The Least, First

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What Iranians Want Americans to Know about Iran

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Ever-thoughtful Krista Tippett (writing in Krista’s Journal) ticks off these qualifications of Douglas Johnston, a recent guest on American Public Media’s Speaking of Faith:

Douglas Johnston’s primary … contribution to world affairs in recent years has come through the work he describes in this program … which [is] deeply consonant with the urgent recommendations of the … Iraq Study Group. … Johnston has also orchestrated some of the highest level contacts … between religious and political leaders in Iran and the United States in recent years … I decided that it was finally time to interview him when I read a thought-provoking memo he crafted last year entitled, “What Iranians Want Americans to Know about Iran.”

I quote that memo here. I found it eye-opening. And I encourage a visit to SOF to learn more. To my Iranian friends – built-in experts – how did he do? What else would you want me to know? Thanks!

What Iranians Want Americans to Know about Iran
by Douglas M. Johnston

September 11, 2001
1. There were no Iranians or Shiite Muslims among the attackers on 9/11.
2. Iran was the first Islamic country to condemn the 9/11 attacks.
3. Iran cooperated with U.S. and coalition forces to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan.
4. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban have never been friends of Iran, and Iran has never funded or supported either group. Arab countries supposedly friendly to the U.S. have provided major sources of funding for both.

Regional Context
1. Iran is a Shia Persian country in a hostile Sunni Arab neighborhood.
2. Iran has been a victim of Arab extremism. More than 250,00 Iranians died in the Iran-Iraq war when the U.S. and other western countries were supportive of Saddam Hussein. Nearly every family in Iran lost someone in the war. In proportion to the population, Iranian casualties exceeded U.S. casualties in WWII. The West, including the U.S., did nothing to prevent Saddam from using weapons of mass destruction against Iran. In fact, many Iranians believe that western nations helped Iraq obtain the chemical weapons that were used against them.
3. The Wahhabis, a radical Sunni Muslim sect that works closely with the Saudis, hate Persian Shia Muslims more than they hate American or Jews. Wahhabis, who are funded by the Saudis, are exporting their radical brand of Islam throughout the Muslim world even to the Balkans and the United States.

Security Concerns
1. Iran’s neighbors, including Russia, India, Pakistan and Israel, all have nuclear weapons and effective delivery systems.
2. Israel is estimated to have between 100-200 nuclear weapons and has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that Iran is criticized for violating.

more on this bookUS–Iranian Relations
1. The majority of Iranians living today do not remember the Shah.
2. The Iranian people do not hate the United States. The large majority, especially the young people, want a better relationship with the U.S., but Iranians will unite to defend their country against any foreign attack, just as they did during the Iran-Iraq war.
3. The U.S. may have felt humiliated when the U.S. embassy was seized in 1979, but no Americans were killed by their Iranian captors.
4. Democracy in Iran may not be perfect, but they do have competitive elections for their president and for the 290 seat Unicameral Islamic Consultative Assembly (or Majlis). There is more democracy in Iran than in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt — all staunch U.S. allies.
5. The U.S. and Iran want stability in Iraq and Afghanistan.
6. The U.S. needs Iran to assist in the Middle East with Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon. Iran needs the U.S., but has lived without the U.S. for more than 25 years.

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Written by Monte

February 1, 2007 at 5:22 pm

Posted in Islam, Politics, Terrorism

9 Responses

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  1. Ironic, is it not? 3,000 soldiers, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis later, he says, “Oh, now I understand” and America says, “Well, heck, you’re the President, who would we be to question your judgment? By all means, take another shot.”

    Thanks, Paul. See you in Damascus!


    February 15, 2007 at 8:53 pm

  2. I can’t imagine why you’re not simply taking King George’s word on these matters!? I mean, has he ever been wrong?!!

    Hey there, Domestic Spying Program guys – KIDDING! Don’t really feel like visiting Saudi Arabia!!!

    Paul Martin

    February 15, 2007 at 6:17 pm

  3. Thank you, Homeyra – it is good to hear from you. Once again, your thoughts add much.
    I agree that Iranians seem to know more about America than Americans know about Iran. In our history classes, we did not learn much of the dark side of American interaction with other nations. It is very strange, but it is almost like freedom creates a certain unintended censorship: Publishers want to sell books to schools. Schools want to avoid controversy. So publishers write texts that make everyone feel good about America, but don’t answer the obvious questions of history, and leave Americans with no context to understand why others have little trust for their country, and with no context to understand that their country is likely to do some very bad things. Without knowing that context, the others simply look crazy or paranoid, then fear rises – as you say – and becomes easy for politicians to play upon for their own agendas. And once people are convinced that others are crazy, they can be convinced that there is no point in negotiating with them. Sometimes I think my job is simply to keep putting facts on the table, quietly and respectfully, and trying to get them, especially, into the hands of Americans who don’t know them.
    Like you, I love the web – I think that when people know people, all this foolishness is slowed down quite a lot.
    Visiting with you encourages me. Thank you very much!


