God's Politics

God's Politics


Jeff Carr: Welcome to Iran

posted by gp_intern

We arrived in Tehran, Iran, at 1:30 a.m. on Monday morning, nearly 24 hours after we left Washington, D.C. In some ways, the long distance and the considerable time needed to get to Iran is symbolic of just how far apart our countries seem to be when it comes to our understanding of one another.

One of the interesting things for the women in our delegation was that as we were descending into Tehran, the pilot came over the loudspeaker and announced, “… by order of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, all women need to cover their heads for their own protection.” It was a stark reminder, especially for the women in our group, that we were about to enter a country very different from our own.

As we got closer to landing, you could see the lights for miles and miles, and I was reminded of flying into Los Angeles, Calif., at night and the urban sprawl that the lights displayed. Tehran is a very similar city in terms of urban sprawl: The city is home to over 15 million people, has horrific traffic, and serious air quality problems due to the tremendous number of vehicles and coal-burning power plants.

We were met at the airport by officials from the Foreign Ministry and whisked down a ramp into a waiting bus, avoiding the terminal altogether. We took a short ride to a building where we were served tea and greeted by Ali Akbar Rezaei from the Foreign Ministry. He is a young man in his 30s who participated in the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University in 2000. Rezaei has been a tremendous contact within the government of Iran, sincerely wants better relations between Iran and the U.S., and is truly the driving force behind our trip. He told us that we were the first “official delegation” from the United States since the revolution in 1978. His children are 7- and 3-years-old, so we had a good time talking about life with young kids. That’s something that transcends culture and national identity!

We waited to get our passports processed, for the representatives to retrieve our luggage, and then we traveled to the hotel. This took over two hours, so we didn’t arrive at the hotel until after four o’clock in the morning. After a few hours of sleep, I started out the day by going for a walk around downtown Tehran. Things were bustling on a Monday morning, as people were headed to work, shopping, or on their way to school. I had read that over 65% of the population is under 25, and I saw many young people on the streets.

Our first “official” meeting was in the afternoon with the Archbishop of the Armenian Orthodox Church in Iran, Sebouh Sarkissian. He gave us a short history of the Armenian people in Iran, which dates back to the 5th century B.C.E. Depending on who you talk to, there are between 80,000 and 150,000 Armenians in Iran, largely concentrated in Tehran and Isfahan. It is a thriving community that seems to have a better relationship with the Islamic government than some of the other religious minority groups, probably largely due to the centuries they have lived in Iran. They have two elected representatives in the Iranian Parliament.

The Archbishop spoke English very well and was very warm and excited about our visit. He was very interested to connect with us as Christians, and we discussed the tensions between our countries. He said he believes tensions can be reduced by dialogue between religious leaders, and that we “need to move quickly to increase our understanding and overcome our animosity.”

We went to one of the important seminaries, toured the mosque next to the seminary, and then met with one of the most influential Grand Ayatollahs in the country: Grand Ayatollah Kashani. He serves on one of the 12-member advisory councils (made up of six clerics and six magistrates) that reviews every law that the Parliament passes, and either approves or denies it. The council is partially appointed by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.

He talked a great deal about the common ground between Islam and Christianity, and wanted to make sure we knew that the Iranian people have no problem with the American people, only our government. This has seemed to be a theme that we have heard from everyone here so far, and I suspect it will continue. They clearly are able to distinguish between the aspirations of the citizens of a nation, and the government of a nation. I think part of the reason they are able to do this is because this is what they do themselves. There is a great deal of openness and critique about the Iranian government officials, including the current president. I did not expect much dissent, but there really is quite a bit.

We topped the night off with a dinner and reception with a number of Ayatollahs who are religious scholars from Qom, which is where we will be heading later in the week. One of the fascinating events of the evening was a rumor circulating about a statement Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made regarding U.S. relations with Iran. According to our hosts, she said that our policy has not worked over the course of the last 25 years, and that the U.S. needs to try something different. Our hosts seemed hopeful that maybe this was a signal by the U.S. that they would like to de-escalate the current tensions.

Unfortunately, we tried to confirm this statement by looking at U.S. and British news sites, and could not confirm this report. It made me wonder if they really had heard this, or if they were signaling that perhaps some statement like this might help pave the way for better relations. We shall see. Khoda Hafez (good-bye).

Jeff Carr is the Chief Operations Officer for Sojourners/Call to Renewal. Learn more about this delegation at www.irandelegation.org.



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Kris Weinschenker

posted February 21, 2007 at 2:12 am


Please keep us posted on what questions you ask Ahmadinejad.



