I am chair of the peace and justice committee of the
Unitarian Society of Ridgewood, NJ and recently returned from a remarkable trip to
Iran to learn about their culture,
religion and politics. Since
I have been back, many people have asked, "Why did you go?" Maybe for UUs it is obvious why I went. For me, it is what a UU might do in the interest of working
Even before I joined an 'organized' religion years ago, I had believ
ed that every human being is infinitely precious and that belief was central to
my personal faith. When the
other Unitarian Universalist (UU) principles are added to the first one, it was easy for me to become a UU. Working for peace and justice puts faith
and action together.
When I heard about a trip that the Fellowship of
Reconciliation (FOR) was offering to Iran, looking for ways to build peace
between the two countries, I felt compelled to go. I thought then, and still do, that the
States is sliding down a slippery slope that
can easily slide to war.
FOR is the oldest peace
organization in the United
States and the purpose of this trip was to see
how citizens can find a path for peace.
One of the most amazing things about our trip was the
people. Iranians see very few
Americans. Less than 500 Americans
a year travel to Iran as
opposed to the 30,000 or more Americans who lived in Iran during the
1970’s. Many Iranians were not even
alive at that time. The mean age is something like 30.
The people we met were all
eager to talk with us, to
tell us that they like America and Americans, but not our
policy. And they wanted to know what we thought of Iran
and Iranians. I could easily have
said the same things
. I found the people unfailingly cordial,
thoughtful, and full of life.
We were travelled through cities and met people who were decidedly
middle class. They clearly would
like a more open society but are not willing to overthrow their government for
it. Instead they have formed women, student, and union groups to work for their
rights, even at great risk to themselves.
Unfortunately, the government has clamped down on many of the groups, but still they
We did not meet
with these dissident groups, but did have an opportunity to spend time with religious groups, state
officials, a classical musician, a film maker and the immediate past president ,
Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005). Khatami, a
reformist, worked for a more open
society at home and for negotiations abroad.
Unfortunately, even with 70% of the popular vote,
he was unable to achieve what he wanted.
I feel that we, like the Iranians, must persist in looking
for ways to achieve peace, starting with unconditional negotiations. How can we ask Iran to
stop developing enriched uranium before we negotiate, when that is what we are
negotiating about? If we pursue
more sanctions and a blockade of travel we will only harden the Iranian
One promising proposal is an official
U.S. presence in Iran
that could open up lines of
communications between the two countries. Iran has looked favorably on the
idea. It would be a start. I believe we
should learn more about it.
I would add this personal message and question to the current President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:
that Iran has withdrawn some inspection
practices. Without complete
transparency, how can the world know that Iran is living
up to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and not trying to produce atomic bombs? What does the west have to do
for Iran to reverse this policy and open
up inspections completely?
One of the ways to create better understanding between the
U.S. and Iran
would be for people-to-people
exchanges to occur in both directions, involving students, legislators, artists, etc.. How do you feel about this and
what needs to be done to make it
Helen Lindsay is a member of the Unitarian Society of Ridgewood, New Jersey.
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Last updated on Friday, May 3, 2013.
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Helen Lindsay was part of the U.S. delegation which participated in a meeting with President Ahmadinejad in New York on September 24, 2008.
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