    February 9, 2007 at 12:28 pm

  4. Dear Monte,
    I am a little late to comment. The subject is heavily loaded with history, etc… to write something which makes sense.
    We have all witnessed human shortcomings either in history or in our personal lives. There is always “a” reason.
    People are not that different. All want security for themselves, their children, open doors to learn more, see more…
    To quote Goethe: “Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking.”
    Simple minded me, always looking for simple solutions … What about starting to look? Perhaps we will even see something!
    This blogging world is great. You see amazing things. I read a comment from an American asking an Iranian if it was true that Muslims have said something like “there will be a Saturday, then they will be a Sunday”. He explained: it meant that on some Saturday Muslims will kill all the Jews, and on the following day all the Christians.
    I don’t know where people find these things. Isn’t it simple fear? I am sure there are crazies everywhere, but where does these things come from? As if the world was judging the American society by those who killed children in a kindergarten.
    When there is fear, we mix everything, facts and gossips. An exception seems the rule.
    In a way the Iranian people know more about the Americans than the other way. Hollywood, friends or acquaintances who have studied in the US or at least know someone who has etc…
    I really thing it is not so difficult to overcome our fears.


    February 9, 2007 at 4:07 am

  5. That would be great Monte.
    I do have a brief post on Mossadeq

    But yes the evil deeds of the empire in Iran need some illumination!

    Looking forward to your post.


    February 4, 2007 at 12:00 pm

  6. And thank you too, Iranfacts … your comments about nuclear weapons remind me of the puzzle I always had about Iraq and supposed acquiring of nuclear technology. Iraq had no means of delivering a nuclear weapon, even if they had developed one. No bombers, no serious missiles, no submarines, no aircraft carriers. That a threat supposedly existed to the U.S. seemed bizarre to me.
    I’m going over to your blog now for a bit, and will be back in the next couple of days. Thank you very much for coming by.
    You remind me that it might be good to post a brief history of U.S./British colonial history for the last hundred years – maybe I can dig that up soon. Please stay in touch –


    February 4, 2007 at 12:02 am

  7. Thank you, fma7. I just glanced through your blog and there are many interesting things there. I’m looking forward to spending time learning from them. You are certainly welcome here, and the things you say are important for Americans to hear, for it is a little difficult for Americans to find these things out and most don’t know them. Let’s stay in touch.


    February 3, 2007 at 11:55 pm

  8. America orchestrated the assination of elected pro- nationalist Iranian gov’t leader Mossadec (sp?) and installed their puppet -The Shah- ushering in years of terror ; us gov’t trained death-squads and secret police and anti-humanitarian policies serving US interests. Furthermore, evidence exists which proves that the US was complicit in selling/giving Iraq chemicals and satelite coordinates during its war with Iran and not only turned its back on the resulting genocide, but prevented the UN from investigating Iran’s plea for intervention into this usage of outlawed chemical wepons. The US is creating a whole new generation of advanced nuclear weapons technology, and supports India’s ,packistan’s and Israels’ nuclear weapons’ programs which fall outside of the regulations of the same nuclear body it demans others uphold. The other bum-licking western nations line up with the promises of rewards .


    February 3, 2007 at 4:32 pm

  9. Hi Monte,

    I came across this post through Homeyra’s blog and so I leave a comment as I am Iranian too.

    I think the above said provides a good summary of what is falling on deaf ears, through the neoconservative campaign of ME dominance, which won’t be completed without forcing Iran to submission.

    The drum that the bush administration is beating nnowaways is teh nuclear weapon nonesense. Iran has repeatedly said that it is NOT after nuclear weaponary; and has in fact signed the nonproliferation treaty. There is proof that EVEN if Iran wanted the bomb, it would not get it in the next 10 years. But what would Iran do with a bomb? Wipe the Israel, they say! But does anyone ask, how can an infantile nuclear artillary stand to the almighty American and Israeli nuclear weapons? Won’t Iran be pulvarized if it were to launch any such attack on anyone?

    and let’s say Iran wanted nuclear weapon, why can Pakistan (the second house of alQuaeda) have them (and the blessing of the US) and not Iran? Isn’t Islamic fundamentalism of a more prominent threat in Pakistan than in Iran?

    The fact is, that in spite of Iranian government’s rhetoric, the Iranian people are not fanatic about anything. (see my blog) for some evidence. So for most of Iranians, what is obvious is that the west does not want Iran to advance, to become technologically and economically independent, and to have enough power at the economic negotiation table. Given that the American foreign policy in the past 40 years (and the british one in the past –at least–100 hundred year) in the middle east has been “create instability for major gain”, creating havoc in Iran will just ensure that stability will not be established in Iran.

    Americans are not willing to negotiate with Iran based on mutual respect; they want to dictate; and Iranians are not as submissive to foriegn dictatorship, as they appear to be to internal one!


    February 3, 2007 at 8:26 am

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