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The Road to Esfahan

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I'm in Shiraz, on the way to Esfahan.

It's good to get out of gray, smoggy Tehran, one of the least photogenic cities in the world, where black is the new black, from the hejabs on down.
One of the attractions of Shiraz is the tomb of Hafez, a Persian poet from the 14th Century. It's thronged at night. Iranians bring flowers, then stand or kneel beside the sarcophagous and recite his poems.

My personal reaction is, this is how writers should always be treated.

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Iranians are among the most gracious and hospitable people I've ever met.

The question, of course, is whether we should bomb these people?
In America today, we tend to see things in Manichaean terms. That is, we divide things into absolute opposites, light and dark, good and evil, us and them.

We could, if we went back far enough, blame that on them. The word Manichaean refers to the Persian prophet Mani (from around 250 AD). The whole notion of good and evil, with man in the middle, having to make a choice, then rewarded and condemned in an after life, goes back to an even earlier Persian prophet, Zoroaster, from around 1,000 BC. Those ideas entered Judaism during the Babylonian exile and the liberation of the Jews by Cyrus the Great of Persia, and from there, into Christianity.

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There are still Zoroastrians and Jews in modern day Persia, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

These are people with a rich and varied history. A very humanistic history.
The question is, why should we bomb these people?

The answer is that they are part of the Axis of Evil!

Iranians are somewhat confused by that designation.

The United States was attacked on September 11, 2001 by a ragged group of conspirators called Al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, headquartered in Afghanistan, where they were protected and nurtured by the Taliban. The Taliban were, and are, fanatical, fundamentalist Sunnis. They're the ones who put women in burkhas, those full body coverings, and veils, required men to be bearded, banned all music, television, movies, photographs, statues, stuffed animals and dolls.

The Taliban came to power in 1996. They were supported by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

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They were opposed by the Northern Alliance. The Northern Alliance was supported by Russia, India and, most of all, by Iran.

The United States was neutral from 1996 to 2001. After 9/11, we demanded that Afghanistan's Taliban government hand over Osama bin Laden. When they refused, we entered the war, primarily with air power, in support of the Northern Alliance.

"American links with the Northern Alliance were fragmentary … Afghan opposition groups [were] suspicious of the United States. Tehran's mediation proved essential … Iran also provided intelligence … agreed to rescue American pilots … allowed some 165,000 tons of US food aid to traverse its territory … [after the fighting] Iran was instrumental in crafting the interim Afghan government."

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LARRY BEINHART is the author of SALVATION BOULEVARD, soon to be released as a major motion picture with Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connelly, Marissa Tomei, Ed Harris, and Jim Gaffigan, WAG THE DOG, The Librarian, Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin and HOW TO (more...)

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