After a lovely morning of sightseeing in northern Tehran, we met today with members of Miles for Peace, and Iranian organization dedicated to promoting peace. Their mission statement begins:
We Iranians are peace-loving people; we aspire for a genuine and sustainable peace, for our own nation as well as other members of the great family of humankind.
To spread this message, in 2007 fourteen of the members biked across Italy, France, Germany, the UK, and the US to conduct people to people diplomacy and demonstrate that Iranians want a peaceful world.
We started out our meeting hearing from the director of the organization, Dr. Rohani. He shared his three major concerns in moving forward with peace between the US and Iran. He noted that exerting pressure on the Iranian government results in additional power for “fanatic elements,” the hardline factions in Iran that do not want a strong relationship with the US. He also called for international governance that features genuine cooperation and equal say for all countries, as opposed to the current system in which countries are treated differently. Lastly, he highlighted the problem of the American military machine and how it has grown to its current exorbitant size. He expressed concern that President Obama could face dire consequences if he tried to oppose it. Dr. Rohani fears that the military machine in the US needs a war to nourish it, and feels that we must make sure that Iran is not a target for a US military attack.
I talked to the group about the work we are currently doing in our country to pressure our government for better relations with Iran. I highlighted the work we are doing to build public support for President Obama’s plans to negotiate and work to overwhelm the opposition coming from groups like United Against a Nuclear Iran (he had also taken notice of them as a troublesome organization). I told them that through grassroots and lobbying efforts we are working to bring the same message to Congress about how this is the wrong time to put economic pressure on Iran while we are trying to open up negotiations, and opposing the current sanctions bills. He was aware of our victory in stopping H. Con. Res. 362, something Miles for Peace had also helped oppose. I explained the work we are doing around my trip to promote citizen diplomacy—to help educate Americans about Iran and counteract the fear-mongering that politicians and pundits are using to scare Americans into supporting harsh action against Iran.
After our discussion, the group shared some videos about their bicycle journey across Europe and the US. It was incredibly inspiring to see these young activists tirelessly biking, sometimes through hours of cold and rain, to engage with people on an individual level and promote Iran’s image as a peaceful nation. You could see the impact they were having in meeting with people on the street, other organizations and politicians.
Following the videos, we took some time to listen to some of your messages of peace together. I had been very touched in listening to all the kind words you recorded, and it was rewarding to be able to sit in a room with Iranians and share those messages. The messages of hope and solidarity were much appreciated, and one of the woman told me she “really loves the CD.” I also took video of several members of the group sharing their messages of peace, and I look forward to sharing those with you soon.
One thing that has really struck me since I have been here is how the Iran-Iraq war has affected Iranians’ views about peace. This conflict is not something we in the United States hear very much about, but it was a devastating eight year conflict in which one million Iranians died. Many innocent civilians were killed, in some cases with chemical weapons. The United States’ support for Saddam Hussein during this war is another source of anger at the United States government. Even though the war was over more than twenty years ago, the tragic consequences are still very fresh in the minds of Iranians today. Even the young people I videotaped today are motivated to promote peace particularly because they have seen the impacts of the Iran-Iraq war on their friends and family. At no time in history has Iran aggressively attacked another country, but they are bearing the scars from what some call a “defensive Holy War” that lasted eight devastating years.