Friday, July 31, 2015

"The way to respond to ISIS is not through violence."

And to help clear up the conflict . . . .
(US air strikes help . . . HOW?)
See "14 maps that explain ISIS" on VOX.
I've predicted that ISIS is one of two topics that presidential candidates are going to have to address in the 2016 election cycle. (The other is BlackLivesMatter.)

(See What Will Dominate Election 2016? (ANSWER: ISIS and #BlackLivesMatter) )

Since I wrote that, I've been researching and thinking about the intricacies of the places that, in the 20th century, had names like Iraq and Syria (and Jordan and Lebanon and Israel and Turkey and . . . ).

It's fascinating to become absorbed in the complexity.

But today it occurred to me that the solution is probably simple.  So simple, in fact, that we can't see it even though it is staring us in the face.

"I'll bet . . . . " said I to myself, "I'll bet you can find a hundred articles on alternative ways to deal with ISIS -- ways that don't involve military attacks or other violence -- if you just go and Google it."

Is it possible that the starting point is to say,

"The way to respond to ISIS is not through violence."


Anyone who has had to write a speech knows that the hardest part is to land on the main idea. Once you've got that right, the rest practically writes itself.

So this will be an ongoing post -- we've got a lot of election 2016 left to go -- dedicated to the proposition that, "The way to respond to ISIS is not through violence." I'll fill in the details periodically.

With the help of Google.

Starting today.

July 31, 2015

See "ISIS: Nonviolent Resistance?" by Eli S. McCarthy in the Huffington Post, March 9, 2015.

November 1, 2015

Unsurprisingly, Jimmy Carter put it better than I ever could: "A Five-Nation Plan to End the Syrian Crisis" "Iran outlined a general four-point sequence several months ago, consisting of a cease-fire, formation of a unity government, constitutional reforms and elections. Working through the United Nations Security Council and utilizing a five-nation proposal, some mechanism could be found to implement these goals. . . . The involvement of Russia and Iran is essential. . . ." (emphasis added)

November 14, 2015

It looks like foreign affairs are about to take center state in Election 2016.

(See Election2016 after Paris: It's time for someone to show leadership)

November 28, 2015

Social media is full of images from the UK's demonstrations yesterday: #DontBombSyria!

@Muqadaam on Twitter:
People of Great Britain have spoken today in their thousands to say #DontBombSyria

February 29, 2016

"In three reports released earlier this month, London-based NGO Saferworld concluded that U.S., UK, and EU counterterror, stabilization, and state-building efforts since 2001 in Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen have been counterproductive. In each country, direct force has sometimes pushed back militants, but it has failed to defeat them and secure peace. Violence—especially when indiscriminate and unaccountable—has also harmed civilians, creating greater resentment towards the United States and western governments. . . . The reports found that a better approach would focus strategically on peace, rely less on the military, take a tougher line on bad governance, and work more closely with civil society." (See "You Can’t Bomb Your Way to Peace" on the Open Society Foundations website.)

Related posts

A virus is able to be so successful precisely because it (most of the time) doesn't kill its host. I can't help thinking that we simply are not being intelligent about how to respond to violence.   How might recognizing the "viral" nature of violence help us to respond to it more intelligently?

(See Violence: Taking Over Like a Virus)

It will be the 2016 presidential election that will provide the main form of entertainment and distraction to the U.S. populace between now an the end of next year. An enormous amount of political fluff will fill our lives -- pushing aside, I suppose, vast amounts of sports fluff and shopping fluff and celebrity fluff and -- well, you get the point.

(See What Will Dominate Election 2016? (ANSWER: ISIS and #BlackLivesMatter) )

Isn't "adviser" just another word for "pre-escalation"?

(See Military Advisers to Iraq: What Could Go Wrong? )

It's way too easy to launch U.S. missiles. (Maybe if it were a little more costly, challenging, or painful to carry out these attacks, they would at least require someone to give an explanation that makes sense first.)

