On Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C., a five-member group of Americans reported on their just-completed 12-day trip through Iran. As with other delegations of this sort, they reported on a country that bears very little resemblance to the horrifying axis-of-evil member we hear about on U.S. television.
Phil Wileto of the Virginia Antiwar Network and the Richmond Defender said the Iranian people were extremely welcoming. They were mobbed by 80 school children wanting to practice their English. They encountered by chance 300 members of the Iranian National Guard who were delighted to meet Americans and spoke immediately of peace and friendship. There does not appear, Wileto said, to be any campaign in Iran to prepare the people there for war. The Iranian people view Americans with friendship, admiration, curiosity.
Tom Palumbo of Norfolk, Virginia, a member of Veterans for Peace, said that they met with Imams, goat herders, students, in planned meetings, and spontaneously stopping in the desert for tea by the side of the road. They had open access to the opinions of Iranians. They were assisted by an interpreter whom they trusted completely. They went to a peace museum and met victims of the war with Iraq, people who had been gassed and wounded. These Iranians agreed with the Americans that weapons of mass destruction serve no people's interests. Palumbo found the desire for peace to be dominant in Iran.
Tyla Madison of Richmond, Virginia, the only female member of the delegation, echoed Palumbo's report and said that they found friendship and warmth in Iran.
Art Barber of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, said that in Iran illiteracy increased significantly when they were fighting the war against Iraq. He said he saw similarities to how military spending in the United States is now draining resources for vital needs.
Geoff Millard, Washington D.C. Chapter President of Iraq Veterans for Peace, said Iranians and Americans do not view war the same way. In Iran they speak of the 8-year war, not the Iran-Iraq War. They do not say Iraq gassed them. They say Saddam Hussein gassed them. They do not blame a people, but a regime.
We drove past a nuclear power plant, Millard said, and then a town full of people. They would be the victims of bombing that plant, he said. "The victims of wars are people just like the people in this room. The makers of war, the governments, will not be victimized."
The speakers took questions from those gathered in the Washington, D.C., restaurant Busboys and Poets. One question was about the rights of women in Iran. The members of the delegation said that they did see a lack of women's rights. Another member of the audience, an Iranian woman, spoke up, saying that as much as Iranian women want greater freedoms, they have more now than do women in any other Middle Eastern country, including all of the United States' allies, such as Saudi Arabia. "We do not need to be liberated," she said, opposing any military attack by the United States.
Geoff Millard asked if there were any women in the room who felt safe to walk alone in any neighborhood in Washington, D.C., at 2 a.m. None raised a hand. Millard proposed that America should lead by example rather than criticizing others and pretending to a white man's burden, particularly when US actions have moved Middle Eastern countries toward right-wing fundamentalist policies.
Palumbo said that above all what he found was great similarity between Americans and Iranians. He said that awareness of that similarity and greater dialogue could break down what he sees as a racist view of Muslims now dominant in the United States.
Madison and Millard both said that they have had conversations with strangers in the United States already since they got back in which they have opened people's eyes to the beauty and humanity of Iran. They stressed the need for these one-on-one conversations. Wileto added that reaching people in greater numbers is needed to. The only traditional media in the room on Tuesday was a reporter for a newspaper in Japan.
To learn how you can visit Iran, contact the Virginia Antiwar Network at http://www.vawn.org