The oldest peace group in the United States, the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), is sending me and 24 other American peace activists to Iran. I leave this Friday, May 5, on Air France (no jokes, please).
And dont make the same mistake our President did: getting Iran mixed up with Iraq. Iraq is west of Iran, is where our soldiers are in the midst of a civil war and fighting a strong insurgency. Iran is to the east of Iraq, and is where the United States supported the shah until he was overthrown in 1979, instituting an Islamic republic led by ayatollahs and imams. Both countries have our oil under their sand.
FOR is sending peace activists from America to meet with religious and civic leaders to show there are Americans who dont want war. Since Irans president is now developing nuclear weapons and threatening to wipe Israel off the map, the prospects for peace look dim. In fact, our peace group may be in Tehran when the United Nations imposes economic sanctions and bans air travel. We might have to walk home. If they let us return
Im not worried, though. I doubt that even the most fanatical Iranian would want to hold hostage a group of American peace activists that George W. Bush would rather have outside of his country. The U.S. needs more peace activists, since our president is threatening nuclear bunker busters on Iranian atomic power plants. Thatll cause a mess. Radioactive fallout should only reach India (lucky us).
Anyway, Im looking forward to meeting Iranian citizens and listening to their concerns. I will try to keep my mouth shut, ears open and learn as much as I can. I will, though, open my mouth to try some of the dates, pistachios and saffron ice cream (imagine that). Well be visiting Shiraz, the birthplace of the world-famous wine, but the Muslim faith prohibits any taste. Im learning some basic Farsi (the Persian language that most speak in Iran). Having trouble with the guttural sounds, though. Its like Im clearing my throat when Im just trying to say, Excuse me.
Rockford has more Iranian natives living here than youd think, some of whom have assured me I will be welcome and treated with the utmost hospitality. It is a tenet of the Muslim faith to welcome the stranger, even the American and even while they are shouting Death to America!
Ive been blessed with friends who are supporting my trip, and a local factory, Heartwood Creations, has supplied some wooden boxes to give to individuals whom I meet.
Rockford Urban Ministries, for which I work, accepts donations to cover the cost (more than $4,000). I should be home by the May 26, allowing for delays along the way. I hope to say a public prayer on Memorial Day, Monday, May 30, noon at Beattie Park in downtown Rockford. I will also speak that same evening (7 p.m.) at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 4848 Turner.
Will the trip be worth it? I dont know. I pray that we can make a difference and extend an olive branch during these most trying times.
I know the United States government has not sat down with Iranian officials since 1979, except surreptitiously during the Iranian covert guns for hostages negotiations under Ronald Reagan.
The U.S. overtly supplied weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein in Iraq to attack Iran, which lasted 10 years. I hope to meet some of the Iranian veterans and commiserate as an American Vietnam veteran. The United States has been hostile to Iran, and the more militant Iranians would be happy to attack the great Satan United States. It will be a miracle if 25 American peace activists can make any difference, but all we can do is try. Please pray and work with me for peace.
Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.
From the May 3-9, 2006, issue