Week Two in Iran: Rae's diary!

I’m CODEPINK’s local groups coordinator, and I just returned Tuesday from a 10-day interfaith Fellowship of Reconciliation peace delegation to Iran, a group of 14 Americans. Here’s my diary of the last days of the trip! Join the virtual delegation by checking out photos and informative captions at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/organize/?start_tab=one_set72157610488783027&mode=together.

Join the Facebook cause to support peace with Iran at: http://apps.new.facebook.com/causes/137080?fb_page_id=6663655884&m=75537ad2&recruiter_id=17875191

Posted by CODEPINK Staff

For 10 days in November and December this year, 14 Jewish and Christian Americans traveled through the Islamic Republic of Iran visiting cities and towns, driving through mountains and snow-covered desert terrain, meeting and talking with Islamic clerics, rabbis, an Armenian archbishop, students, professors, shopkeepers, government officials, mothers, and activists. Our journey included a meeting in Tehran with a veteran of the eight-year war between Iraq and Iran who has become a filmmaker and peacemaker; several encounters with the Iranian Jewish community in Tehran and Shiraz, the oldest Jewish community in the Middle East; a visit to the Tehran Carpet Museum, the former home of Ayatollah Khomeini and the Shah's palace; prayer in mosques, synagogues, a Zoroastrian temple, and at the tomb of Hafiz; a small women's gathering with the courageous Mothers of Peace anti-war group; a foray into the youth subculture nightlife in Isfahan; bearing witness to ancient Persepolis and modern women in hijab; and so much more.

DAY 7 (Dec. 4): Driving to Cyrus, Witnessing Persepolis, Listening in Shiraz

An Armenian bishop wants to be heard in the narrative of the genocide, want to be acknowledged. A Muslim cleric wants to be heard as a leader of a people of faith, not a terrorist or a fundamentalist. A rabbi wants to be heard as he speaks up for Palestine and for peace with Israel. An Iranian Jewish teacher wants to be heard in his identity as first Iranian, then as an observant Jew. A woman in our delegation wants to be heard before the usual men volunteer their questions and insight. Today I am thinking a lot about listening, really listening, and how each of us at our core want so much just to be heard, just to be heard.

Today we arise early and board the bus for the long drive from Isfahan to Shiraz. We pass through snow-covered mountains and then it is snowing all around us as we drive. On the bus ride I sit next to Haydeh who explains to me how Muslims use prayer beads that look very similar to a Buddhist mala. Like a rosary or mala, the person in prayer repeats a line about Allah as her fingers pass over each bead. There are three lines, one for each set of 33 beads, 99 beads in all. Another common form of meditative prayer between the three Abrahamic religions.

During our bus ride we also engage in religious text study led by Rabbi Brant and rabbinical student Sarah. I’m caught up in two incidents of irony: First, while we speak of putting people first, we pass a beggar by the road. Second, while Rabbi Brant is talking about the ethics of ensuring gay marriage and why small literal pieces of biblical text should not be taken to ban gay marriage (a topic that is completely taboo here in Iran), my head scarf falls off my head. Before I can notice it, he points to my bare head with a gasp and calls attention so that I may pull my scarf back up. Of course I comply. A short poem from this moment:

Like snow in the desert

We: separate from the landscape

White faces against a rocky auburn backdrop

In the land of expansive, wide open space

We: contained in our study

Limited in Verse

Put people first, put peace first, then comes study

Outside, a humble man with no arms begging

Inside, the study and slow collection of oranges to give the man

No discussion about the man, just the act

A loud, forbidden conversation about gay marriage

Homosexuality, Leviticus, Reinventing ancient law

My headscarf falls at the moment I gaze out at the beauty of the mountains

The rabbi turns to me – mid-sentence about the taboo thing – and points to my

Naked head so I may become more socially acceptable



We traverse the barren countryside stopping only for lunch at a roadside restaurant. Next to the bathrooms are separate rooms for women and men to pray, as this may be the only place for midday prayers during the drive. During Haydeh’s preparation for prayer I see her without chador for the first time and find that I am a little shocked about her dyed, swank hair cut and how she looks like an entirely different person behind the veil. But this is just reality. Just because a woman wears chador does not mean that she does not listen to pop music, have a favorite chocolate, like to dance in the comfort of her own home. I find that the assumptions about religiosity and prudishness, and even class, with respect to women wearing hijab, and especially also wearing chador, are many, and are higher among the men in our delegation.


