We talk about wanting peace. What is peace? How do we achieve it? Is it possible to obtain world peace? Can we design a vision of peace?
Israeli designer Ronny Edri is attempting to do just that. It began with uploading to Facebook a simple poster of him and his daughter, with the words “Iranians we will never bomb your country. We love you.” Here is a video of Ronny Edri sharing about how it all began..
If you have yet to discover and “like” the Israel-Loves-Iran facebook page, please visit. I have been following along with this amazing project since it began. This is a grassroots peace movement that shows how social media is changing how we can connect and see one another as people, not nationalities that are supposed to be at odds with one another.
This building of relationships and connections is incredibly powerful. When the faceless people of a nation suddenly have names and are sharing that neither wants war or mean each other harm, there is a shift that takes place. A powerful shift. Is it strong enough to hold back the tides of a war that political leaders may be manipulating into reality?
Thich Nhat Hanh shares this in his book Being Peace:
“During the war in Vietnam we young Buddhists organized ourselves to help victims of the war rebuild villages that had been destroyed by the bombs.
Many of us died during service, not only because of the bombs and the bullets, but because of the people who suspected us of being on the other side. We were able to understand the suffering of both sides, the communists and the anti-communists. We tried to be open to both, to understand this side and to understand that side, to be one with them. That is why we did not take a side, even though the whole world took sides. We tried to tell people our perception of the situation: that we wanted to stop the fighting, but the bombs were so loud. Sometimes we had to burn ourselves alive to get the message across, but even then the world could not hear us. They thought we were supporting a kind of political act. They didn’t know that it was a purely human action to be heard, to be understood. We wanted reconciliation, we did not want a victory. Working to help people in a circumstance like that is very dangerous, and many of us got killed. The communists killed us because they suspected that we were working with the Americans, and the anti-communists killed us because they thought that we were with the communists. But we did not want to give up and take one side.
The situation of the world is still like this. People completely identify with one side, one ideology. To understand the suffering and the fear of…[another citizen] we have to become one with him or her. To do so is dangerous-we will be suspected by both sides. But if we don’t do it, if we align ourselves with one side or the other, we will lose our chance to work for peace. Reconciliation is to understand both sides, to go to one side and describe the suffering being endured by the other side, and then to go to the other side and describe the suffering being endured by the first side. Doing only that will be a great help for peace.”
So how do we create understanding between people? How do find common ground? I think it is helpful as Thich Nhat Hahn recommends, is identifying with not just one side, but with both sides. I think there can be much enlightenment when we look back and explore the history of a situation, the back story, so to speak. What is the history between Iran and the United States of America? Does the past between our two nations have any affect on the current situation? If you want to learn more keep reading below.
The Iran Agenda:
I still cringe to this day when I recall George W. Bush’s State of the Union Address from January 29, 2002. This is the speech in which Bush referred to Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the “Axis of Evil.” I still want to slap my forehead, shake my head and ask aloud to anyone listening, “How in the world did the President of the United States think it was okay to label three nations as evil, and even worse, do it in public at an event where the world was listening?”
My own take on those events is that the administration was beating the drums of war and building their case to convince the American people that more wars would likely be necessary to protect their homeland. The war in Afghanistan had begun on October 7, 2001, less than a month after the events of September 11th. Then on March 19th, 2003, after many accusations that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction, the United States, accompanied by the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland attacked Iraq.
Even after Bush’s axis of evil pronouncement in 2002 a number of nations were alarmed at this statement. Mohammed Khatami, who was President of Iran at the time, had made a concerted effort to tone down hostile rhetoric toward the U.S. as part of a more pragmatic foreign policy, but he condemned Bush’s demonizing of Iran as “meddling, warmongering, insulting and a repetition of old propaganda.”