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Edwin Weaver

posted February 21, 2007 at 2:38 am


We are praying for peace



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Payshun

posted February 21, 2007 at 2:39 am


Blessings on your trip. p



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Joseph T

posted February 21, 2007 at 2:59 am


The hopes for de-escalation seem ill-founded though I would love to see a hopeful text from Rice. Anyway the man with the plan is Dick Cheney of the unitary executive theory. The BBC just announced that they have copies of the basics of the American War Plans for Iran. Bunker busters and all military infrastructure attacked. The timing of this release is somewhat ominous as British troops are starting to leave Iraq. According to Scott Ritter and Sy Hersch who both just came to this area the plans to attack have not changed. The words of Joseph Tracy, fool for God , admirer of Behzad.Iran must make a public offer the US would be embarrassed to refuse. Ask for millions of dollars for the best solar panels,and reusable technology money can buy in exchange for your nuclear technology.Nuclear technology is poison.Hatred and revenge are poison. These things will poison everyone who touches them. Create a stable peacable society that will be the envy of the Middle East. Let the Shia and Sunni and all Islamic nations unite for a bargain of 67 borders for peace with Israel.Use your oil to build a solar society. Become the Persia that gave birth to stringed instruments and Behzad. Let your children dream of gardens with pomegranates and skies full of peace.If there is a war everyone will lose. I am just a Quaker a fool for God, a lover of light, I send my prayers to you.



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timks

posted February 21, 2007 at 4:38 am


Jeff, I hope when you return (safely, we pray) you can share with us more of what our Christian brethren’s lives are like in present-day Iran.



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amberglow

posted February 21, 2007 at 5:01 am


Please ask your hosts and others about Iran’s healthy (and happy) Jewish population. By all accounts i’ve heard, they’ve been thriving for centuries there, which is rare for a country in the region, especially after Israel’s establishment. There was an article the other day stating how none of them want to leave, even with the rising tensions.



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moderatelad

posted February 21, 2007 at 5:19 pm


I find the sign in the background interesting. A Quest for Truth Dialogue towards Strengthening Abrahamic Religions Christianity & Islam Ties There is one Abrahamic Religion missing…Judahism. But then again we understand how Islam views Jews. (and Christians) Later – .



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neuro_nurse

posted February 21, 2007 at 7:24 pm


Thanks for the report. I’m sure a lot has changed in the nearly 30 years since I was in Tehran, but I’m also sure a lot of things haven’t (besides the traffic and smog). I hope you’re taking lots of photographs and plan to post them on God’s Politics. Enjoy your visit!



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Dave D

posted February 21, 2007 at 7:36 pm


I found the banner intereting as well–it looks as though they spelled “Christianity” wrong (no h, I’m guessing) and had to fix it at the last minute.Doesn’t speak to a lot of research on their side, does it?



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Alicia

posted February 21, 2007 at 7:38 pm


Talking may be better than not talking (certainly, better than War) however, I couldn’t help flashing on similar descriptions of visits to “the Glorious Soviet Union” by left-wing organizations prior to the end of the Cold War. How can this delegation be sure that any of those they meet with will in any way divert from carefully scripted presentations?How can this delegation, filled with people I think are extremely well-intentioned, be sure it isn’t being used (misused) by an Iranian state apparatus that is anything but benign? I truly hope, Mr. Carr, that you and your fellow delegates are asking yourselves these questions constantly as you continue your tour of Iran.



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neuro_nurse

posted February 21, 2007 at 7:44 pm


Your mention of the air pollution in Tehran reminded me of something. In the last couple of months of 1978 the demonstrations against the Palavi government escalated. Many of the factories shut down and there was much less traffic on the roads. I remember the skies became very clear and there were beautiful sunsets. It was a remarkable contrast from ‘business as usual.’ If you want to try to pull a metaphor out of this, be my guest. It’s really just one of my memories from living in Iran.



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kevin s.

posted February 21, 2007 at 7:56 pm


That’s a weird picture in general. Is that a Sith Lord on the right?



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Jeff

posted February 21, 2007 at 8:28 pm


Kevin, Great catch on the Sith Lord.



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Carl Copas

posted February 21, 2007 at 9:09 pm


“Doesn’t speak to a lot of research on their side, does it?” Actually it does. Someone researched the word and they fixed the problem.



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Guy Cross

posted February 21, 2007 at 9:25 pm


Another great blog from sojo… Guys I pray you have a blessed time in Iran, bringing peace where it maybe needed soon. Guy http://guycross.blogspot.com



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butch

posted February 21, 2007 at 9:28 pm


“The BBC just announced that they have copies of the basics of the American War Plans for Iran. Bunker busters and all military infrastructure attacked. The timing of this release is somewhat ominous as British troops are starting to leave Iraq.” I’m as opposed to invading or in any way being agressive toward Iran.BIG BUT we must and will always have plans, the question is what do we do with the plans. I think in the case of Iraq we didn’t have a plan?