After lunch we visit the tomb of Cyrus, which literally lies at the end of the road and snap a photo with the Peace with Iran banner.


We reach the great ruins of Persepolis by mid-afternoon. I am taken by the beauty and magnitude of the ruins; I can’t begin to imagine how breathtaking the original structure must have been! I wonder about what our ruins will be? Here lies the ruins of the great mall… the longest strip mall… the tallest tower… the widest freeway… And who will come to remember them? Will we forever continue to immortalize the structures of the rich and powerful only? Or is it just that common folk’s dwellings just don’t last? The history of domination doesn’t leave space to discover ancient practices of peace.


Our guide for Persepolis and these next two days is Farah. She’s quick, witty, young, gorgeous, and super well-educated on the history of this place. She explains to us how to make the carvings of Persepolis, “The cutting of stone was done by women because their hands are more flexible.” I love this statement: It is not because women are more kind or have more time or have tiny hands; it’s because we are just more flexible!


Amidst the rubble of columns, we meet a group of hip young men who we become friends with and we all make a photo with the Peace with Iran banner too.


After Persepolis we visit the four tombs of the great rulers who were buried inside the rock cliffs until their tombs were raided by invading Muslims (who also smashed the heads off of all the statues thinking they were idols). Carved into the rock wall along with these graves is also a depiction of the goddess Anahita giving over sweets to a king. She is huge and glorious. At sunset we stand before an ancient fire temple and by dusk the bus wheels are turning again and we are nearing Shiraz.


We spend the evening at the giant bazaar in Shiraz where I find a pink satin bed covering set and bags of spices. The air smells sweet and there are people flowing in all directions, spawning bags of trinkets, candies, oranges.


We check into a fabulous hotel, the Pars International, and eat dinner at hotel’s large restaurant, which is quite a Thursday night hang out spot for those who can afford a good meal and want some space to talk. Live music renews my senses, which have become used to living without a beat, a dance. The salad bar boasts all sorts of beets, olives, jellos, and mixed salads. A luxury that just $6 for dinner affords.


At night I spend time blogging and hanging out with Amir, the resident techie who connects me to the internet and tells me why he thinks religious divides are absurd and what he loves about America.


One week in Iran, a reflection piece:

The Space Between

squat houses built on top of one another

skyscrapers bleeding into mosques

concrete sidewalks with no relief for weeds

a black sea of chador-clad women

the high tide of fabric that has engulfed the body

the face, an island jutting out above the veil with pride

makeup cases crammed with eye shadows and lip liners

every inch of permissible hair in view stylized to pomp perfection


cars squeezed through narrow roads,

whirling around traffic circles,

gushing into the avenues

motorcycles and pedestrians jammed between them


each rug in the din mosque has a small space woven for only one to kneel,

packed together in throngs under midday sun


the mosaic tiles in specs of blue and yellow,

covering every inch of wall with flowers,

calligraphy to the divine,

the spiraled geometry of fullness


each stall in the bazaar bears its goods in piles and stacks to the ceiling

anthills of chess boards, bejeweled bags, candies, clocks


Every bus seat is taken already.

The cafes are brimming with undercover couples.

There is always more tea and the pots of sliced sugar are overflowing.

The ever-present floating head of the Ayatollah bobs freely on the few empty walls and billboards as if to say,

When you have found freedom, you will find me there.