Many Iranians expressed sorrow and support for the United States after 9/11. There were even candlelight vigils held by Iranians. What was also very fascinating to read in a book by Reese Erlich called The Iran Agenda: The Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis is how “the Iranian government cooperated with the United States in its efforts to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan. This may come as a surprise to those who want to neatly place all Islamic fundamentalists into one group, but Iran solidly opposed Taliban rule. The Taliban murdered nine Iranian diplomats in 1998, almost leading the two countries to war. Iran had supported the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban.” Iran was going to assist in the alliance to invade Afghanistan. The US initially praised Iran’s “constructive role” in the meetings. “In January 2002, Iran pledged $560 million for Afghan reconstruction aid, the largest amount offered from a third world country.” According to the author Erlich, Iranian officials told him “that they expected the United States to extend the contacts over Afghanistan into a wider dialogue about U.S.-Iranian relations.” Instead President Bush proceeded to denounce Iran later that same month as part of the “axis of evil” and this effectively shut down relations.
An organization called Just Foreign Policy includes on their web site the following statement: “The Bush Administration has deployed a rhetoric of confrontation against Iran, including the threat of military force without United Nations or even Congressional authorization. Many of the Bush Administration’s claims that Iran is a threat echo claims used to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq and rest on similarly dubious evidence. Policies have been approved, such as authorizing the killing of Iranian officials in Iraq, that could easily escalate into a broader military confrontation.” In addition they state “Americans are being told that Iran is on the brink of developing nuclear weapons, supports terrorism, is helping to kill American soldiers in Iraq, and is determined to destroy Israel. Therefore, the reasoning goes, we must prepare to attack Iran.”
Stephen Kinzer, the award winning author and former foreign correspondent for the New York Times rejects this argument. He, along with a diverse group of other experts on Iran, Congressional leaders and military experts have been traveling across the country to present other perspectives and options for a more rational foreign policy towards Iran. You can read more about their ideas at the web site The Folly of Attacking Iran, which is also part of the Just Foreign Policy organization.
My understanding of the history of Iran was greatly illuminated by reading Stephen Kinzer’s gripping book called All The Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror. In great detail the book shows how the United States has played an active role in Iran for decades, often in ways resented by Iranians. The USA organized a coup in 1953 against the popular and democratically elected Prime-Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. Mossadegh had been considered a problem by the British for many years. The British over the years had gained control of various assets of Iran, including their oil. While the British in Iran lived in beautiful homes with manicured lawns and enjoyed swimming pools and such, the Iranians who worked for the oil company lived in squalor. Repeated requests to the British to share the profits more equitably with Iran and to improve conditions and wages for the workers were always met with disdain and no change.
As Iran began to question the British involvement in their county things grew more heated. The British were unwilling to be diplomatic or negotiate. They even tried to convince President Truman to help them overthrow Mossadegh so they could replace him with someone they could control. President Truman wanted no part in their imperialistic desires. The British were almost ready to just attack and take over Iran but world opinion kept them at bay a bit longer. When Truman didn’t run for office again and President Eisenhower was elected the British suspected the USA might be more amenable to involve themselves in Iran. They were correct. Certain members of Eisenhower’s administration were very open to the idea of choreographing regime change. The overthrow of Iran in 1953 is considered to be the very first coup that the American CIA organized.
After the coup, the monarchy of the Shah was reinstated and supported by the United States. There are many who believe that Iran could well have continued on the path of democracy if it wasn’t for the meddling of the USA and Great Britain. The irony is that America is supposed to be the great supporter of democracy and yet it overthrew a democratic prime minister in order to give a monarch full control of the nation.
Years later the people of Iran rose up to remove the Shah, who some say ruled with an iron fist. Under his rule he created a domestic security and intelligence organization called Savak. According to articles in Federation of American Scientists and TIME magazine, SAVAK “tortured and murdered thousands of the Shah’s opponents. It has been described as Iran’s “most hated and feared institution” prior to revolution of 1979, for its association with the foreign CIA intelligence organization, and its torture and execution of regime opponents. It’s “torture methods included electric shock, whipping, beating, inserting broken glass and pouring boiling water into the rectum, tying weights to the testicles, and the extraction of teeth and nails.” After the 1979 revolution, a CIA film was found which had been made for Savak security forces on how to torture women.
In the Bush years there were alarming headlines in the news in which the Bush administration accused Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons. A decade later this topic continues to make headlines and is sometimes a topic of debate, as we saw in the sparring between Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan. Iran has however consistently maintained that they are only seeking nuclear power to improve conditions in their country and they are adamant in insisting that other countries have no right to dictate that they cannot do so.
