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Why on earth would you want to go to Iran?

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Many dear friends thought it a bad idea. Wasn’t it dangerous? Aren’t they out to get us? Isn’t it run by crazy clerics? Not sure about the mental health of the clerics, but basically, no, no, and no.  Iran is a very modern place that looks in many ways like the U.S.  You’d recognize the horrific traffic and the overwrought advertising. You’d also recognize the friendly, accommodating people, eager to interact with foreign strangers and practice their nascent English. More surprising, perhaps, is its size. Tehran has 12 million people, half again larger than New York City, with much safer streets (except to cross).

Soon, though, our peace delegation of 28 found profound and troubling differences between our two lands. Primarily the sanctions.  Although Iran has lived up to its end of the nuclear treaty bargain, the U.S. has not, failing to lift the original sanctions as promised, and recently adding more. This became painfully clear when a member of our group suffered a heart incident soon after arriving. The hospital treated him very professionally with old but adequate equipment, but when it came time to pay, his insurance company reneged, citing the U.S. sanctions on all financial transactions.

These mindless rules prevent many critical medicines from entering Iran, promoting physical suffering and hastening death among its citizens. They have also destroyed currency value and devastated the economy. Millions of former middle class citizens are now in poverty as our democratic nation throws its weight around. Luckily the countless citizens who approached us on the street did not take it out on us personally but rather on our leaders. Whew! Many felt similarly about their own leaders, but understandably groused more about ours.

Others wondered why we act so aggressively toward Iran. They haven’t done anything to us. That was easier to answer in 1953 when we overthrew their elected government at the behest of our oil companies. We wanted to keep control of the black stuff. But now times are a bit different. The world, especially the United States, is awash with oil. Sure, we want theirs, but it’s no longer such a big deal. There seems to be more to it than that.

What our national leaders seem to want even more than oil is control. Total control. No nation should be allowed to go its own way and thus set a bad example for other restive places. Surely we are not harassing Nicaragua, Haiti, or Cuba for their oil. We seem deathly fearful of any nation, no matter how small, showing independence from us and our particular brand of capitalism.

Our humble group (Code Pink, it’s called) could not answer this profound question, nor did we learn anything serious about the famous Revolutionary Guard or the fearsome clerics who apparently wield great power. What we did learn was that Iran is, if anything, safer than the United States, that our stupid sanctions are hurting average people rather than their leaders, and that by continuing to promote them the U.S. is looking like a jerk to the rest of the world. Not a bad set of lessons to come away with for the price of 10 days of jetlag.

 

William A. Collins

 

Bill Collins is a former mayor of Norwalk.

 

26 comments

Mike Mushak March 25, 2019 at 8:27 pm

Bill, thank you for sharing your trip to Iran, and your rare human perspective on the current bizarre situation Trump has put both our countries in.

As with North Korea, Trumps amateur knee-jerk reactions to complex foreign relations have made the world a more dangerous place, and squandered our bargaining power around the world as no one trusts us anymore.

Piberman March 25, 2019 at 11:04 pm

Who would have ever imagined a former Norwalk Mayor would become a foreign policy guru and express his views in Nancy’s ? On Iran of all places ! Speechless.

Susan Wallerstein March 26, 2019 at 7:51 am

Sad some people haven’t learned how to disagree without being disagreeable. Ad hominem attacks get us nowhere. Putting aside people’s different opinions about the issues Bill raises in this piece, he was a highly qualified, respected Mayor. Many remember his leadership in the rebirth of SoNo, historic preservation, public art, Maritime Aquarium, etc.

David T McCarthy March 26, 2019 at 8:33 am

Mike Mushak, you do realize what they would do to you in Iran, don’t you?

You would rather mindlessly oppose the President than speak out against a religious regime that would behead you just for being who you are, likely after a good solid round of torture.

Kathleen Mary Tepper March 26, 2019 at 1:52 pm

Why is it that anyone who actually dares to go against the mindset of corporate America and yes, critiquing, the devastating effect that U.S. sanctions impose on the populations of other nations are immediately castigated by the less well informed?
Bill Collins is correct, Iran has never threatened this country and, unlike the U.S. actually has held to its side of the nuclear treaty.
I, for one, want to thank him for giving us a more humane and wider view than that espoused by our main stream media.
I ask a question: how are the working people of the United States benefiting from the costs of imposing crippling sanctions in Iran and elsewhere? What benefits are we getting from the tax dollars that are necessary to enforce these sanctions?
We are awash in sanctions against other sovereign countries. How much more effective a “Marshall Plan” would be, rather than these punitive efforts. The billions committed in aid to Europe directly after WW11 effectively amounted to a generous 5 percent increase in the U.S. gross domestic product following the plan’s implementation.
Today we are drowning in the debt resulting from our various conflicts.

