the way the Gaza flotilla was handled, but we did not stick it to Israel when that country attacked the USS Liberty, lodge a protest over incursions into Lebanon or take exception to Operation Cast Lead.  Moreover, wouldn't the lack of advance consultation make this rather more likely, rather than less?  (I still doubt that it would happen.)

3. That the United States would tip off the Iranians as soon as they knew about it -- allowing Iran to be more prepared for the strike?

Again, this would be entirely out-of-character for both President Obama and a long line of presidential predecessors. We would hardly subvert Iran ourselves covertly, encourage punishing sanctions and so forth, and then do it the immense favor of blowing the whistle on an Israeli action (especially since it would result, potentially, in greater Israeli loss-of-life).

So, when the author says that Netanyahu "believes the President might do everything [in his power] to prevent an attack" -- what could that possibly include? Hurried consulations with the UK, Russia or Germany to build out-of-the-spotlight pressure? A speech by the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations? A threat to reduce U.S. aid to Israel?

One wonders...

Post #165 - Thinking Outside the Arena

Dear Readers:  

The following may seem off-topic.  I feel, however, that the political process will be the main determinant of whether there is a "hot war" involving Iran.  Anything that can open a window and let in some fresh thinking will be to the good.

A Parable

The general staff began to get reports from scouts -- evidence of a large force having been in the area not many days before. The fragmentary information based on tracking led to a lot of speculation. They must be sneaky, said one soldier, they didn't leave much behind. They must be stupid, said another, since they left a trail a mile wide. I expect they are a bunch of cowards -- look at how they cleared out of here in a hurry, said a third. They must be tough, some guessed, from the fact that their army didn't seem to be gaining on them. By the next day, soldiers had started to call the unseen foe (for they assumed that they were up to no good) by the nickname, "The Devil You Don't Know," or just "The Devils." Whether they itched to meet the enemy on the battlefield or had nightmares about a deadly ambush, the soldiers knew that they hated them.

All this evaporated when a seasoned officer discovered that an error on their map and a faulty compass had caused them to go in one large circle -- they were now passing the same places where they had broken camp last week. As the officer sardonically observed, "We have met the enemy...and he is us!!

A group of Americans who came together this past weekend in Washington have concluded that the folks who run our two main parties are guilty of the same fatal mistake -- of tracking the other party as though they are the enemy. In reality, we are all in the same army, carrying the same flag and marching to the same martial music. We may disagree about the direction to march in or the kinds of supplies to take, but we needn't be baring our bayonets in each other's face.  The group was volunteers with Americans Elect.

Part of what has changed is the technology that we have available to us. Author/activist Rebecca Mackinnon said, in Sunday's Washington Post, that "Politics as usual are not compatible with the Internet." Where Democrats and Republicans have used mass media to raise the profile of their candidate or sent tailored communications to individual voters, it is now feasible, for the first time, for the actual nominating process to take place on the Web. This could remove the impact of icy weather or malfunctioning voting machines entirely. It would eliminate the most nonsensical features of the current system, such as a small, unrepresentative group of Iowans giving a royal thumbs-down to a qualified candidate or little New Hampshire anointing a Chosen One.

What has also changed are the attitudes of the people. Many are beginning to feel that "extremism in defense of liberty" actually may be a vice, if it ends up undermining our liberty. They actually want to know what other folks think, even if they don't agree. The problems facing the country are simply too huge for us to be small and narrow in our views. Those most familiar with conflict resolution know that you never start with the solidifying of positions; you begin with identifying core interests and looking for common ground. Not exactly what we've been seeing in Congress over the past decade, is it?
Kahlil Byrd, CEO, Americans Elect
Americans Elect says: We don't want to stake out positions. We don't want to back a candidate. We don't want to tear down an opponent. All we want to do is to open up the process, give someone else a chance, and allow the American people themselves, directly, to decide. In this age, it can be done. We don't have to be satisfied with back-room deals, media market mega-buys and elections that are bought and sold. A nominee who stands for election this year via the Americans Elect channel will not even know who paid the bills to make that possible. He or she will be answerable only to the American voters. 

I may not, in the end, vote for this third ticket, but I will defend its right to exist.  We have nothing to lose but the blinders put on us by the present duopoly. 

