Miles for Peace: young Iranian activists bring their messages of peace to the world
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.
[…] see hope for a peaceful future. This was embodied most strongly in the young activists I met from Miles for Peace. Their passion for peace is so strong that a group of them biked across five countries in 2007 to […]Leave a Comment
As an Iranian, I am very delighted to see that there are Americans working seriously to promote peace with Iran. You deserve the highest of praises (really). I welcome you to Iran and I hope you enjoy your visit. We need more and more “citizen diplomacy” like this to promote peace and toleration.
And on Iran-US relations, I think we are moving in a hopeful direction. My impression is that both Iran and US governments really want better relations, but they are wary of some issues which is an obstacle to overcome.
The US govt is
1. careful not to seem “iran-appeasing”, especially to the right-wing people and Israel supporters.
2. struggling to make sure Iran doesn’t want a nuke, or an attack on Israel, supporting terrorism, and is not bent on harming US interests.
The Iranian govt is
1. careful not to seem very eager to make relations with the US, so that approaching to the US is not seen as a sign of weakness. (similar to #1 above) The Iranian national psyche is extremely sensitive to this issue, i.e. not to seem weak and appeasing or giving up national and religious values.
2. wary of possible infiltration by American intelligence and regime change efforts as a result of resumed relations with the US (1953 coup continues to haunt Iranians, as well as ongoing support of ethnic separationists, secular movements and even terrorists by the US).
I would say that the #1 issues (not to seem appeasing) are suprisingly troublesome in negotiations, whilst frequently ignored and leading to misconceptions. At least in the Iran’s side it’s vitally important. The US must make sure that it doesn’t hurt Iranian national pride when dealing with Iran. Iran should not feel that it’s being “forced” to concillation in the view of the Iranian and foreign public opinion. On the other hand, the US govt is under pressure not to seem “Iran-appeasing” and thus being attacked by right-wing people and hawks. It’s like walking on a very thin line.
The more serious issues (#2) are negotiable, but there should be appreciation on both sides that neither of the sides will ever back down from its principal values and they should not make that a precondition for resumed relations (it’s simply not realistic that Iran will ever drop support for Palestinians or US will abandon Israel). We can have relations and at the same time, disagreement. Iran can tolerate relations with the US as with other western countries (who work against Iranian national interests) and US can have relations with Iran despite not agreeing with Iran on strategic issues like nuclear issue and Palestine-Israel conflict. In order to have peace, we should not be too idealistic.
Also, I think there are serious and dangerous misunderstandings prevailing in some circles in the US and Israel, who think that Iran wants nuclear annihilation of Israel. Most Iranians are shocked (even amazed and laugh at) when they learn how serious some western people take rhetorical statements by Iranians (e.g. “Death to America” or statements by Ahmadinejad). Iran is a country of rhetorics (just ask Iranians) and this cultural and language issue is contributing to this dangerous misunderstanding (e.g. comparing Iran with Germany in 1938).
Sorry for my lengthy comment! I hope I have made a contribution to your great blog from an Iranian perspective.
A very good point on how strongly internal politics can effect the outcome of negotiations — both sides are watching how their constituents will interpret their approach, and calibrate accordingly. That’s why in the US we have to be vocal in support of diplomacy with Iran. It’s also why the US should pay attention to how aggressive rhetoric towards Iran can provide rhetorical fuel for Iranian hawks.
Thank you for taking the time to comment. I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to spend time in Iran and contribute in any way I can to building peaceful relations between our countries. In our discussion yesterday we talked a lot about these internal dynamics in both countries and the obstacles to moving forward with negotiations.I think it is incredibly important for people to get a better understanding of the politics on both sides to understand what needs to change in order to be successful. A lot of people in the US don’t understand why Iran won’t back down on the nuclear issue, and feel like there isn’t a legitimate reason for Iran’s pursuit of nuclear enrichment technology. It’s clear in talking to people here though that one big factor is that Iranians do not want to be told what to do by the US, especially in light of the double standard being used, so refusal to back down is a matter of national pride.
Thanks for reading, please continue to share your thoughts!
Longing for the day all can respect each other, including our differences.