(See AMERICANS: Happy As Long As They're Blowing Something Up )

 "Humanitarian intervention" -- the great pretext for US intervention in Africa. Glenn Greenwald gave an outstanding talk in Chicago in May, 2012, in which he warned against humanitarian interventions: "The US -- no, everybody -- always says the reason for military intervention is 'humanitarian.'  . . . "

(See Greenwald Was Right: "Humanitarian" War in Syria? It's Just More War)

There's no question that for the next 18 months, we members of the general public will be deluged with media about the 2016 presidential election. Maddeningly, 99 and 44/100% of that media will make no mention of the need to end U.S. wars, occupations, imperialism, and militarism.

(See I Support Antiwar Candidates! (Know Any?) )

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Upgrade Your World. Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

"Should our best minds be dedicated to solving our biggest problems" - Bill Gates

One of the events that influenced the course of my recent years was seeing Bill Gates speak at the Harvard Commencement in 2007.

I remember Gates pointing out an irony. He said that the brilliant people who create and market software do such amazing things -- and, hey, it's just a piece of software! Why can't we put that same brilliance to work to save the lives of thousands and millions of people around the world -- say, by eliminating malaria.

These problems are solvable, he said. It's just a matter of execution.  (Watch the speech.)

I'm noticing that Microsoft is releasing yet another version of its software (Windows 10), and that it is pulling out all the stops. The campaign is called "Upgrade Your World."

In the spirit of Bill Gates, I would like to ask: what would it look like if we REALLY upgraded our world?  What would it mean if all the great minds of the tech world tackled a life-and-death problem.

There are several confronting us. I suggest they start with the most urgent.

 Upgrade Your World. Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

Related posts

The logic is simple: nuclear power and nuclear weapons result in irreparable harm to human health. Decades of evidence is in. There's no more disagreement. Now it's just a political problem. (And everyone knows: Bill Gates is nothing if not logical.)

(See NO NUKES PHILANTHROPY: How to spend $1 billion wisely)

Do we have a way to immerse ourselves in the experience of what the use of those nuclear weapons would really mean -- prospectively -- so that we can truly cause ourselves to confront our own inaction?

(See Stop engaging in risky behavior )

Let's dedicate June, July, and August this year to recognizing the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 6 and 9, 2015). . . AND let's do something about it: make a nuclear ban a reality.

(See TIME FOR A NUCLEAR BAN? On the 70th Anniversary of Hiroshima/Nagasaki )

Perhaps most startling of all, the area affected by 3rd degree burns would extend far beyond the city limits to encompass towns as far north as Waukegan, as far west as St. Charles, and as far south as Crete, and as far east as Gary, IN.

(See What Would a Nuclear Weapon Do to Chicago? (Go ahead, guess . . . )

Met Lab scientists convened a "Committee on Social and Political Implications of Atomic Energy" to quickly compile recommendations for the U.S. government. Their report recommended . . . .

(See Unfinished Business in Chicago (Nuclear disarmament, that is))

Monday, July 27, 2015

"If elected . . . ." (The Election 2016 and #BlackLivesMatter Nexus)

Seal, U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)
There is a long-running campaign in Chicago to get civilian control over the police, and I have written about it frequently on this blog. (See, for instance, Does a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) need to be part of a "new plan of Chicago"? )

In association with this campaign, there have been several calls for intervention by the U.S. Department of Justice in Chicago over police abuse. (See "Group Demands Federal Investigation Into Police Review Authority")

Of course, everyone in the country is aware of the call for a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the death of Sandra Bland. (See "Sen. Durbin calls for federal investigation into death of Sandra Bland")

Several weeks ago, reflecting on the in-full-swing 2016 presidential election, I said that one of the two issues candidates would need to address successfully is the #BlackLivesMatter movement. (See What Will Dominate Election 2016? (ANSWER: ISIS and #BlackLivesMatter) )

It is becoming clear that it will be necessary for a serious presidential candidate to be able to put forward a plan about how the federal government can intervene in police departments nationally and stop the killings.

In other words, platitudes about some kind of "national conversation on race" won't cut it.

*     *     *

Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
A challenge of the anti-racism work that we all need to be a part of is to make progress on something specific, while at the same time recognizing that the extent of systemic racism in this country -- institution after institution after institution -- is nearly impossible to comprehend, much less surmount.

I'm reminded of the "pebble, rock, boulder, mountain" metaphor used in meeting facilitation. The idea is to not get sidetracked by pebbles, nor be immobilized by mountains, but instead focus on how to move the rocks (and even an occasional boulder).