It has been said, "Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come." My fellow Americans, do it! Elect! Choose your next president and vice-president. Whether that person ultimately is a Democrat, a Republican, or an Independent you have the right to be part of the process at every stage. Read more at www.americanselect.org.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Post #164 - "The Other" continued

Shankar Vedantam, author "The Hidden Brain"
A recurrent element in our encounter with “the other” is a tendency to impute motives differently depending on whose behavior is being judged.  In a column written for the Washington Post, Shankar Vedantam wrote about the differences that have been observed between how we explain the actions of public figures with whom we agree, versus those taken by our friends or by ourselves:
“When people do something unforgivable, we often find it easy to conclude that the wrongdoing is a manifestation of their nature.  This allows us to go after them with a vengeance – when you are dealing with fundamentally bad characters, anything that can undermine them is fair game....Wesleyan University social psychologist Scott Plous said one dimension of the phenomenon is known as the actor-observer bias.  When we do something wrong ourselves...we explain our actions in terms of situational factors....But when we see someone else do something wrong, we are far more likely to link the behavior to the nature of that individual...
“Experiments have shown that our tendency to see the actions of others as dispositional – reflecting their true nature – persists even when we are explicitly told otherwise...
“Partisan animosities or any other kind of group membership exacerbates and extends the problem...we choose situational explanations to justify the errors of our allies, and we choose dispositional explanations to judge the errors of our opponents...[conversely, we] are likely to see the successes of [our allies] as dispositional – reflecting [their] innate nature...[but] likely to see the success of [our opponents] as situational – thus depriving [them] of credit.”
This sheds additional light on how “demonization” fits a common psychological proclivity:  our assumption of the inherent evil of the opponent and our ability to reject explanations that would mitigate or justify his actions – these two things reinforce one another.  They are what enable us to explain away actions of our own that would normally be considered beyond the pale.  Situationally, we can condone torture or indiscriminate bombing, because we “know” that we are virtuous, and he -- the Other -- is not.  In fact, maintaining this predisposition cannot completely mitigate the absolute moral value of certain types of behavior. Yet U.S. Senator Frank Church reminded us in 1975, “The United States must not adopt the tactics of the enemy; each time we do so, each time the means we use are wrong, our inner strength, the strength that makes us free, is lessened.”
Equally instructive is this quotation from an earlier political leader:
“Why, of course the people don't want war.  Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece?...it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship...All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.  It works the same in any country.”  (Hermann Goering, Hitler's deputy)
St. Akakios
On the other side stands the “better angels” of our human nature, which see the commonalities that unite us, despite geopolitical disputes and historical antagonisms.  We see an example of the kind of compassion that can counterbalance the urge toward enmity, in the behavior of St. Akakios, Armenian bishop of 5th century Amida (now known as Diyarbakir, Turkey).  In the years 421 and 422 C.E., during war between Rome (when it was under a Christian Byzantine emperor) and the Persian Empire, some seven thousand Persians had been taken prisoners and were being kept under harsh conditions.  Summoning his clergy to discuss the plight of the starving captives, he said:  “Our God needs neither dishes nor cups, for He neither eats nor drinks...Since our Church possesses many gold and silver vessels, which derive from the generosity of the faithful, it is our duty to ransom the prisoners with these and to feed them.”  And so it was done.  (from Ecclesiological History, by Socrates Scholastikos, Volume VII, Chapter 21).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Post #163 - Encountering the "Other"

"Now, therefore, you are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens…" (Ephesians 2:19)

"The first day or so we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day we were aware of only one Earth." (Sultan Bin Salmanal-Saud, astronaut)

William E. Hull
We are often tempted to draw lines. Quarantine off the sick, so the healthy can stay healthy. Pluck out the bad apples, to save the rest of the barrel. But, as William E. Hull, a professor at Samford University in Birmingham, has written (in “Let Them Grow Together,” Christian Ethics Today, Spring 2007), the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30) cautions against this. When it comes to moral judgments, Hull asserts, Jesus counseled against trying to separate good wheat from bad weeds prior to the harvest. He did this in order to let us know that many judgments must be left to God; that in attempting our well-intentioned sorting, we may do unanticipated damage. He quotes Robert Farrar Capon (in Parables of the Kingdom) as saying: "...the enemy [the devil]...has to act only minimally on his own to wreak havoc in the world; mostly he depends on the forces of goodness...to do his work...Goodness itself, if it is sufficiently committed to plausible, right-handed, strong-arm methods, will in the very name of goodness do all and more than all the evil ever had in mind." Hull goes on:

"One of the greatest threats to human survival today is a creeping fundamentalism in the culture of every major world religion that would absolutize its understanding of good and evil to the point of justifying violence in the name of the sacred... [Jew, Christian or Muslim] they are all united with the field hands of old in saying, “Let's pull up and destroy the bad weeds we don't like in order to protect the good wheat that we have.” And it all sounds so sensible, even “godly,” until we realize how many weeds of bigotry, prejudice, and hatred are sown by such misguided zealotry...
"Do these [conclusions] imply that we are to be moral pacifists who fail to oppose evil until the weeds overwhelm us? No, “let both grow together” (v. 30) is the imperative of our text. We are not to give up sowing good seed and let bad seed take the field...we are to be busy growing an ever stronger faith that can more than hold its own even in a weed-choked field...But what about the weeds that never seem to change? God will know best what to do with them."