Scott Kimmich March 26, 2019 at 2:04 pm

Sounds like a good destination. I’ve been hankering to go there for years, and Bill’s
description may put wings on my heels. In my opinion, which is opposite to that of President Trump and his neocon advisers, we need to turn around and sell our goods to Iran, not try to strangle it with sanctions. We need to jettison our heavy-handed military approach to foreign relations and try marketing for a change. Iran constitutes a large number of potential customers.

Scott March 26, 2019 at 5:12 pm

Let’s me get this straight…we’re deathly fearful of any nation, no matter how small, showing independence from us nor did you learn anything ‘serious’ about their totalitarian regime. What?!

How about…

Iran supports terrorism in the Middle East and is constantly threatening violence against Israel.

The World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Iran 140 out of 144 countries for gender parity. Women in Iran constitute 19% of the workforce in 2017 with only 7% growth since 1990.

LGBT rights in Iran have come in conflict with the penal code since the 1930s. In post-revolutionary Iran, any type of sexual activity outside a heterosexual marriage is forbidden. Same-sex sexual activities are punishable by imprisonment, corporal punishment, or execution.

Iran is believed to execute the most people per capita according to a 2015 article in The Economist.

Yeah, let’s get rid of the sanctions, throw their leadership a party and turn a blind eye to the discrimination and torture that takes place there on a daily basis.

Scott March 26, 2019 at 6:22 pm

@Kathleen – maybe I am one of ‘the less well informed’ you referred to in your comment above or maybe you were referring to other Norwalk residents. Regardless, I’ll give this a shot.

You talk about the debt we’ve incurred due to various conflicts. Sometimes sanctions are used as a catalyst to force change from the bottom up within a country. Doing so prevents a nation from going to war, into debt and losing its soldiers in combat. Surely that would solve your debt concern.

So, for many, it’s more than just about the nuclear treaty. Having their population, specifically the young, revolt against the religious tyranny would be a good thing in order to be free and live in a society without fear.

Marija Bryant March 26, 2019 at 7:31 pm

Yes, the current regime in Iran is miserable. So are many that we support or have supported (North Korea anyone? the former Soviet Union? Chile?). Bill Collins talks from a first person perspective. He went; He saw. He tuned in to the culture and the people.

Rick Steves (the travel writer) had a great special that came to the same basic conclusion about Iran. Once you travel and see for yourself, you take what the (any government) government feeds you about “enemies” and “allies” with a grain of salt. Oh and don’t give me that propaganda stuff that they only showed what they wanted a tourist to see. The Soviets did that in my home country Latvia, but anyone with any sense could see how miserable things really were before the Soviet Untion collapsed.

https://www.ricksteves.com/tv-programmers/specials/iran

Mike Mushak March 26, 2019 at 10:51 pm

@ Dave McCarthy, we thought you would have transitioned by now to life in Florida. Must be tough.

But since you felt compelled to bring up my sexual orientation in your comment, which you always seemed fascinated by for as long as I’ve known you, then I feel compelled to respond in kind.

You bring up anti-gay religious discrimination in Iran, as if we don’t have anti-gay religious discrimination right here at home.

In fact, conservative Christians right here in America regularly call for “death to gays”, and in some cases have followed through on their beliefs.

In fact, it was American conservative Christians who convinced Reagan to withhold AIDS funding in the 1980’s as hundreds of thousands died, as conservatives preached that it was the wrath of God for the sins of homosexuality.

The CDC has determined that over 200,000 Americans would be alive today if Reagan had acted to control the epidemic and research new drugs sooner and not delayed action based on conservative Christian pressure.

Yes, you read that right. 200,000 Americans died in a deliberate genocide in our own lifetimes because of religious discrimination right here at home.

And it was American conservative Christians who went to Africa to convince Uganda officials to pass a law to execute anyone who was LGBT. The law passed but was later rescinded after international pressure, but that was American Christians who made that law happen.

And what about Trump’s ban on transgender folks serving in the military? These are patriotic volunteers who the top military leadership have testified are not a problem in the military, but Trump needed to throw a sacrifice to his religious conservative core who hate LGBT folks and will do anything to push us back and vilify us as “evil”.

In other words, Dave McCarthy, you don’t have to travel to Iran to find anti-gay hatred. In a third of the states including where you live in Florida, LGBT taxpaying citizens can still get fired from their jobs or evicted from their apartment just for being who they are.

And for 40 years, Florida banned gay adoption, until it was finally ruled unconstitutional in 2010. That was only 9 years ago.

And let’s not forget the Republican platform in 2016 included support for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. That’s right, your beloved GOP party wants to ban my marriage to my husband.

So don’t tell me about how horrible Iran is for gay folks, when your own Republican Party has done a good job of promoting hatred and LGBT genocide for decades right here in the good old USA.

And get a life in Florida for crying out loud! I’m sure there’s a fun group of overtanned and face-lifted Trump lovers watching Fox News right next door to you as we speak. Go knock on the door and introduce yourselves!

Kathleen Mary Tepper March 26, 2019 at 11:02 pm

Scott, I appreciate your reply and your statistics. I’m well aware of them and in no way did I indicate that I was speaking about domestic conditions in Iran or any other country.

