At last report, most Americans couldn’t find Iran on a map, but it looks like we are about to get another geography lesson. President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and his new national security adviser, John Bolton, are dying to go to war with Iran.
Of course, “dying to go to war” is just a figure of speech; the actual dying would mostly be done by Iranian civilians. Before we start killing Iranians, shouldn’t we find out a little more about them? I’d like to introduce you to a few.
Most Americans didn’t know much about Iraqis before we started our disastrous war with Iraq, and in hindsight it seems that the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and thousands of American soldiers, the trillions of dollars spent, and the unforeseen consequences such as the rise of ISIS all might have been avoided if we had been better informed. And a war with Iran would be much, much worse — in lives lost, in treasure wasted and in the destruction caused — not only to Iranians but to Americans.
So, getting to know some Iranians in person might be a very good idea.
People like Atefeh and Mehran.
Atefeh is 23 years old. She speaks fluent English and is studying art and animation. She loves all kinds of music. Her favorite movies include “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Silence of the Lambs.”
Mehran, 26, has a degree in mechanical engineering and works as a lifeguard and swimming instructor. His musical tastes range from Beethoven and Schubert to Bob Dylan and Pink Floyd. And his favorite films include “Fight Club,” “Kill Bill” and “Lord of the Rings.”
You don’t have to go all the way to Iran to meet Atefeh and Mehran. Thousands of Iranians have signed up on websites such as Couchsurfing.com, offering to host foreign visitors to their cities, and iTalki.com, looking for conversation partners with whom to practice English. Tehran alone has more than 56,000 registered Couchsurfing hosts. Basic membership on both sites is free, and you don’t have to host visitors, sleep on anybody’s couch or take language lessons to participate.
Once you have signed up, it’s easy to find potential conversation partners — and the Iranians won’t mind if your conversations are only in English. When I started taking Persian lessons on iTalki.com last year, I got dozens of requests from Iranians looking for English-speaking conversation partners. If you both have a good broadband connection, you can have free video, voice or text conversations on Skype, WhatsApp and Telegram, with end-to-end encryption.
I don’t recommend that you start off by talking about politics — at least until you get to know each other. But you don’t need to talk about politics to learn a lot about each other — and to find out for yourself how completely wrong the popular American stereotypes about Iranians are.
I haven’t met Atefeh or Mehran in person yet, but I visited Iran twice as a tourist in the past two years and had many conversations with people like them. Because I have dual citizenship and a German passport, I was able to travel freely without a guide and talk to a lot of people. Iranians are among the most gracious and hospitable people I have ever met. Educated young Iranians like Americans, and want better relations between our country and theirs.
While most Iranians I met don’t like their government, they want change to come peacefully, from within, not imposed from outside. They saw what happened after the CIA orchestrated the overthrow of their democratically elected government in 1953 and installed the brutally repressive shah. And they saw what happened in 1979, when they overthrew the shah and got the Islamic republic. Plus, they saw what happened next door when the U.S. overthrew Saddam Hussein and destroyed Iraq.
But don’t just take my word for it about what Iranians think. Drop Atefeh or Mehran a line and find out for yourself.
Jeremy Iggers, a former Star Tribune restaurant critic and ethics columnist, is publisher of GlobalTwinCities.com, a calendar and directory focused on international and multicultural events and topics.