Inside I imagine throngs of twenty-something hipsters with hip hop in Farsi and mojitos

conversation flowing illegally between the genders, caresses contained behind curtains


the consumption of emptiness

before the shopping begins,

before the prayer begins,

before the travel begins,

before the day begins.


They say that child's drawings here are full of color and design leaving no white space between.

Where will the next generation find room to draw a new design?




DAY 8: Shiraz (subject to change)


In Shiraz we have a full day of sight seeing and people meeting. We walk the grounds at Nasredin Shah’s Shiraz palace which is now a national garden. Nasredin had 400 wives! He did this through sire, a law for temporary marriage (as only 4 wives are permitted to each Muslim man) though by temporary he meant 99 years! We learn about how this harem of women is said to have ignited the revolt against the shah and the British: Internationally imported tobacco was harming the Iranian local economy and after an Ayatollah issued a fatwa against smoking tobacco, these wives organized and rebelled. All 400 women lived together in Tehran where they organized themselves to protest the Shah’s importation of British tobacco by smashing all the royal hookahs in the street. The garden is full of roses, Asian plants like a loquat tree, rosemary bushes.


We visit a Zoroastrian temple, which has the eternally burning fire inside it. We learn about the rituals of the Zoroastrian faith that are still practiced in mainstream Iranian society today, like burning candles on the winter solstice while reading poems and staying awake all night, celebrating Norooz, the Persian new year, by jumping over fires, and observing the last Wednesday of the year with great festivity, when it is fabled that souls return to earth to check on the wellbeing of their loved ones and must see that their living relatives are happy so they can return to the afterlife happy themselves. Unfortunately, we don’t get to meet any members of this Zoroastrian community, but I am grateful for the ways that Leila continuously brings Zoroastrian ideas into our delegation’s conversations on faith. For her, gardening is prayer, communing with plants and water. She brings into our discourse the sacred Earth so central to the origins of our faiths.


We attend a meeting with the Jewish community here, who number about 6,000 people, 40 of whom can speak Hebrew fluently, and who are more religious than the Jews in Tehran, but seem to have less funding. This Jewish community is very interested to hear about our roles and responsibilities to our Jewish communities at home, and how we preserve and practice our tradition. While they praise the Ayatollah and talk about joining their Muslim brothers for the day of street protests for Palestine, I again wonder about the many layers of truths we hear. What is being said for the sake of the government officials in the room, and what is authentically true? We make a fun video of all of us shouting Peace with Iran! with the banner in the courtyard.


We lunch at a buffet restaurant and after eating a delicious meal, Ariel, Jacob, and I excuse ourselves to talk a short walk around the block. Just when I am beginning to think we are actually alone in the neighborhood, and Jacob and I negotiate which way to turn to begin to make our way back to the group, Jacob receives a phone call that the bus is leaving, and all of a sudden we hear behind us a man’s voice calling us back. The Shiraz government accompaniment to our delegation has followed us! We are never, never alone in Iran.


In the middle of the day we find out that, though we thought we were flying from Shiraz to Tehran tomorrow morning, we are in fact leaving tonight, which gives us little time to repack and visit more sites. The name for our delegation becomes at this juncture, “Subject to Change.” In Iran, the schedule is evolving constantly, plans are always subject to cancellation, subject to reworking, subject to change.


After loading all our stuff onto the bus, at dusk we go to pray at this amazing mosque, the greatest of all the geodes we’ve entered into so far: Inside from floor to ceiling it is covered in tiny mirrors. I feel like I’ve stepped into a Burning Man camp and am tripping on a thousand little points of reflected light. The wild décor is met with the focus and devotion of the women who have gathered to pray Friday night prayers together. There is a constant bowing and rising and chanting, and also the buzz of side conversations by women who line the walls. I cannot see what goes on across the curtain, on the men’s side. Sallie gives out photos of her family to excited kids, and her interaction with the children becomes a spectacle. I don’t whip out my camera as I stand savoring the religious experience, the cultural exchange, and wade through my feelings about taking pictures of children in other countries—how to share their joy and help inspire people to think of their humanity if ever considering an air raid on this beautiful country, without objectifying them or making them into some exotic entity?