Here is a brief introduction to the history of the nuclear program of Iran as taken from Wikipedia. Iran’s nuclear program was “launched in the 1950’s with the help of the United States as part of the Atoms for Peace program. The participation of the United States and Western European governments in Iran’s nuclear program continued until the 1979 Iranian Revolution that toppled the Shah of Iran. After the 1979 revolution, the clandestine research program was disbanded by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had serious religious reservations about nuclear weapons, which he considered evil in terms of Muslim jurisprudence. Small scale research restarted during the Iran-Iraq war, and underwent significant expansion after the Ayatollah’s death in 1989. Iran’s nuclear program has included several research sites, two uranium mines, a research reactor, and uranium processing facilities that include three known uranium enrichment plants.
In a January 2012 article in Salon Magazine, Glenn Greenwald, noted the “killing of at least five Iranian nuclear scientists during 2010 and 2011, by unknown attackers, with no apparent outcry in the Western media.” When researching about Mossad, the Israeli Intelligence agency, more details were forthcoming about how “Mossad has been accused of assassinating Masoud Alimohammadi, Ardeshir Hosseinpour, Majid Shahriari, Darioush Rezaeinejad and Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan; scientists involved in the Iranian nuclear program.” Per Wikipedia, Mossad “is also suspected of being behind the attempted assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Fereydoon Abbasi. Meir Dagan, who served as Director of the Mossad from 2002 until 2009 – while not taking credit for the assassinations, praised them in an interview with a journalist, saying ‘the removal of important brains’ from the Iranian nuclear project had achieved so-called ‘white defections,’ frightening other Iranian nuclear scientists into requesting that they be transferred to civilian projects.”
“In early February 2012, Mossad director Tamir Pardo met with U.S. national security officials in Washington, D.C. to sound them out on possible American reactions in the event Israel attacked Iran over the objections of the United States.”
Author Stephen Kinzer also addresses the nuclear issue in the preface to his book All the Shah’s Men: “The only way Iran can reasonably be expected to curb its nuclear ambitions would be through some kind of ‘grand bargain’ in which its own security concerns would be addressed. That would probably require a solution that goes beyond Iran’s borders and creates a new security architecture for the Middle East. It is not reasonable to expect Iran to abandon its nuclear program as long as its main regional enemy, Israel, and its main world enemy, the United States, are nuclear-armed and issuing a stream of barely veiled threats to Iran.”
I think that the Just Foreign Policy organization summed it up well when they stated the following “The recent history of relations between the United States and Iran has been marked by misunderstanding and mistrust shaped by the unjust use of violence and threats of violence. Violent conflict has not served the interests of either country. Military threats deepen hostilities and resentment and future conflict becomes more likely. Serious diplomacy between our two countries is needed.”
I would add to the need for greater diplomacy the following:
- The healing of old wounds.
- The releasing of the past.
- Living in the present.
- Finding common ground.
- Choosing Love.
- Choosing Peace.
I have written before about Iyanla Vanzant’s prescription for working through an issue, which is to Feel, Deal, and then Heal. Feel. Deal. Heal. Do you think we could get her to do an intervention for some heads of state? Have her give them some straight talk and get them to play nice with one another and work together to make a peaceful world our reality?
In the meantime let us join the thousands of people sending in their photos and sentiments of wanting there to be peace, compassion, friendship, love and understanding between us all. While some may be lost in a world of revenge, greed, fear, anger, hatred and ignorance, those of us who see there is another way will continue to design a vision of peace.
Please visit the Israel-Loves-Iran Facebook page and add your part to this campaign. There are other pages now too, such as America-Loves-Iran that you can also visit, “like” and share with your family and friends. It is through such positive sharing and enlightening that we tear down walls and bridge gaps of misunderstanding and fear. We can all be a spokesperson for peace. There can never be too many.
If you can take the time, below is an incredibly eye-opening and informative video with Rick Steves who makes traveling documentaries. In this video he visits Iran and allows us a glimpse into the lives of current day Iranians, while also sharing some of the rich history of this fascinating country.