Jim Forest, author of Ladder of the Beatitudes, Praying with Icons and other books of faith-based scholarship and insight, is the head of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and a good friend. Jim has written about “the reality of enmity” and its reflection in the scriptures. When Jesus says, “Love your enemies; bless those who curse you...” (Matthew 5:44), says Forest, He was addressing a community who knew something about suffering and persecution. At that time, “There was no concept of human rights. Torture and crucifixion were not rare punishments.” His guidance was “not a teaching that...would have been easily embraced by the suffering people who were listening to him...When we talk about Christ's commandment to love one's enemies, the beginning point is the recognition that we have enemies and that evil deeds occur every minute of the day.” Yet, the example of Christ, in so many different contexts is crystal clear, in his forbearance, his forgiveness, his healing. “Healing,” writes Forest, "...is another word for peacemaking. Peacemaking is the healing of damaged or broken relationships. On one occasion an act of healing was done in response to an appeal not from a fellow Jew, but from an officer of the Roman occupation forces, the centurion who appealed to Jesus on behalf of a critically ill servant...
"Love is not the acquisition of pleasant feelings for an enemy...Love is to do what you can to preserve another life and to bring that person toward salvation...God's love...is like the sun shining on both the just and the unjust...
Jim Forest, Alkmaar, The Netherlands
"I'm talking now about the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – not the Gospel according to Hollywood. The latter provides us with a never-ending parade of stories about evil people killed by good people. The basic story tempts us to prefer heroism to sanctity, or to confuse the two. A basic element of the Gospel according to Hollywood is that the evil people are so evil that there is no real solution short of hastening their death. Confronted by such pure evil, what else can one do? But the teaching of Christ is not to kill enemies but to overcome enmity."

Forest told an audience in Belgium in 2005: "The reality is that we are brothers even if we are divided from each other as Cain was from his brother Abel. It is because we are brothers and sisters that Christ taught us to say the words 'Our Father...' There is no other kind of warfare than fratricidal warfare."

(More on this subject in my next post.)

Post #162 - Jeffersonian Democracy

David Swanson, activist and author of When the World Outlawed War, sent a piece about an unusual action taken by a local governing body:


David Swanson
"The City Council of Charlottesville, Virginia, home of Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and the University of Virginia, passed on Tuesday evening, January 17, 2012...opposing the launching of a war on Iran." The resolution also touched on military spending by the United States and the use of drones.  Swanson noted that the resolution grew out of a September, 2011 conference in Charlottesville on the "military industrial complex." In fact, the resolution passed on the anniversary of President Eisenhower's historic warning to the American people.  One council member, Dave Norris, added the language regarding Iran earlier this month, after the council was lobbied by citizen groups opposing military action against Iran.

Here are excerpts from the resolution:


Calling on Congress and the President to Redirect Military Spending to Domestic Priorities
WHEREAS, every dollar spent on the military produces fewer jobs than spending the same dollar on education, healthcare, clean energy, or even tax cuts for household consumption; and...
WHEREAS, U.S. military spending has approximately doubled in the past decade, in real dollars and as a percentage of federal discretionary spending, and well over half of federal discretionary spending is now spent on the military, and we are spending more money on the military now than during the Cold War, the Vietnam War, or the Korean War; and...
Former Mayor Dave Norris
WHEREAS, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, with the support of Charlottesville’s then Mayor Dave Norris, passed a resolution in June 2011 calling on Congress to redirect spending to domestic priorities; and...
WHEREAS, the people of the United States, in numerous opinion polls, favor redirecting spending to domestic priorities and withdrawing the U.S. military from Afghanistan; and...
WHEREAS, the United States is the wealthiest nation on earth but trails many other nations in life expectancy, infant mortality, education level, housing, and environmental sustainability, as well as non-military aid to foreign nations;...
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the City Council of Charlottesville, Virginia, calls on the U.S. Congress and the U.S. President to end foreign ground and drone wars, refrain from entering new military ventures in Iran, and reduce base military spending in order to meet vital human needs, promote job creation, re-train and re-employ those losing jobs in the process of conversion to non-military industries, rebuild our infrastructure, aid municipal and state governments, and develop a new economy based upon renewable, sustainable energy.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Post #161 - Real World Consequences

When we (the United States) go to war, we do it in a way that is quite different from the way most countries do it. For starters, though we account for a huge proportion of the world's military expenditures (nearly half), we have a rather small percentage of our population who actually enter the military, and they are (these days) going in voluntarily. It's not like the Vietnam era, when there was a draft. It's not like Israel, where virtually every young person serves their time. It's not, thank God, like some countries where "soldiers" are impressed into an army at the age of fifteen, or twelve or younger, by brutal coercion.