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Hali

posted February 21, 2007 at 9:28 pm


Moderatelad: No, I don’t think you understand how Islam views Jews (or Christians). Jeff: Have the Iranians ever considered solar or wind energy as an alternative to nuclear energy? Why doesn’t anybody talk about that?How’s the tah-dig over there? :) Salom!



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moderatelad

posted February 21, 2007 at 9:34 pm


Hali | 02.21.07 – 4:33 pm | #Tell me how you think Islam views Jews and Christians…I am interested. Later – .



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Mike Hayes

posted February 21, 2007 at 10:16 pm


“… He serves on one of the 12-member advisory councils (made up of six clerics and six magistrates) that reviews every law that the Parliament passes, and either approves or denies it…”. I wonder if that step in the legislative process was in place before 1979 or was added after then. Thanks for finding the time to send this report, Jeff. May the visit by the group to Iran benefit the people of Iran and the US.



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Janet Pierce

posted February 22, 2007 at 3:50 am


To Jeff, Thank you for the update. My previous comment on your other posting was confirmed…the biggest threat there is the traffic and air pollution.. I enjoy following your visit there and hearing about what interactions come about. It is a very long trip there…and all the main airlines from the west come in during the middle of the night. It can make for some serious jet lag as you’ve probably already found out. janet



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HASH(0x1166b9a0)

posted February 22, 2007 at 4:12 am


I mentioned Bezhad earlier. He was th greatest Persian miniaturist and one of the great painters of all time. I first became interested in medieval Persian culture when I made some stained glass windows for a charming and generous Iranian family in California. I fol- lowed the interest over the years with many art books and some films and novels and such notable finds as Orhan Pamuk s novel about Turkish miniaturist painters called My Name is Red. After reading it I told my wife and a group of Yhomas Pynchon fans he would somday win a nobel prize for literature Last year he did. Last year I also found a print of a painting by Bezhad, my favorite Iranian miniaturist. This painting I painstakingly enlarged because it touched my heart and continues to touch my deepest hopes. It is a painting of men working on an earthen building with ladders, mud bricks, ropes and ingenuity. But the greatest ingredient is friendship. There are African men, pale round faced orientals, brown skinned bearded Arabs, strong redheads with fair skin and at least one of such delicate features and form that it may be a young woman disguised in their midst. All are working hard , but the atmosphere is comradely, respectful. All the faces of humanity are here and on them both sweat and smiles. This, my friends, is the only possible living future for this planet. It is time to learn that. I believe it is possible that we will.



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Joseph T

posted February 22, 2007 at 4:15 am


woopsagain. that anonymous Behzad post was me



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amberglow

posted February 22, 2007 at 5:09 am


Tell me how you think Islam views Jews and Christians…I am interested. For centuries and centuries, Muslim countries welcomed Jews–we’re considered the people of the book, and they hold Moses and others to be prophets. It’s really only in recent times (and mostly because of Israel’s establishment and actions) that things have soured. But–not in Iran apparently. Persia has a very long and tolerant history of letting different groups co-exist.



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timks

posted February 22, 2007 at 6:00 am


But–not in Iran apparently. amberglow, surely you are not unaware of the Iranian sponsored bombings in Buenos Aires 15 years ago? The Israeli embassy and a Jewish community center were the targets. One hundred thirty dead. It’s true that Persia had a long history of tolerance but it seems that era may be over, sadly. I believe the historically tolerant Persia is the real Persia, and I hope it will be allowed to return some day soon.



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moderatelad

posted February 22, 2007 at 2:58 pm


amberglow | 02.22.07 – 12:14 am | #Let us not forget that it was the Islamic people that kicked the Jews and Christians out of Jerusalem over a thousand years ago and hence we had the crusades. Later – .



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Don

posted February 22, 2007 at 4:48 pm


amberglow: The actual history of reations between Muslims on one side and Christians and Jews on the other is much more complex than you have indicated. Yes, there have been times when all groups seemed to get along rather well, but there have been other times when Christians and Jews were treated as second-class citizens and subject to various forms of harassment. For example, sometimes Christians and Jews in majority Muslim lands had to pay a ‘poll tax,’ had to dress in distinctive clothing, and while they were usually free to worship as they wished, their churches and synagogues could not be remodeled or repaired. Often, though, the kitaabiyya (‘people of the book’) were allowed to live by their own laws and didn’t have to conform to Islamic law, unlike modern Islamists who want to force EVERYONE, Muslim or not, to live under the Islamic shari’a. This softened the impact of their second-class status somewhat. Speaking of Iranian tolerance for other religions, though–are you familiar with the history of the Baha’is living in Iran, especially the kinds of persecution they have had to endure? They are usually considered the largest religious minority in Iran and have been oppressed for a long time, but especially since the 1979 revolution. The Baha’i Web site contains information about the status of Baha’is in Iran. http://www.bahai.org/persecution/iran Peace,



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Hali

posted February 22, 2007 at 6:23 pm


moderatelad: Ask a Muslim.