I have been reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and I was struck by this statement:

At this moment the phrase "police reform" has come into vogue, and the actions of our publicly appointed guardians have attracted attention presidential and pedestrian. You may have heard the talk of diversity, sensitivity training,and body cameras. These are all fine and applicable, but they understate the task and allow the citizens of this country to pretend that there is real distance between their own attitudes and those of the ones appointed to protect them. (Between the World and Me, p. 78)

In other words, it's not just about one bad cop -- or a hundred, or a thousand ("pebbles"); or even the practices of police departments and municipalities ("rocks"); or even the entire institution of law enforcement (a "boulder").

The big argument in the book is about what constitutes the "mountain."

I encourage everyone to read Between the World and Me and decide for themselves.

*     *     *

I think everyone agrees that it's not just enough to go after the "one bad cops" of the world. (Though there do have to be prosecutions.)

The "rocks" -- training, transparency, and dare I say disarming the police? -- are necessary components but not sufficient.

We can't imagine that anti-racism work is just about specific police officers or even specific departments. The "mountain" is much bigger than that.

The "boulders" are institutions of racist law enforcement that need to be brought to heel in real time. It's a task worthy of a society-wide, national, federal effort. And it's top priority.

No leader can ignore this reality . . . .


Speak, write, call to
to your candidate of choice:
"What will your administration
do to stop killings by police?"

Related posts

It will be the 2016 presidential election that will provide the main form of entertainment and distraction to the U.S. populace between now an the end of next year. An enormous amount of political fluff will fill our lives -- pushing aside, I suppose, vast amounts of sports fluff and shopping fluff and celebrity fluff and -- well, you get the point.

(See What Will Dominate Election 2016? (ANSWER: ISIS and #BlackLivesMatter) )

A campaign exists to bring about a democratically-elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) in Chicago. The campaign would involve the people in electing the watchers of the police, and put the ultimate control of (and responsibility for) the police in the hands of the citizens of Chicago.

(See Does a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) need to be part of a "new plan of Chicago"? )

Cook County Jail is the perfect example of the nationwide injustice that Michelle Alexander described in her groundbreaking book, The New Jim Crow: mass incarceration, focused principally one people of color, in which "crimes" (often related to drug possession or other low-level offenses) become the mechanism for entrapping people in a cycle of incarceration that is brutalizing and often begins a downward spiral of lifetime discrimination.

(See Free Them All )

Related links

Michael Eric Dyson wrote in his essay, "President Obama’s Racial Renaissance" in The New York Times, August 2, 2015:

We need a new Kerner Commission report that is updated for our day, paying special attention to how black people are viciously targeted by unethical police practices. It’s true that calling for a commission might not seem like the most systematic fix. But a serious investment in assessing the state of inequality and systemic racism in America — numbers behind the trends the president spoke about when he eloquently eulogized the slain Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney in Charleston, S.C., in June — will show us clearly what work is left. And it will be harder to ignore, less ephemeral than mourning or protests.

Friday, July 24, 2015

THE EYES AND EARS OF HISTORY: A Perspective on the Iran Deal

Chinese Red Guards (circa 1970) read
from their 'Little Red Books'
At the point I arrived at college in 1977, just about everything I knew about the rest of the world came from leafing through old issues of LIFE magazine while lying on the floor of the sunroom of the house I grew up in at 16 Fuller Avenue in Chatham, NJ.

One of the things I thought I "knew" was that the United States and the rest of the world was threatened by a country called China -- a very big country, and what that was very mysterious.

China had nuclear weapons, and "they" were "just crazy enough to blow up the world." Or at least that is the extremely clear impression I carried with me. (I remain fairly certain that if I spent enough time looking through stacks of old magazines in antique stores I could uncover the ur-issue of LIFE with these very words, perhaps next to a photo of parading Red Guards.)

LIFE magazine, February 11, 1966
The other thing I learned about in LIFE magazine, of course, was the Vietnam War.

So in college I embarked on a course of study about Asia, believing that if more of us learned about that part of the world, we could contribute to some other kind of interaction besides war.

I had imagined I would be a diplomat or a scholar; I ended up in the import/export business. I didn't deal in communiques, or demarches, and I never wrote a famous cable to from some US embassy somewhere back to the State Department in Washington, DC.