In your reply you say “Sometimes sanctions are used as a catalyst to force change from the bottom up within a country. Doing so prevents a nation from going to war, into debt and losing its soldiers in combat.”

Strange, even without sanctions the U.S. has gone to war, got into debt because of those wars and, if I am not mistaken, has lost its soldiers in combat. Not to mention those who come back broken in limb and mind.

For the past 17 years the U.S. has been engaged in 41 military conflicts in 19 different countries. It is estimated that well over $5 Trillion dollars have been spent by the Pentagon since 2001.

Cui bono? Not our infrastructure, not our education and not our healthcare.

I know where I would rather spend a few trillion dollars!

Scott March 27, 2019 at 7:56 am

Kathleen – I think we may agree. I’d rather see money spent here in the U.S. My point was, sometimes change needs to come from the actual people living in those harsh conditions rather than going in by force and start nation building.

As a side note, I know the people of the country are good and the culture is rich. Anyone who has traveled or lived abroad realizes it’s not the citizens, but primarily the governments that are the problems.

Milton March 27, 2019 at 9:14 am

Actually we did not overthrow Mosaddegh at the behest of our oil companies. We overthrew him at the behest of Britains oil companies who convinced the US about the threat of communism. Theodore Roosevelt’s son Kermit was on of the key players. Great book on the subject is “All the Shah’s Men”.

Kathleen Mary Tepper March 27, 2019 at 1:02 pm

Scott:
Thank you. Let us all focus on where we agree. On where we don’t, we can either prove our point by substantiated facts or agree to disagree without losing the place where we DO agree.

Mike Mushak March 27, 2019 at 10:28 pm

@Bill Dunne, I agree with you. The leftist mind is a “thing of wonder” because it actually functions the way it was designed to do.

In other words, the leftist mind digests the facts and established conclusions based on the real world evidence. This holds true for everything from climate change to healthcare to environmental protection to gender and racial equality, everything the conservative mind is on the wrong side of the debate, and of history.

Let’s not forget it was conservatives who opposed the women’s and minoritiy’s right to vote and consumer protection laws and labor unions who fought for a 40-hour work week and workplace safety, among so many other progressive movements that improved millions of lives. Conservatives fought all of those progressive movements.

Yes indeed, the leftist mind is a “thing of wonder”!

Scott March 28, 2019 at 7:51 am

Just putting this out there for thought so don’t get all riled up.

Could one of conservatism greatest contributions have been to keep progressive ideology in check so societies don’t spiral downward into a hole of complete redistribution of wealth and resources?

Progressives have definitely changed America for the better in many ways, but to completely discount conservatism seems unjust.

Again, citizens are generally good, it’s the government that runs amok. I would prefer to have one where there is a system of checks and balances and one party or ideology does not dominate the other……as is the case here in Norwalk, unfortunately.

It’s something to think about rather than just drinking the cool aid.

Steve Mann March 28, 2019 at 10:49 am

In Iran, thousands of people were arrested during a wave of demonstrations over the past year. More than 7,000 protesters, students, journalists, environmental activists, workers and human rights defenders were detained in what Amnesty International has dubbed the country’s “year of shame.”

Bill Dunne March 28, 2019 at 12:13 pm

Mike Mushak… Now tell me what the leftist mind has done for Venezuela. There’s a fact for you.

Mike Mushak March 28, 2019 at 9:31 pm

Bill Dunne, tell me what the right wing mind has done for the Third Reich. There’s a fact for you.

Seriously, it’s funny watching Fox News and the right put up Venezuela as an example of what the left did to a country. That’s as absurd as the example I used.
Notice they conveniently ignore all the Scandinavian countries that are doing just fine under various forms of socialism.

Greed and corruption are what destroyed Venezuela, along with so many other countries, and it had nothing to do with left vs. right. That greed and corruption was present there long before the current government came into power, and then add the former vast oil revenues into that mix and it was destined to destroy itself when the oil revenues declined.

Russia is another example of greed and corruption at high levels, holding that country back economically, and also feeding Putin’s desire to control other countries to his benefit including our own.

And I doubt anyone would describe Russia as leftist these days.

Bryan Meek March 29, 2019 at 6:14 am

The byproducts of totalitarianism and genocide aside, the Latin word for “the left” is sinister. QED.

Okeezey March 29, 2019 at 7:24 am

The left is complacent on this one. Iran is not a rational actor and should be isolated despite the Iranian people being the real victims here. Their terrorist proxies are wreaking havoc throughout the middle east and beyond. If only we had talented foreign policy leaders such as Vice President Cheney serving, we could eradicate and hold the regime directly responsible and have a more active campaign of regime change. Nuclear weapons are not to be taken take lightly.

Bill Dunne March 29, 2019 at 8:15 pm

Mike Mushak… P.S., Hitler named his party the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, the English abbreviation for which was “Nazi”. National SOCIALIST German Workers’ Party. In case you didn’t know.

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