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I got to talk to a real live Iranian in Tehran! (And other colorful details to get you to pick up the phone and call Congress)

June 12, 2008

Thanks to this fabulous event sponsored by Campaign for a New American Policy on Iran, which FCNL is a part of, and Enough Fear, I got to make my first phone call to Tehran.

I talked to a young petrochemical engineering student who I will call Mohammed (literally the most common name in the entire world…and number 2 in the UK…how interesting is that?). We had a gracious translator be the intermediary between our Farsi/English dialogue. Mohammad was very kind. He told me that he was a pacifist, wanted me to spread the word to uninformed Americans (my label not his) that the Iranian government is not representative of the Iranian people, and that it never will be if there is any sort of military or cover intervention by the US.

It always scares me to hear foreigners tell me things like this….for three reasons

1) They often speak with the sort of urgency in their voice making it seem that they are telling me because they believe that whether or not my government bombs their country is something I have control over

2) The very idea that that might (on a comparative level to the power that most of the world would ever have access to) be true.

3) Because it makes me remember this unforgettable quote from an Iraqi just weeks before the 2003 invasion:

“It’s funny,” she [Janon Kadhim] says of the cultural disconnect. “Why should we be sitting here trying to convince you that we are OK? Why should I have to make you feel like we are people worth living?”

What do you do with that?

What do you do with a world where certain people based on where they are born try to convince other people that they are worth living? What do you do when you have–without any doubt–the upper hand? When you never would even consider having to defend your existence to another country?

This is the general gist of our convo:

me: “What do Iranians think of when they think of the US?”

M: “Freedom and democracy at home. But in the Middle East–War. What do most Americans think of when they think of Iranians?”

me:”Black chadors for women, a deeply religious society, Persian rugs, pistachios, Ahmadinejad and Holocaust denial, nuclear weapons, absolutely gorgeous mosques, prisons and oppression, exotic gorgeous mysterious, dark country”

M: (laughs) “Thank you. Now I understand.”

Yes Mohammed—I think I do too. I understand that romanticism and hostility go together–they are the guardians of making sure there is always an “other”. That the world would be a better place if we just associated each other with pots and pans, foreheads with wrinkles, babies with dimples, with tree trunks and worn hands, with falling in love and getting your heart broken…and other gloriously normal things that we all have in common.

One more reason why people should not leave it only to their leaders to pick up ringing red telephones (whether its 3 AM or not)

As for the picture—LOOK!– FCNL lobbyist Jim Fine is in the background! In the foreground that would be former Congressman Bob Barr and Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey. (And yes, Bob Barr is the Libertarian presidential candidate…and no, obviously FCNL does not in any way endorse him or any other candidate–though we do like his tie!).

If it isn’t evident already, having Reps Lee and Woolsey together with Bob Barr shows that there is wide support across the political spectrum that we need diplomacy without preconditions (vs. an attack in any way, shape, or form). In fact, a recent poll revealed that only 7% of the American people want to take military action against Iran! (For comparison, consider that 34% of Americans believe in UFOs–one fifth of the number of Americans who believe in UFO’s want to take military action against Iran. Unlike UFO belief, I would suspect that bombing Iran is supported by a certain population overly represented in Washington DC. From certain think tanks that shall remain unnamed–but happened to have provided the greatest push for war with a certain neighboring country to Iran in 2003. That is just for comparison. I am not suggesting any correlation between the Americans who believe in UFOs and those that want to attack Iran…although perhaps that should be looked into. I do, however, think that perhaps I should be more culturally sensitive when speaking of UFOs)

Thanks to all of you who did make a phone call–either by coming out and calling Iran or by calling your rep–more than 5,000 phone calls have been made this week to Congress supporting direct diplomacy, without preconditions, with Iran.

For those of you who didn’t, feel guilty!! And then wash away that guilt by checking out our talking points and taking 5 min of your time to make a very important call:

And make the phone call: 1-800-788-9372

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