Left Justified: Thoughts while flying into Tehran

I already miss Rockford and the budding trees along the Sinnissippi Bike Path, and I haven’t even hit O’Hare yet. Forest City experiences the changes of season so dramatically (and sometimes within the same day). And winter is such a taskmaster; we all long for springtime. So when the first crocuses stick their heads up even through a late snow, I feel hope.

But this trip to Iran is almost the opposite. Hope for peace in the Middle East seems to be fading and dying like the fall leaves in Page Park. Are we going into a winter of war? Will our country lob nuclear weapons at Iranian nuclear facilities to halt them from delivering their supposedly potential weapons of mass destruction at Israel?

When I asked to go on this trip to Iran, the chances of direct nuclear conflagration were remote. Since then, I’ve done a little reading about the history of Iran and U.S. and European meddling. I learned, for instance, that Iran was almost partitioned between England, which wanted to protect India, and Russia looking for a warm-water port. The United States was invited to act as a buffer, but after World War II, forced the Soviets to leave and took over the oils concession from the Brits.

In 1953, the CIA and British intelligence overthrew the duly-elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq and installed the monarchistic Shah of Iran—Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi—as head of state. Mossedeq had nationalized the oil industry, which had been controlled by the British. The Shah westernized Iran, but also kept a tight rein on freedom of expression, which boiled over in 1979 when the Shah was invited to seek asylum here. Iranian students seized the American Embassy and held American hostages until Ronald Reagan was elected president.

In one of the longest and bloodiest of wars, Iraq invaded Iran at the encouragement of the United States, and there hasn’t been any reconciliation since. Iran supports militant anti-American activities, supplied monies to the Taliban and Palestinian terrorist groups. With the Iranian president calling for “wiping Israel off the map,” it’s no wonder the international community wants Iran to stop their nuclear power program.

Meanwhile, our little peace group will say prayers with Christian, Muslim and, yes, even Jewish, religious leaders (sorry, no Baha’is; they are being persecuted).

So what good is prayer? “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” And if we have to travel 12,000 miles to light that candle, somebody from this country should at least make an effort, because this president doesn’t want to.

There should be discussions between the U.S. and Iran.

I have many good friends who have shared wishes and bon voyage sentiments, and I appreciate the donors who relieved a little of the financial burden from my shoulders. Rockford Urban Ministries, for which I work, has accepted those gifts and passed them on to the Fellowship of Reconciliation, who put this program together. You can watch our travels at www.forusa.org and even receive e-mails from us in Iran. I hope to be back May 25 and share a prayer for peace on Memorial Day, noon at Beattie Park. Don’t wait for me, though. Please start praying for peace now, and while you’re at it, ask our congressman, senators and yes, even our president, to use diplomatic instead of nuclear persuasion.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the May 10-16, 2006, issue

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