But I did log travel to every corner of Asia, and negotiate lots of contracts, and build relationships with people, and lay down patterns of engagement that were governed by monthly shipping schedules and inspection trips and celebration banquets and factory visits. And along the away I had a key insight:

When people are intent on doing business with each other, they're too busy to fight.

In the decade or so after I graduated from college, doing business in China went from being a curiosity to being mainstream.  Everybody was doing it.

Little by little, I realized that all of us -- even us greedy businessmen (and women) -- were doing our part for peace. By the late '80s and early '90s, the idea of military conflict between China and the US had become a dim memory.

*   *   *

John Adams: Nixon in China (An opera in three acts)
Some time in the '90s I became increasingly interested in classical music, and even (!) in opera. I discovered the work of an American composer named John Adams, and was fascinated to discover that he had written an entire opera about Nixon's 1972 opening to China: Nixon in China.

I remember thinking how remarkable it was that he had written something so specific to my interests -- even though I wasn't quite sure why the general public would or should be interested. "Seems a bit esoteric," I thought. "But: works for me!"

Sure, I understood that Nixon meeting Mao was important -- hell, I had even been a part of the activity that was borne of that meeting -- but I didn't really understand how important.

It wasn't until ten or fifteen years after that, when I was no longer focusing all my time on China, and when I had a chance to actually see a production of Nixon in China, that I saw the situation with new eyes (and heard it with new ears).

Nixon in China: historic handshake
The opera begins with Air Force One on the tarmac in Beijing, and Nixon's reflections on arriving in China. Nixon sings the words "mystery" and "history" over and over again, to stress the way in which the direction of history can be massively re-directed by a seemingly small event:

News has a kind of mystery:
when I shook hands with Chou En-lai
on this bare field outside Peking,
just now, the world was listening.
"the eyes and ears of history caught every gesture"
Though we spoke quietly
the eyes and ears of history
caught every gesture...
and every word, transforming us
as we, transfixed, made history.

(Nixon in China - from the libretto by Alice Goodman - see video clip)

It took repeated listenings to understand the way in which the entire rest of the opera swirls around those two words -- "mystery" and "history" -- recognizing that something enormous has started, while realizing that it is nearly infinite in its complexity and diverse ramifications.

I think this is similar to the years and years of reflection that it has required for me to extract myself from the thick of my own business activities, and see the main tendency: it had its good and bad aspects, but the diplomatic and commercial opening of China was part of a massive move away from conflict and toward peace.

*   *   *

Now . . .

Now we are at another historic moment -- or one that looks historic, anyway.

And though it can be difficult to say in advance that a particular step will be historic -- that it will, in fact, bring an enormous change in the world, over decades to come -- the agreement with Iran on curbing nuclear weapons development feels to me as if it could be another "Nixon in China moment."

 What do you think? Do we have the chance to "make history"? And . . . if we do, what should this lead you to do today?

Related posts

There will be no shortage of members of Congress who see this as an opportunity to puff out their chests and wave their arms and insist on continued conflict. It will be the work of the people to insist that the path of peace be followed through.

(See Talk With Somebody About Iran Today. (Maybe a Member of Congress?))

"How can it be that no one is speaking directly to what happened?" I wondered. "Should I say something? Is it just me? Can it be possible that most people aren't like me, tremendously troubled by how we should respond to what has happened in China?"

(See Remember June 4)

Ever since I went there to study Chinese as a junior in college, I've considered Taiwan my "second home."

(See Taipei c. 1979 )

What people in Asia (and others) have seen for the past century is that something is happening in the Pacific, and it's being driven in part by advances in naval (and, subsequently, aviation and electronics) technology, and in part by powerful nations (principally, but not limited to, the U.S.) proximate to the area.

(See The Imperialized Pacific: What We Need to Understand)

Monday, July 20, 2015

On Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates (A Confession)

Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
I'm reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I was provoked to pick it up by a David Brooks column in the newspaper on Friday.

I thought the Brooks column was a perfect illustration of the difficulty white people have in listening without also having the last word (or trying to do so). Brooks seemingly couldn't finish his column without becoming self-righteous. And what was even more interesting was recognizing my own impulses in that. ("Oh, right," I thought, "this is what we do . . . . ")

So I'm thinking maybe a good next step is to read Coates' book and sit with it . . . listening to what comes up for me but not jumping immediately into "solving."

