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My Encounter with Iran

By Karla Hansen

American poet Carl Sandburg wrote succinctly on the topic of encounters in "Choose":

The single clenched fist lifted and ready.
Or the open asking hand held out and waiting.
For we meet by one or the other.

Karla Hansen

Mainstream media in the United States portrays Iran as the raised clenched fist and misguidedly, the masses buy this distorted picture as gospel.  For the past six weeks I have met, dined, danced, cried and laughed with Iranians.  I am a short fifty-plus, blue eyed American woman who has yet to feel any fear or unease on Iranian soil. 

Accompanied by my Iranian born husband, I have privileged access to many experiences not available to most visitors. Traveling with a camcorder and camera, I record the universal human stories that unfold before me.  I will carry home to Des Moines, Iowa, a portrait of Iran quite different from the narrative depicted by the mainstream propaganda machine powered by the U.S./Zionist/military alliance that has a stranglehold on America.  I am no longer polite about bluntly naming bullies.  Our world is unraveling at a frightening speed and I have lost what little patience I possess expecting that governments will change unless a mighty roar is heard from the people.

My journey took me from Tehran to a small Kurdish village near the border of Iran and Turkmenistan, where I was royally welcomed as the first American to walk the simple mud paths winding through the homes, courtyards and livestock quarters. And, where I received a great honor as the village men invited me to film the exclusively male ceremony celebrating the engagement of two promising young villagers.

A myth that has been dispelled in my experience is the one that holds Iran is a 'police state'.  I witnessed police and military presence in the three multi-million populated cities of Tehran, Esfahan, Mashad, as well as five mid-size cities and numerous villages.  The police presence is primarily used for traffic control because frequently two lanes turn into three as cars ignore the painted lines on the road and then along comes a family of three on a single motorcycle and the two lanes of traffic fluidly becomes four.  In such situations, I expected to see clenched fists, or at least hear harsh shouts.  However, travel seems to survive on quick beeps of the horn, with the drivers remaining calm and matter-of- fact, and then return quickly to conversations with passengers. 

From Tehran to tiny tribal villages, I have been greeted with extraordinary enthusiasm, despite decades of U.S. imperial offenses that have touched the lives of each and every Iranian.  Misty-eyed I apologize at each new encounter for these acts of aggression, including the ongoing economic sanctions of nearly thirty years.  

Tens of thousands Iranians at Imam Square surrounded me for President Ahmadinejad's April eighth visit to Esfahan. Arriving very early, the police and armed forces took special care of me, allowing me to film the speech and escorting me to a special place on the fence that separated the men from the women.  I am still pondering how very calm I was during the entire five hours, a sea of black chadors lapped against my feet dangling from the fence.  Reportedly the square can hold two million, and I saw not a smidgen of grass in the standing room only crowd.

Ahmadinejad in Esfahan

I recorded all of the President's speech and was amazed at the accuracy reported in the English version of the Tehran News the next day.  President Ahmadinejad speaks with a resolute diplomacy that reinforced my previous assessment of him, when I was in the audience at two events in New York City last September (read report).  His statements regarding the roots of war as greed are right on target and, of course, the military, industrial complex of the U.S. and Israel are loath to admit he is courageous for speaking the truth, for that would entail looking into the mirror.

President Ahmadinejad repeated this insight shared in last year's address to the United Nations  "We think the time for the atomic bomb has come to an end.  The bomb is not effective.  We have passed that time.  We have entered a new era, the era of thought, humanity and culture.  Those who have atomic bomb arsenals or want to build a new generation of them, in my opinion, are people who are politically backward, period." 

Small wonder that the U.S. with over ten thousand nuclear weapons and Israel, decidedly the most influential U.S. ally with approximately two hundred nuclear warheads, largely funded by U.S. taxpayers - are squirming in their seats and inventing new schemes to demonize Iran who has no nuclear weapons (as verified by reliable reports from the IAEA, International Atomic Energy Agency)

By far, the most humbling experience took place at a city council meeting in Shirvan, a mid-sized city which is a melting pot for the surrounding villages and tribes, primarily of Kurdish origin.  Seated around the table, the majority of the members were veterans or family members of veterans who lost lives and limbs in the eight year U.S. sponsored Iran-Iraq war.  The city council members and media representatives asked thoughtful, respectful questions and I couldn't help but picture in my mind how my fellow Americans would act if the roles were reversed.  Indeed, I have followed closely the bellicose treatment by politicians and media each time the subject of Iran makes the news.  From small town barbershop conversations to the halls of Congress one can hear the self righteous poking, prodding and condemning of Iran's sovereign affairs while viewing the U.S. through perpetual rose colored lenses. The powerful interests that benefit from war and militarism in the Middle East, either monetarily or geopolitically, constitute a well oiled machine that fans the flames demonizing Iran and any other country that dares to confront U.S. or Israel aggressions.

Each conversation from articulate taxi drivers, to village elders, to the city leaders in Shirvan carried a similar theme regarding Iranians long standing aversion to initiating violence and the honor of extending the hand of friendship to all humanity.  I received the most treasured gift as their allegiance to peace was extended to me.  These gracious words were written in exquisite calligraphy and presented to me ceremoniously. 

Dear perceptive Lady Karla Hansen,

With greetings and respect.  You know well that the world is our house and humanity is like a sky without limits or borders.  Your conscious defense of the glorious history of dear Iran, your admirable defense of peace and love for humanity, and your tireless efforts within antiwar groups in the United States are greatly appreciated.  We ask God Almighty to help you succeed in promoting bright and valuable ideas toward peace and friendship.

Signed by the head of the City Council and Mayor of Shirvan

In my remaining ten days in Iran I will strive to live up to these expectations by making the most of each small encounter to shore up our disintegrating world peace by extending one hand at a time.

We have so much to learn from this rich and ancient civilization that has not invaded another country in over two hundred years.  Iran's beloved poet Rumi provides a roadmap to peace with this verse.

            Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.

            I'll meet you there.

            When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.

            Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn't make any sense.    


Karla Hansen

... Payvand News - 04/29/09 ... --

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