Early in my visit to Iran I was introduced to Nesa, 24, who was eager for contact with Americans. A recent university graduate who hopes to get a doctorate in English literature, she was also eager to explain her nation. “Iran is a complex country,” she said. “And so are the people.”
A report emerged from President Bush’s visit to Israel saying that Bush told Israeli leaders he intends to launch a military strike against Iran before he leaves office. The president is reported to have said that Hezbollah’s recent show of military strength in Lebanon proves that Iran’s influence in the Middle East is growing and that “the disease must be treated—not the symptoms.”
When President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran visited Columbia University, he was introduced as a “a petty and cruel dictator” by his host, the school’s president, Lee Bollinger. When he addressed the General Assembly at the United Nations, the U.S. delegation walked out.
Speaking from St. Peter’s Basilica on Easter Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI offered a global survey of natural and human-made disasters, including military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and called on Christians to be “apostles of peace.”
A delegation of 13 officials of American church-related and peace groups who recently traveled to Iran and met with that nation’s president for more than two hours have urged members of Congress to help defuse tensions over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Jason Byassee’s article on Christians in Jordan reminded me of some conversations I had early in my ministry with a fellow pastor in Indiana who had served many years as a missionary in Iran. This was before the revolution that transformed Iran into an Islamic state.
Yes, the letter written by President Ahmadinejad of Iran to President Bush last spring is a political document, and is no doubt duplicitous, multilayered and deliberately deceptive. Yet the letter, framed as an address by one believer in God to another, received little sensible comment in the American media. Suppose the appeal to Bush to take his Christianity seriously is at least in part genuine. Can we American Christians hear this appeal?
The taxi drove past a mural of the American flag. There were skulls where the stars should have been and the words Death to America! scrawled across the stripes. It was the only such sign I’d seen in Iran, but at ten stories tall, it made a strong impression. Just then the taxi driver asked me, “Madam, you German?” “No,” I replied hesitantly.
Martyrdom was part of the founding of the Shi‘ite branch of Islam, which presently dominates Iranian life. Following that tradition, children as young as 12 were sent to the front lines during the war with Iraq in the 1980s to clear minefields with their bodies.