Yesterday I was attending church at First Congregational Church of Berkeley and was struck by the following Prayer of Confession, written by Pastor Kit Novotny. I will carry these words with me as I read, sit, and listen.

Oh God, who sees and knows it all, and loves us anyway.
We lay our hearts on the table, hungry for your grace.
We confess that we have turned away from you in a thousand little ways --
     we have ignored the needs of others,
     settle for easy answers and half-truths,
     bristled in defensiveness,
     been discomfited by difference,
     and dazzled by distractions.
Oh and in those big ways, too --
     we have played parts in systems of injustice, violence, neglect,
     that ravage the earth, hoard your resources,
     and deny dignity and flourishing to all your children.
Forgive us.
Turn us back to you!
Trouble the waters of complicity,
Free us from the illusion of control,
that we would splash together in the fount of your free-flowing mercy,
     grow in the light of your love,
     and laugh with our sisters, brothers, neighbors,
     that we ever tried to do it alone.


Related posts

I believe when Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine and said "Remember me this way," he was much more interested in encouraging us to keep having conversations -- conversations that really matter -- with others . . . and finding ways to be in relationship with our neighbors  . . . all the while reminding us "never underestimate the power of food"  . . .

(See Get Outside Your Comfort Zone and Have A Conversation Today (Welcome to the Ministry))

We can't imagine that anti-racism work is just about specific police officers or even specific departments. Entire institutions of racist law enforcement need to be brought to heel in real time. It's a task worthy of a society-wide, national, federal effort. And it's top priority. No leader can ignore this reality . . . .

(See "If elected . . . ." (The Election 2016 and #BlackLivesMatter Nexus) )

All the cameras and microphones and reporters were out in force that day -- and their appearance suggested to me that it does make a difference to take a stand for justice. And maybe the fact that some of us thought this was important enough to come out, hold signs, chant, and march, helped back up that message.

(See Chicago Justice: Connecting the Dots )

What would Christians think if someone proposed carving out a slice of their Sunday services to worship the God of Entombment? Wouldn't they think that was absurd? After all, if Christianity is anything, isn't it the religion of "UN-entombment"?

(See When is Christianity Going Back to Being the Religion of "UN-entombment"?)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Revolution and Reaction: Have We Seen This Opera Before?

2011: Demonstration in "revolutionary" Iran
Quick: what's the main difference between Shiite and Sunni Islam?

If, like me, you don't really know how to answer that question -- if, like me, you feel like saying, "'Shiite vs. Sunni' isn't really providing any explanatory power for me" -- then you may, like me, have found an article that appeared in yesterday's New York Times provocative.

"WikiLeaks Shows a Saudi Obsession With Iran" (July 17, 2015, by Ben Hubbard and Mayy el Sheikh) describes the far-reaching efforts of the US-backed, Sunni, monarcho-aristocratic, Arab Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to counter the influence of US-shunned, Shiite, "revolutionary," Persian Iran.

While the documents do not show any Saudi support for militant activity, critics argue that the kingdom’s campaign against Shiites — and its promotion of a strict form of Islam — have eroded pluralism in the Muslim world and added to the tensions fueling conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.

* * *

Clear in many of the diplomatic messages are Saudi fears of Iranian influence and of the spread of Shiite Islam.

* * *

Other cables detailed worries that Iran sought to turn Tajikistan into “a center to export its religious revolution and to spread its ideology in the region’s countries.”

A World Restored: Metternich,
Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace
1812-22, by Henry Kissinger
As I read it, I suddenly said to myself, "This is like Metternich after the Congress of Vienna."

My mind then spun back nearly 40 years to the time I was a sophomore in college, learning 19th century European history. I was playing desperate catch-up, never having really understood the significance of the French revolutionary army that was turned loose on the rest of Europe after 1789, or what "the ancien regime" really meant, much less the meaning of "reaction" and the search for a "balance of power" after Napoleon was squelched.

It helped that some years later I learned that Henry Kissinger broke into academics with a study of the European reactionary diplomacy after 1812. But I'm still trying to get my mind around it all.