After dinner we visit the tombs of Sa’di and Hafez. Entering the tomb of Hafiz for me is like entering a most sacred shrine. His tomb sits atop a circle of stairs and under a tall dome. All around the square of reflecting pools and trees is buzzing with bright eyed boys and girls who are meeting here to find love. Two guys strike up a conversation with Ariel and I and after a few moments they actually ask us if we want to walk. We don’t know to where we are going, but we say yes, and it is like we are on a “date” walking around these sacred grounds and chatting about America and poetry. Our group makes a photo with all the lovebirds and our Peace with Iran banner. One of the boys tells Sarah she has a “delicious face.” After Farah reads a Hafiz poem, Rabbi Lynn gives Ariel and I a special blessing. We emerge from the shrine drenched with sweet words that splatter on the sidewalk and moisten our journals with some tenderness about Shiraz, about young love, about humanity.


We’re boarding the plane on the runway, walking up the stairs and ducking our heads to fit inside the Russian jet. The flight is an hour but I think I’m sleeping the whole time, sandwiched between Ariel and Jacob. Touch down in Tehran and back to the hotel where our trip started. Some sleep in the wee hours before daybreak.

Plant the seed of friendship…” ~ Hafiz


DAY 9: Tehran


Today is our last day in Iran, and it begins much like our first day. We awake in the same hotel we began our journey on and Ariel, Jacob, Leila, and I venture out for a morning walk in the city, which becomes a wild errand run. Somehow we pick up last minute gifts, negotiate with KLM on the phone, discuss Iranian politics, and find our way through the city all at the same time.


We spend the morning on the bus on a goose chase to get to the renowned carpet museum. The museum has ancient and modern rugs bearing stories of great leaders and the patterns of birds and tangled flowers. Something about the way the intricate carpets hang on the grey walls seems to suck the life out of them and without a guide to bring their stories to life they are like animal carcasses, the deer heads of saloons, haunting the expansive hall with dull gaze and a drab shrug.


In the afternoon a small delegation of us meet with Dr. Rasoulipoor, Habib, and the staff at the Islamic art and film center. When I ask about the potential of connecting students via internet and teleconference to each other I am reminded about how the Iranian government cannot seek to further independent free thought for its citizens, as my ideas are not received warmly, but politely.


We return to the hotel for a meeting with the Islamic World Peace NGO in a lavishly decorated conference room. In front of a giant poster of the Ayatollah sits eight or so men representing the NGO, which boasts a women’s and a youth council, but features no representatives of these important sectors. We exchange a sweet dialogue about the commonalities of our faiths and peace building and are treated to coffee, sweets, fruit. I have the feeling that we are scratching the surface, like a shiny red onion, revealing a layer below, another layer, another, another. Like the dry skin of my forearm, flaking, exfoliating, revealing new skin underneath, but not penetrating. Like the bark of a redwood, hairy skeins combed off by my fingers, years of truth lie hidden beneath the thick ring of bark, splinters in my fingernails ward me away from scratching.


On the final night of our stay in Iran several women from our delegation met with members of Iranian Mothers for Peace, an anti-war NGO founded by courageous women, many of whom have done time in Iranian prisons for speaking out against the injustices of the Islamic Republic. But they have also gone on record against the US war in Iraq and in particular against a potential US attack on Iran. (from Rabbi Rosen’s blog, www.rabbibrant.com) A small group of us women delegates meet with two courageous women who organize Mothers for Peace, this courageous movement of women against war in Iraq and war on Iran that is contentious and in a way illegal. Mothers for Peace is one year old and is comprised of women of different ideologies and ethics who are united together to prevent war. They wrote a letter to Obama and to Congress in protest of the sanctions and any military intervention in Iran. From one of their public letters:

To all peace-loving mothers of America,

We are addressing you from the Middle East. Our motherly instincts compel us to share a common pain with those of you whose children are fighting in the Iraq war. Iranian Mothers for Peace is an independent organization that was established in October 2007 to object the war and warmongers both in Iran and the United States of America. We are diverse in terms of ethnicity, religion, and ideology. Iranian Mothers for Peace opposes war, human rights abuses, injustice, and poverty…

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are costing each American family $25,000 a year during a time in which the United States is in an economic crisis, with many citizens still lacking health care and economic stability. Once again American Government officials are singing the ominous song of war - this time against Iran. It is unjust for our children to be killed and murdered while the weapons manufacturers and oil monopolies collect blood money.

Therefore, we are asking all of you peace-loving American mothers to oppose the war and those who are inciting the war in order to prevent this mistake from happening again. Please do not let our children draw weapons against each other. Please do not allow the decision makers to force Iranian, American, Iraqi, and Afghani mothers to suffer from pain and heartbreak for their children forced into fighting unjust wars.


On March 19, 2007, the fifth anniversary of the occupation of Iraq, they tried to make a demonstration against the Iraq war, but the government didn’t allow it. They were also prevented from organizing against the sieges of Gaza, though that is a stance favored by the government. Five years ago (pre-Ahmadinejad) the women’s rights movement was successful at organizing a demonstration of over 6,000 people outside the University of Tehran; following Ahmadinejad’s election there was another demonstration for women’s rights with 2,000 people. It was dispersed by the cops and some people were arrested; to this day they are still dealing with the charges. At one point in the conversation we realized that one of the Iranian mothers, and Rabbi Lynn both have sons aged 24 years old, and Iris is 24. We felt the generational connections in our heartfelt circle of women as we passed between us photos of our families, the Mothers for Peace letters and buttons, Peace with Iran t-shirts, chocolates, and business cards. These brave women of Mothers for Peace asked us to relay their message to America: No sanctions or war on Iran! (Check out Mothers for Peace at www.mothersforpeace.blogspot.com).


We ate our last supper (and had our last hookah!) in Tehran long after dark, and we departed straight away for the airport. Some sense of formality seemed to vanish in the cool night air and as our bus sped towards the airport that would carry us away, we erupted into a chorus of song, belting out old peacenik tunes, Jewish melodies, Christian hymns, David Bowie. This Little Light of Mine merged with the Beatles and became a dance and a drum beat and within the confines of our little short bus we collectively were free to sing and move, something the women of our delegation had not done in ten days. At the airport we were met by men who moved our baggage onto the check in and we said goodbye to the government officials who had accompanied us. On board the giant KLM flight we kissed Iran goodbye through the thick windows and watched the bright lights turn into tiny twinkles as we lifted off. Airborne, as Indie Arie’s “Video” played on the loudspeaker, we released our headscarves and Ariel and I stared back at each other. I couldn’t remember her neck looking so barren and exposed, so long and slender. My hair puffed out everywhere like a lion’s mane. And I was ready to roar. To protect the children of the States and of Iran from witnessing the ferocious all-consuming terror of war. To defend the idea of liberation I was raised with. To nurture a different way of living in the world.


DAYS 10-12: Amsterdam Redux


In Amsterdam, Ariel, Jacob, and I said goodbye to the rest of the delegation. They boarded the next flight and we stayed in Europe. That first night we took the train out to Assen, a countryside town where my friends from NYC had recently moved to with their beautiful children. It was the perfect way to unwind from the journey and I think we slept for 12 hours (!) that first night. It was ever refreshing to be in a real home, rather than a smoky hotel room, playing with kids, dancing around, toasting over a glass of wine, wandering through the countryside and breathing in crisp, fresh air. Back in Amsterdam the next night Ariel and I took ourselves on a tour of the Red Light district and had a sobering and honest conversation with a prostitute from Spain. I was reminded that when it comes to women’s liberation, it’s not about how much clothes we’re required to wear. It’s the requirement.