The circumstances of our "raising" of a military force lead to some anomalies. First, we are, for the most part, blissfully unaware of the specifics of what it takes to prosecute a major conflict. We must never forget that he have not experienced war on our own turf, as it were, since the middle of the nineteenth century.  We also don't know our own troops -- the ones who ship out to the other side of the world to carry out our bidding.

Still from "Where Soldiers Come From"
In the new documentary "Where Soldiers Come From, " one sees that many young men (and women, of course, but mostly men) find themselves enlisting, being inducted and serving in the military often without any real sense of why they are doing it, or what the outcomes might be. They enlist because their buddy did, or because there is a tradition of service to the country. When they come home, they may still not know exactly why they were there, especially in the recent conflicts.  Are they virtuous?  That's a hard question, even for them.  Are they brave?  Yes.  Will they, after being trained and briefed, fight like hell to protect their comrades in arms (their buddies), try to stay alive, and to carry out their mission?  Certainly (probably in that order).

To some extent, every eighteen- or twenty-year-old does a lot of things on auto-pilot. We go to college if our parents did, we go into the family business because it's expected, we go to war because our father, or uncle or older brother did. And then...what happens happens. A lot happens.

The magazine DAV ("The Official Voice of the Disabled American Veterans and DAV Auxiliary") just featured an article entitled "Burden of War Growing." They didn't mean that the monetary cost to the American taxpayer is growing (though it is). They didn't mean that the political cost to the Obama administration is growing; it probably isn't. They were referring to the human cost in terms of injury and lost capacity to function.

A Pew Research Center survey they cited showed that of those who had served in combat, almost a quarter of them had become disabled. About half said that their health was fair or poor. Some 47% of soldiers with a spouse and/or children suffered from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Matt Beaudoin, who suffers from traumatic brain injury
Now, I have had some experience with folks who have PTSD. Let me tell you that it is not something that you can shrug off, like a sinus headache or even a broken ankle. It is a trauma that changes who you are (in this case, as a husband or wife, as a father, and as a worker). Therefore, it is not hard to understand that fifty-four percent -- over half -- have trouble readjusting to civilian life. It helps explain why almost every day a returnee ends his or her own life.

The Veterans Health Administration director estimates that today's roughly $2 billion that it takes to care for the current crop of veterans may swell to as much as eight-plus billion in 2020 -- see, we can't very well just stop taking care of them just because the particular hostilities stop (if they stop).

These musings concern our own troops -- our own young people. What about all the others?

At Guantanamo, according to ACLU, 92% of those incarcerated have not been found to be al Qaeda fighters (reported in Time Magazine, January 23, 2011). Among the 779 we imprisoned, twenty-one were children, as young as thirteen. The oldest was 98. (One wonders how much of a threat he could be; apparently enough that he could not be held by civilian jails, or even brought into the United States proper, without endangering American citizens.) The vast majority were handed over to U.S. custody because we offered a bounty to someone to provide them. Some of them have spent ten years, without a trial to either condemn them or exonerate them.

The number of civilians that gave their lives to oust Saddam and usher in an uncertain new future has been estimated at 100,000 or more. Afghani deaths have yet to be properly counted, but will be considerable.

This is all generated by Iraq and Afghanistan. What will be generated by a strike (overt or covert) on Iran? How many pilots will have to fly over Iran, to observe or bomb, while Iranians attempt to shoot them down? How many will be on U.S. ships within range of Iranian missiles, planes or other craft? How many will be targeted at an embassy or just on the street, following the assault, in some country or another, just because the opportunity presents itself to some covert agent?

When the children or grandchildren of a soldier ask "why did you have to get hurt?." or "why did Daddy have to die? or "Why does Momma act that way?" it won't really matter very much whether it was to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, to stop al Qaeda in Afghanistan or to keep Iran from having a bomb. The question will be asked, and someone will attempt to answer it. Whatever answer they manage to give will likely be inadequate and will never satisfy the kid asking it.