Perhaps I was alert to the parallels between the situation that the Times article alludes to -- which in may ways is the overarching story of the contemporary Mideast -- and the history of 19th century Europe because on Friday I was fresh off an enjoyable evening of watching a broadcast of the Donizetti opera, La fille du régiment. The comedy is set in the Tyrol, where the people are terrified of the (revolutionary) French army that is swarming over them. (I was reminded of the opening of Stendahl's La Chartreuse de Parme (The Charterhouse of Parma, 1839).  Over the course of several enjoyable hours, I felt encouraged to let my mind range over the bits and pieces of that history that I could remember, and try to make a coherent picture out of it. "Oh yeah," I remembered, "one man's terrifying brute is another man's brave liberator."

Fille du regiment Marie (Natalie Dessay) protects local boy (and lover) Tonio
(Juan Diego Flórez) from her "papas" in the regiment of invading French
soldiers in the Met production of La fille du régiment.

In fact, the arc of the Donizetti comedy is provided by a foundling turning out to be an aristocrat, and her entry into aristocracy trapping her, among other things, in an arranged marriage, the return of the local peasant who is her true love, and, ultimately, her liberty being restored and free choice permitted via the intervention of the revolutionary, populist French soldiers.

Aristocratic engagement party overthrown by French intervention in  La fille du régiment.

So: this led me to wonder about the situation described in the Times article.  It probably is true that Saudi Arabia (Sunni, monarcho-aristocratic, Arab) is pitted against Iran (Shiite, "revolutionary," Persian). (It is even possibly true that this provides a useful interpretive frame for the entire Arab Spring.) Issues that I'd like to understand better include:

* To what degree is this traditional power politics (like France c. 1800 wanting more of the European pie)?

* To what degree is this cultural? (e.g. Arab : Persian :: German : French?)

* To what degree is this ideological? (e.g. revolutionary Iran : monarcho-aristocratic Saudi Arabia :: revolutionary France : Hapsburg Empire?)

* To what degree is this informed by religion? (i.e. Shiite vs. Sunni)

(And that doesn't even begin to get at the role of the US in all this.)

As for region: Shiism -- the version of Islam followed in Iran -- is often described as a more "radical" form of Islam. But is the "radicalism" of the religion what informs ideology and politics? Or the other way around?

One thing is for sure: it all starts to seem a whole lot less exotic and inscrutable when described in parallel to well-known phenomena in Europe.

Discovery continues . . . .

Related posts

I often refer to how important the films of Iran have been in helping me open my mind to the possibilities of a peaceful relationship with that country.  I have been fortunate to be able to go see some of the best films from Iran every year at the wonderful Siskel Film Center in downtown Chicago. The will be another Festival of Films From Iran showing there in February, 2014.

(See A Force for Peace: Getting to Know Iran Through Film)

I wonder if the outrage that many Muslims seem to feel at the suffering of other Muslims doesn't put us Christians to shame.

(See Fighting Back: It's alright as long as you're a Christian, right? )

There will be no shortage of members of Congress who see this as an opportunity to puff out their chests and wave their arms and insist on continued conflict. It will be the work of the people to insist that the path of peace be followed through.

(See Talk With Somebody About Iran Today. (Maybe a Member of Congress?))

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Talk With Somebody About Iran Today. (Maybe a Member of Congress?)

Expo 67 - Iran Pavilion

When I attended Expo 67 nearly 40 years ago, it was a time infused with a great deal of hope that ordinary people could really know something about people in other countries, and that mutual understanding could be the basis of peace.

Pretty amazing -- considering that, at the time, we were barely glimpsing the possibilities of modern travel and communications.

I recall that around that time I learned about Iran by reading the article about it in our home set of the World Encyclopedia. (An "encyclopedia" was a book that contained articles on many subjects . . . . )

I also recall that a little more than ten years later -- in the fall of 1978 -- I was working on a story for the college paper about the student unrest in Iran. I looked up a professor in the telephone book (a "telephone book" was . . . well, you get the picture . . . .) and asked for comment. "Look for the return of a guy named Ayatollah Khomeini, who is currently exiled in Paris . . . . " he told me.

All the Shah's Men by Stephen Kinzer
The "hostage crisis" began in the fall of 1979. I remember it clearly because I was studying in Taiwan that year, and my fellow students and I were suddenly aware that, as US citizens in a foreign country, we could be seen by local people as stand-ins for everything they disliked about US policy and practice. (It was until much later that I, for one, stopped to wonder about my actual complicity in US policies and practices.)