It was a relief in Iran not to see advertisements showcasing mostly nude overly thin women objectified to sell more beer/shampoo/stuff. But it was troubling to talk with all the young women who furtively told us they hated wearing the hijab and wished they could go with out it, and challenging to see the little girl in the mirror mosque running around trying to find her mother to no success because all the women were bent over layers of cloth that so enshrouded their bodies that they became almost invisible to many men and even to their own children. It was a relief to be back in a city that welcomed co-ed dancing, spiked coffee, and cute skirts that showed too much thigh. But it was troubling to talk with Isabella who sat behind a glass cage illuminated by red and black lights and told us about how she worked the sex industry for money, to hear her scathing hatred for Amsterdam, to see how young the girls were, to see how legal pot made some kids numb and blitzed out of their minds most of the time.


In Iran, I did not miss the bar scene, the expensive alcohol and cheap come-ons.


I did miss dancing and singing along, to any kind of music, freely, without head covering or baggy clothes or a law prohibiting my body from movement or my voice from song.


I did not miss styling my hair with gel and caring about how my bangs hang on my forehead.


I missed being able to move my neck freely without fear of exposure.


I did not miss coordinating clothing outfits and found my manteau was an easy slip-on coat to put on each morning with little contemplation.


I missed being able to roll up my sleeves to do hard work or when I felt hot.


The Netherlands is the country of my heritage, as I am half Dutch. And it felt right to return to this country after our journey in the Middle East. In the bazaar in Isfahan I spotted a pair of delft style porcelain clompen shoes tied together with a string of blue evil eye beads. The perfect mix of my heritage, hanging from some merchant’s stall nonchalantly.


Concluding Prayers

Who can say the truth even after dipping the pen into ink a thousand times?” ~ Rumi


The first few conversations I have after leaving Iran are a vivid reminder of the challenges we will face in building peace. The owner of a cheeseshop in Amsterdam tells Jacob and I that after serving in the Israeli Army for a year in Gaza, he understands better than us the grave and disastrous challenges that the violent Palestinian terrorists pose to the state of Israel. Immediately after deplaning in the US, Ariel’s mom wants to know why the 20,000 Jews still in Iran don’t leave, wondering if it is because they are too poor or too rich that they stay. We talk through the many ways that Iranian Jews identify with Iran as home and their national pride, but behind my responses is an admittance of how much I still have to learn from this small, ancient, rich culture.


On the train from Long Island into Manhattan the next day, while editing my photos on my laptop, I overhear two Orthodox Jewish girls talking about an assignment to compare SF hippie culture to Judaism. Of course I have to chime in and it turns out one of the girls is a self-identified “Persian Jew” whose father is from Shiraz. I show her photos of the Shiraz Jewish community. A third girl chimes in saying that it is very nice that Americans can travel so far to be so “open” and shares with me that she was the victim of a terrorist bombing in Israel and it caused her body much difficulty during the birth of her son, who is “thanks to God” doing fine. I express my sympathy and share with her some stories of the 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows and other survivors of violence who are transforming their suffering into empathy for the “other side” and powerful work for peace. She agrees that survivors work for peace, just in more “rational” ways. In her voice I hear her anger, her judgment of my experience as being wildly idealistic and not grounded in painful experience (which is assuredly not true), but most importantly, I focus on just hearing her and bearing witness to her truth without allowing my own judgment to take over. What I have learned most importantly from our delegation is the great need to cultivate deeper listening and strive for understanding beyond differences.


