Four members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation's 12th peace delegation to Iran sent reflections on their initial experiences in Tehran. Reports from Ray Doherty of Waitsfield, Vermont; Lynda Howland of Pittsford, New York; Carolyn Hartnett of Texas City, Texas; and Andy Jones of Wylie, Texas, are presented here.
An American's First Visit to Iran: Dispelling the Stereotypes
By Ray Doherty
In the first days after arriving in Iran, any initial apprehension about being in this much maligned country began to dissipate. In parks, restaurants, and museums, Iranians would approach our group out of curiosity and ask where we are from. When told we are from the United States, invariably a broad smile and a cheerful conversation would quickly follow.
Many Iranians seem astonished but delighted that Americans are visiting Iran. Although Iranians oppose U.S. foreign policy, they distinguish between the U.S. government and the individual American visitor. In spite of the occasional anti-American slogan or mural displayed in some public places by government hard-liners, there is absolutely no animosity displayed on a personal level towards the American visitor here. My initial impression is that Iranians are unfailingly polite, hospitable, and civil towards foreign visitors.
Iranians are well educated and many have a keen appreciation for music, poetry, fine art and literature. The common American misconception of Iranians as anti-American fanatics and terrorists is simply wrong; this common fallacy is the end result of the relentless anti-Iranian propaganda emanating from the U.S. mainstream media and State Department. As citizen diplomats withFOR, it is our responsibility to set the record straight with articles and public presentations when we return to our respective communities in the United States.
Many Iranians have relatives in the U.S. and a large number of younger Iranians would be happy to get a U.S. visa to come to the United States. Given the fact that the Iranian-American diaspora community is a sizeable one albeit one with a low profile, this does not surprise me. It would be wonderful and beneficial for both countries to have more cultural exchanges between the U.S. and Iran as a first step in promoting better relations and greater understanding. Musical concerts, film festivals, and art exhibitions between the U.S. and Iran would be welcomed in both our countries.
Society for Chemical Weapons Victims SupportIranians do not seek war with any nation. Our FOR group had an emotionally moving meeting with Iranian survivors of the Iran-Iraq war who were injured by chemical weapons deployed by Saddam Hussein. [Ed. Note: Above photo of the hand of a chemical weapons survivor of that war taken by Bill Wolak, member of FOR’s March 2007 Iran delegation, from a previous visit with the Society for Chemical Weapons Victims Support. Used with permission. Photo below of SCWVS members taken this week by Judy Bello.]
It is a sad fact that the U.S. government had supported Saddam at that time, andU.S. corporations supplied many of the precursor chemicals utilized by Saddam in producing deadly chemical weapons and nerve gas. The Iraqi regime not only targeted military areas but also attacked civilian residential areas in Iran and Kurdistan including Sardasht, Marivan, Halabja, and Sarpol-e Zahab and surrounding villages. More than 100,000 Iranians were documented in receiving medical care for chemical-weapons-related injuries.
The horrific and unspeakable suffering caused by this war brings to mind the following lines from the Iranian poet Saadi, which is inscribed at the entrance of the United Nations Hall of Nations:
“Of one Essence is the human race
Thus has Creation put the base?
One Limb impacted is sufficient
For all others to feel the Mace”
By Lynda Howland
We must all rededicate ourselves to work for peace and help implement practical nonviolent solutions to ongoing disputes between the U.S. and other nations. In its own unique way, I truly believe that FOR peace delegations can play a useful and effective role in helping to defuse the tensions that exist between the United States and Iran.
Yesterday presented a very profound experience. We met with four victims of chemical warfare during the Iran/Iraq War. Each man had found himself in the position of defending his country while only a teenager. (I believe one was 12.) One man was missing both his legs. Another suffered from the effects of chemical weapons, and “tears” continually ran down his face. While most of us feel the pleasure of breathing in and out, he feels pain every time he takes a breath. The third had a spinal cord injury that left him wheelchair bound. The fourth also suffered from the long-term effects of mustard gas, and has to be attached to an oxygen tank at all times as he awaits a lung transplant.
Most poignant was the oxygen-dependent gentleman thanking his wife for nursing him through his periodic comas. She broke down momentarily, saying that she was humbled by her husband thanking her, and speaking to her devotion to him.
The use of chemical weapons was banned years ago, but not the manufacture of them. During the Iran/Iraq War, numerous nations, including the United States, were manufacturing chemical and biological weapons and making them available to Iraq to use against Iran.
These men who told us their stories did not ask for war, and yet continue to suffer because of the inhumanity of man. I wonder ... if Americans ever experienced the horrors of “modern” war as many others around the world have - would we ever allow our government to wage war again? Would we even have the choice to say “NO?”
I recall the words of a minister at a service following 9/11/01 - “We have to guard against becoming the evil we so deplore.”
Hello from Tehran
By Carolyn Hartnett
Tehran is a city of charming children and friendly adults. Many can speak English as a second language. We are learning that the people are not the government. We hope Iranians are learning from us even if they hate our government. They have no reason to hate Americans. Some have relatives in the United States, and some say they want to visit.
Palace of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi
By Andy Jones
This afternoon, our group of eight Americans visited the palace and other buildings of the former Shah. The grounds are very green with lush trees and grass and flowers. A light rain coupled with the high elevation made the afternoon cool and pleasant, no different than summers in the mountains of Colorado. We saw a few groups of school girls outside the main palace among other visitors. One class - all girls - wore white hijabs (head coverings) and long pink dresses. Another class of girls was dressed in brown. I saw more than one girl carrying pink bags with the message “Hello Kitty” in English.
At one point during our visit, a sweet girl about 11 or 12 years old and I approached one another on a walking path. “Hello,” she said, smiling as she continued walking. “Welcome” she added, a few seconds later. Like many Iranians, she was able to greet me in English. I was astonished to hear such a young child speak English in such foreign place.
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