Fast forward another 25 years, to the early 2000s, and I finally had a way to get essential background on US relations with Iran, reading All the Shah's Men by Stephen Kinzer. I highly recommend it: "The book discusses the 1953 Iranian coup d'état backed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in which Mohammed Mossadegh, Iran's prime minister, was overthrown by Islamists supported by American and British agents (chief among them Kermit Roosevelt) and royalists loyal to Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi."

In the past decade or so, I've found the films of Iran to be an especially powerful bridge between our two countries.

February 4, 2012, rallies to say "No War on Iran"
And in the past several years, the citizen's movement to block moves toward war with Iran has opened my eyes to what we need to do to bring about a world beyond war.

It is the easiest thing in the world to paint people in other countries as "scary" and to say that they are the kind of people that we have to be prepared to fight. It takes real effort (and courage!) to do the work required to learn about people, to begin to understand them, to engage in dialogue, and to step forward as an advocate for peace.

The moment of truth

July 14, 2015:  "Landmark deal reached on Iran nuclear program."

The negotiators worked hard to come to agreement. AND . . .

The deal agreed to by our countries' leaders would never have happened without continuous pressure from the people of our two countries.

Now is the time for all of us to recognize that the people -- not leaders -- are the key to insisting that the path of peace be pursued. People must, in large numbers, send a clear message to their representatives that they want this agreement implemented, and they want this model of peaceful resolution of conflicts to replace the resort to militarism and violence. (See "World Beyond War Supports Iran Deal" )

There will be no shortage of members of Congress who see this as an opportunity to puff out their chests and wave their arms and insist on continued conflict.

It will be the work of the people to insist that the path of peace be followed through.


Update: September 1, 2015

Yesterday, I was one of the people at a vigil outside a Mike Quigley event here in Chicago - urging everyone there (including the congressman) to support the #IranDeal. Based on what Robert Naiman heard inside, he's leaning yes.

Naiman said in his article about the event: "[T]he first question after the talk was: 'What is your position on the deal?' A moderator later said something like: there were 34 questions, and 30 of them were on the Iran deal. . . . The fact that so many questions were on the Iran deal certainly reflects engagement and interest from the City Club of Chicago audience; it may also reflect the fact that people who came to the event were greeted by people with'"No War With Iran' and 'Defend Diplomacy' signs."

Thanks to colleagues all over the country who are showing up in large numbers to urge their representatives to pursue the path of peace. This is what democracy looks like!

August 31, 2015: Vigil outside luncheon event for Rep. Mike Quigley (IL-5):
"Defend Diplomacy" and "No War with Iran!"

Related posts

I often refer to how important the films of Iran have been in helping me open my mind to the possibilities of a peaceful relationship with that country.  I have been fortunate to be able to go see some of the best films from Iran every year at the wonderful Siskel Film Center in downtown Chicago. The will be another Festival of Films From Iran showing there in February, 2014.

(See A Force for Peace: Getting to Know Iran Through Film)

As the Obama administration prepares in the days ahead to pivot from its focus on Syria to something truly startling -- talking to Iran! -- it is important that the American public devotes some time and energy to learning and thinking about Iran, the history of the U.S.-Iran relationship, and what the U.S.-Iran relationship means in the larger context of the effort to reduce the risk of war and violence in the world.

(See IRAN: 3 Reality Checks on the Emerging U.S. Narrative)

If we are going to stave off a U.S. war against Iran, we are going to have to have some very difficult conversations with other Americans. Some people are extremely hostile. It's confusing and a bit frightening, but we're going to have to confront it.

(See Why Does Iran Arouse So Much Hostility?)

Here are seven big reasons people should be VERY wary of any and all statements that about how Iran is "asking for it" . . . why they are tweeting every Friday with the #NoIranWar hashtag . . . and why they are reaching out every day to members of Congress to resist the "Iran Threat Reduction Act" . . . .

(See #NoIranWar )

After a call to resist U.S. war moves against Iran went out just a few days ago, the list of February 4, 2012, rallies to say "No Iran War!" is growing FAST.

(See No Iran War Rallies EVERYWHERE! )