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moderatelad

posted February 22, 2007 at 6:58 pm


Hali | 02.22.07 – 1:28 pm | #Sorry – the one and only Muslim family in our area has moved to the east coast. I did have good talks with him while we watched our children at the playground.I am more interested in your assessment.Later – .



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neuro_nurse

posted February 22, 2007 at 8:48 pm


I had to look up “Sith Lord” on Wikipedia. The entry included some bizarre sexual references. Coincidentally, I saw the first Star Wars movie when I was living in Tehran. Obviously, I haven t seen any of the subsequent movies. non sequitur



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Sharin Bowers

posted February 22, 2007 at 10:10 pm


Did you know that in Iraq (not Iran) women used to walk down the street with nothing on their heads and the young girls wore jeans and t-shirts?Of course, that were the ones who were more secular, and it was their choice. They were safe then…before we invaded and occupied their country.We are supporting the ones who are the Shi’a who are aligned with Iran…even while bush gets ready to invade Iran. There is a video of American soldiers laughing as they watch the Shi’a brutally beating Sunni. When the Sunni have the upper hand, the American soldiers get involved to help the Shi’a. We are supporting the bad guys who are extremist Shi’a (like those in Iran). When they asked members of our congress the difference between the Shi’a and Sunni, our congress couldn’t answer which Bin Laden was and which was Saddam, let alone which were in Iran or Iraq.Go read Riverbend’s blog (she has won literary awards for her blog and her book all over the world) but you must read from the start in order to understand the changes ever since the United States of America led by an insane group of people decided to make Iraq into Iran.It is terrifying to think that we invaded a country and have no idea about their religious beliefs. Did you know that the women in Iraq held jobs and get this — they made equal pay to men in the same job…something we women here in American often do not have.Yep…the American “deciders” have made Iraq into Iran, and probably have no idea what they did.Please watch this disturbing video below showing we are supporting the bad guys. And then go read all of Riverbend’s blogs. Her latest talks about how women are no longer safe — and about the recent rape of a woman. Most of the women are too ashamed to talk about it, but one brave one is speaking out.This was not happening before the US invaded. As Riverbend said…they used to be able to go to the market, walk down the street, be with friends, with covered heads…or not…and they were safe.No more and we did this.reference: http://tailrank.com/1153896/-Shocking-video-Shi-a-Iraqi-troops-deliver-brutal-beating-to-Sunnis-as-US-troops-stand-idly-by reference: http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/2003_08_01_riverbendblog_archive.html Sharin Bowers California



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BT

posted February 25, 2007 at 10:21 pm


Iran is ruled by the Mullahs. Not by Achmendinajihad or the parliment. You will not change their minds and policies by talking to their puppets and subjects. The Mullahs wish to destroy Israel and the USA. Its fairly clear when they exort masses of their subjects to chant “Death to America”! This trip merely provides the Mullahs with propaganda opportunities.



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DeWayne

posted March 1, 2007 at 11:23 pm


I have also followed conditions in Iran, finding there is yet a good sized Jewish and Christian population. It is interesting that the last Shah of Iran talked of Nuclear Energy, and Iran today has a uranium enrichment facility producing 3.5% grade plutonium (weapons require 90%), and despite being good only for Power Plants, the US-Gov wants it to cease. Regardless that Iran today is meeting Int’l-law and protocal’s including camera’s and Int’l-monitro’s, Iran is being told to stop this operation. I suppose that US-Corp’s with US-Gov support in setting up similar facilities in a number other nations is the cause of my wonder. Look into the mis-quote of the Iran President, according to John Hagee who is charging the Iran President wants to “wipe Israel off the map”, I’ve found the actual speech is no where near this statement, instead repeating a past Iran leader who paraphrasing, wants to see the “Zionist regime in Jerusalem cease.”



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Ani

posted March 2, 2007 at 1:03 am


Unfortunately, dialog and mutual understanding of the two culture is not what the U.S. is looking for. The U.S. has only one agenda for Iran- “Submit to us”. The “conflict” is not the result of misunderstandings between two culture, it’s the result of U.S. imperialism.



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