Patience is the road to reconciliation with Iran
By Anisa Mehdi
Two weeks ago today I left Iran. I was sorry to leave after such a short visit – just one week. I was attending a conference and got to spent time with friends I hadn’t seen since my last trip to Iran, six years ago. The cabby that picked me up outside my friend’s apartment late that Friday night spoke better English than I spoke Farsi. Within the first five minutes of our hour-long trek to the glittery, new Imam Khomeini International Airport he managed to communicate something significant. “Khomeini, good,” he said bluntly. “Khamenei, bad.”
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was the charismatic figurehead of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. He led the new Islamic Republic of Iran as its Supreme Leader until his death in 1989. Ali Khamenei (who was president for most of the 1980s) succeeded him and is Supreme Leader today. Six presidents have held the office in the nearly 30 years since the Revolution. They range from revolutionary (like Abolhassan Bani Sadr, 1980-81) to reformist (Mohammad Khatemi, 1997-2005) to conservative (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 2005 to present). The Supreme Leader tops the president in authority.
I don’t know how religious my taxi driver may have been; I don’t know how old he was at the time of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. I don’t know if longstanding American sanctions had soured his lifestyle enough to impact his politics. But I do know that with those four words he said plainly what far more fluent English speakers had been saying throughout my weeklong stay: that they appreciated the independence brought by revolution and they don’t like the way things are now.
Iranians as a whole value the daring, vigor and success of the Revolution. They are glad to be free of the dictatorship of the Shah. Their pride in Persia swells to know it is not a puppet state. People I know returned to Iran in the early 1980s specifically to be part of this momentous time in their national history.
At the same time many are unhappy with their country’s current politics and policies. They are anxious about the red-cape rhetoric of President Ahmadinejad. Even if Iran does have a right to explore uranium enrichment for peaceable purposes, why would he taunt the USA with ambiguous nuclear talk? Why doesn’t the Supreme Leader simply acquiesce to American terms for the time being and defuse tension?
The US is already bombing Iran’s neighbors on both east and west. Red cape. Angry bull. Get out of the ring.
What else causes fret? Iran’s economy is flagging. The number of university graduates is up and the number of jobs is down. Young people put off marriage and children, fearing they cannot support a family. In a nuts and dried fruits shop two college-educated young women approached me asking if I had work for Farsi-English translators. Unofficially, English is the second language of Iran.
Iranians are also tired of gas lines and rationed petrol. Everyone gets only so much per month. Cars inch toward pumps for hours, reminiscent of mid-70s America during the now forgotten oil embargo. Energy savings are also apparent in the energy saving light bulbs screwed in use throughout Iran’s public buildings and hotels.
I arrived back in the States to the December 4 New York Times headline, ”U.S. Finding Says Iran Halted Nuclear Arms Effort in 2003.” In the haze of an exhausting 24-hour journey, I believed this might ameliorate American-Iranian relations.
I was wrong, or perhaps am simply impatient.
Wisdom gleaned from this recent trip teaches patience is the road to reconciliation, both inside Iran and for Iran and its global neighbors.
Blustering, boasting, bullying, and jockeying for position come far more easily to the human tongue than straightforward and mature communications. New governments in 2009 for both the USA and Iran shimmer on the horizon. If they don’t effect change later ones will.
Still, I’ll wager that my next cab ride in traffic-jammed Tehran reveals one aspect of Iranian public opinion that has remained constant in each of my visits since 1999, Khomeini and Khamenei notwithstanding: they love America.
(Anisa Mehdi is an Emmy Award winning producer and writer. Copyright Arab Writers Group Syndicate, http://www.ArabWritersGroup.com )