there can be seen billboards and graffiti saying, “Death to America,”
and “Death to Israel.”
It is understandable. Every Iranian
school kid knows about 1953.
I get angry when
Israel, or any other country,
interferes with our American political process.
It upsets me when a presidential candidate responds to a question
concerning our foreign policy by saying, “Well, first, I would call my friend
Bibi and ask him what he wants us to do.”
I cringe when Congress treats the Prime Minister of Israel with more
respect than they treat our own president.
I get especially angry when
Benjamin Netanyahu urges our Congress to invade Iran
because “ Iran
supports terrorism.” Of course, the
terrorist organizations he has in mind are Hezbollah and Hamas. However, most people in the world know that Hezbollah
came into being to protect its people from Israel’s
aggression and fight against Israel’s
war to occupy the southern part of Lebanon
on order to access the . Likewise, Hamas came into being to defend the people of
River Palestine, especially those in Gaza,
brutal occupation and imperialism.
Because I know a bit of this history, I am prone to say, “Damn Israel.” But in my most vicious moments, I do not wish for
to be literally damned, for all its citizens to die and burn in hell
forever. It is just an expression of my
anger and frustration. But I would never support an invasion of Israel to bring
Every student in
knows that in 1953, the United
States, primarily through the CIA, overthrew
Mohammad Mossadegh, their democratically elected Prime Minister. He had upped the
price of oil to the west in order to offer education and medical care for his
own people. So, we, the United States,
had him removed from office. We chose Reza
Pahlavi as the Shah, to rule as a king. As such, he lived in extreme opulence
while keeping the people powerless, poor and under control by fear, murder and
torture. When salafist students
demonstrated against the Shah’s policies, his SAVAK troops killed them by the
hundreds, all the time being supported by the U.S. Suddenly, the students began shouting, “Death
and took over our embassy. Most
Americans could not understand.
But, remember, those students did not kill a single one of the 52 hostages and eventually let them come home. So, what does “Death to
America” mean to the Iranian?
in a taxi, Rick Steves heard the driver suddenly yell, ”Death to traffic.” Steves
wondered what that was all about. The
people of Iran
would also say, “Death to summer heat.”
But they did not set out on an invasion plan to kill the traffic or the
heat. “Death to… “ is an expression of
anger and frustration, of exasperation and disgust. But, it’s just an expression. That’s all. In
our culture we would say, “Damn this traffic,” or “damn teen aged drivers.” Or
even “damn it is hot.” But we would
never lay out a plan to kill teen aged drivers and have them suffer in hell because of their driving manners. “Damn” is an expression of
frustration with annoying things beyond our control.
Our cultures are different.
Iran is a religious culture. From dress codes to gender segregation, public
life is regulated and enforced by religious law. Their billboards advertise religious
slogans. Murals on the sides of their building praise their leaders and
martyrs. On the other hand, we, in the
west, live in a consumer culture.
Every blank space is filled with commercial ads. “Buy this or you will never be
happy.” Iranians sacrifice their freedom
to religion. We have our freedom
squelched by Wall Street and multinational corporations. Their younger generation would probably choose
to loosen the regulations a bit. But, would they swap their culture for ours? I
All of this is to say, I hope our political leaders do not lead us into a war with
because we do not understand the semantics of their culture. We did that in 2003. We allowed ourselves to
be coaxed into a war with Iraq
and we are still suffering the consequences.
And what did we get for it? More
people than ever who hate us, including ISIS.
Benjamin Netanyahu says that
Iran is the most dangerous nation
earth. He doesn’t say why, only that we
should be afraid. Wiser minds say that the flip side of fear is understanding. With
the stakes so high, surely, it is worth a try.
April 17, 2015
 I confess that I am not an authority on
Iran. I have never been there. I am
not an ambassador nor have I served on any foreign relations committee.
However, I have read enough books and listened to enough lectures to know that Iran is
misunderstood and demonized by most Americans and we do so at our own
 I have been helped in my understanding of Iran by Rick Steves’ IRAN, a 1-hour Public Television Special, especially his lecture on personal impressions, (2009, Back Door Productions. Also by several books, including: Flint and Hillary Mann Leverett, Going to Tahran, Peter Beinard, The Good Fight, and Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God.