In summarizing this trip, I want to repost the excellent thoughts of my co-delegate, Rabbi Brant Rosen, who wrote on his blog at www.rabbibrant.com:

The most essential thing I’ve learned is in some ways the most basic: Iran is a beautiful country with a venerable history and wonderful, gracious people. It is also a powerfully complicated country, marked by a myriad of cultural/political/religious/historical layers. I am now more convinced than ever that we in the West harbor egregiously stereotypical assumptions about this country - and that we harbor them at our mutual peril. We spoke to many Iranian citizens during this trip and probably the most common comment we heard was that they had no problems with Americans - and that the real problem lay with our respective governments. (On more than one occasion, I heard this said in regard to Israel as well). While I realize that these statements like these probably reflect characteristically Iranian t’aarof, (”graciousness”), I don’t underestimate the abiding truth of comments such as these. I do believe that we ultimately have more in common than not. I do believe that our respective governments continually misunderstand and misuse one another. And I do believe that true communication and reconciliation between our two nations is not only possible, but utterly essential.


The challenge of communication was driven home to us over and over during the course of our formal meetings and dialogues. It became fairly clear to us fairly soon that even with direct face to face conversation, even with decent interpreters, miscommunication was virtually inevitable. And though these kinds of miscues might have seemed to us to be fairly benign at the time, we came to appreciate that even subtle misunderstandings had important implications. More often than not, these barriers were due to cultural differences where words/idioms could not be simply translated literally in a single rendering. And I can’t help but believe that many of the more ominous assumptions we hold about Iran and Iranians are due less to substance than to cultural misunderstanding. While I prefer not to weigh in on the rhetorical hairsplitting debate on Ahmadinejad’s notorious 2005 “threat” to “wipe Israel off the map,” I’ll only suggest that our attitudes (not to mention our foreign policy) must be based on real intelligence and understanding, and not fear-based, knee-jerk assumptions.

None of this is to sugar-coat the more disturbing aspects of the Islamic Republic. If our delegation was ever tempted to do so, we received a hard dose of reality when we read in the Tehran Times about a public hanging of two men convicted of bombing a mosque that was scheduled to take place in Shiraz shortly after we were there. Yes, we are justified in recoiling from reports such as these - and we’d be foolish to deny that there are troubling human rights issues that Iran would do well to address. But at the end of the day these are Iran’s issues to address, not ours. And the solutions to these problems are certainly not ours to impose.

As a matter of fact, the Iranian human rights community has been confronting these issues for some time. And it is worth noting that their fight for peace and justice serves as a challenge to us as well.

I’m reminded of the many remarkable, inspired individuals we met on our journey: Dr. Raffi, committed to serving a Jewish community that makes its home in an Islamic Republic; Habib, who seeks peace by bearing witness through his art; Dr. Rasoulipour, who devotes his life to religious understanding and tolerance, but to name a few.

So in the end I find myself returning to the subject of understanding - a concept that seems to be in such painfully short supply these days. If anything, I believe our trip highlighted for us the critical need for mutual understanding. Such a simple thing, yet somehow still so tragically elusive in our world.”


Iran is a tale of two cities, one in the streets and one behind closed doors. It is an infinitely layered onion. It is a thriving country with a compassionate citizenry. It is not a dangerous place for tourists. It is not a country of terrorists. It is a place that welcomed a delegation of 14 interfaith Americans. It is my great hope that many more Americans will have the opportunity to travel to Iran and come home to share their stories, so there is an alternative narrative to the spin we are hearing in the media. It is also important that we hear from Iranian-Americans speaking out for peace, and that we continue to try to get visas for Iranians to come to the US to speak out for peace, as AFSC is trying to do for this coming January, and as FOR did in arranging a meeting between Ahmadinejad and 80 peace and justice organizations last September.


Also, in closing, I want to promote the release of Phil Wilayto's new book, In Defense of Iran, which he wrote after being part of a peace delegation to Iran last year, and is currently being released and on book tour in the US.


In all faiths there are prayers for those seeking a more just world. Perhaps the most simple is this: Blessed are the peacemakers.



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