I’m sorry that no one in my country seems able to pronounce your name correctly. Despite it only consisting of four letters and two syllables when written in English, nobody from either political party — no pundits, no media outlets, no public figure at all — seems able to enunciate your name correctly. It seems that everyone in the United States suddenly develops a twangy Southern accent when talking about you, butchering your name by saying it the same way one might answer the question, "What did you do at the track this morning?"
Contrary to this odd dialect choice, Americans do not all sound like Jodi Foster’s character from Silence of the Lambs. There is actually a wide variety of accents scattered throughout our vast nation — as I would assume is also the case with the many peoples and regions of your country.
I was sorry to hear that you are denying new visas for all Americans. I was in the process of obtaining that magical stamp for my passport and preparing to be whisked away to the heart of the Persian Empire. Then the news broke, along with my heart. I was so looking forward to my trip.
Of course, I do understand why you did it. Considering that my country has repeatedly and continually tried to do the same to your citizens, but in a much more hateful way. I do not fault you for your actions — particularly since the addition of your name to the current U.S. administration's travel ban attempt seems so ludicrously arbitrary. While our government big-wigs have their own axes to grind, citizens of your country have never presented a real threat to our national security.
I'm afraid that there has been a great deal of misunderstanding between our countries for some time now, much of which has been fueled by ignorance. Perhaps, with this letter, I can clear some things up.
Personally, I am enthralled by history. So naturally, I’m drawn to you. Your antiquity is vast, spanning back to a time shared with a fledgling Grecian Empire. Of course, back then you weren’t Iran yet, you were Persia. Yet, it seems like many of my fellow countrymen think you appeared out of nowhere in 1979, “wreaking havoc” on the U.S. like some malicious boogie man hiding under our bed.
I’m referring to the Iranian Hostage Crisis, or, as you call it, the Iranian Revolution — because one man’s banishment is another man’s freedom. We’ve been in that same spot. During the American Revolutionary War when the U.S. was fighting to gain independence from the British, King George III addressed parliament, calling the scuffle “their revolt, hostility,” and referred to it as “The Rebellious War.” We are familiar with hearing our fight for independence diminished and unjustly labelled by our oppressors. We’re just a lot further away from it.
It seems hypocritical, to say the least, that the oppressed would become the oppressors, but that’s what we eventually did. Like in 1953, we were directly involved in the coup d’etat that overthrew your democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh. At the urging of the British government, we got all pissy when he made efforts to nationalize your oil industries. The British controlled the Iranian oil industry and profits went to big oil companies (which, at the time, were British). Mosaddegh wanted Iran and the Iranian people to be the beneficiaries of the natural resources of their own land. And of course, the British didn’t like that.
The U.K. is like an ex-lover to us. They know exactly what we’ll respond to. They know how to manipulate us. So the U.K. used our hot-button issue of the moment, which was Communism, to motivate the U.S. to get into Iran and keep the oil flowing.
Communism in the West during the 1950s was seen as a serious threat. It was Godzilla and we were Japan. And one of the political parties that Mosaddegh formed an alliance with was the pro-Soviet Tudeh party. That was all it took for the U.S. Eisenhower administration to be whipped into a frenzy and begin disparaging Mosaddegh’s policies as harmful to Iran. In 1953, U.S. and British intelligence agencies were able to get the Shah to agree to overthrow Mosaddegh.
Just to reiterate: the United States — champion of democracy who fought for its freedom from the rule of a tyrannical king — was directly responsible for the deposition of a democratically elected leader and strengthening the monarchy, because the Shah was much more willing to accommodate British business interests. The Iranian monarchy essentially became a puppet government that disenfranchised its own people for the benefit of foreign bank accounts.
I could go into the great injustices and torture your people suffered under the Shah and SAVAK (his secret police), but let's just say I fully understand why your students were moved to revolution in 1979, storming into the U.S. Embassy and capturing 52 American diplomats.
I find it telling that the success of the revolution was achieved by the capture of one single building and only 52 individuals. If that was all that was necessary to regain your nation's independence and freedom from foreign control, then it stands as proof that the U.S. was altogether too involved with your nation’s politics in ways that we would never tolerate on our own soil from any foreign nation.
It's also worth noting that U.S. victory over the U.K. was won by the death of roughly 24,000 British soldiers (not counting the thousands of Americans who also gave their lives). But Iran’s revolution only took the lives of eight American soldiers when their helicopter crashed during a failed rescue attempt. It was not shot down by Iranians, it just crashed, tragically killing those on board. In some sense, your Revolution was remarkably blood-free and relatively peaceful.
Of course, you showed us that you meant business when you took 66 American hostages in 1979 and demanded the end of American intervention in your country. And I’m sure the ones you tortured with mock executions still cope with PTSD, and some may even wish you would have killed them. But you showed that you weren’t totally heartless when you released a sick man, who was later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. And you practiced what you preached when you released all the women, citing their elevated position in Islam. Then you blew minds (and likely gained some secret fans) when you also released the African-Americans, citing solidarity with their struggle as the oppressed minorities.
So for 444 days, the remaining 52 men were subjected to a slow form of torture until they were released on January 20th, 1981 — one day after the Algiers Accords, which, chiefly, made the U.S. promise not to intervene politically or militarily in Iranian internal affairs. You returned all the hostages alive, even the two who attempted suicide.
While many Americans are at least vaguely familiar with the "Iran Hostage Crisis," considerably fewer know anything about the Iran-Iraq War, which immediately followed. I doubt it's possible that any citizen of your country could forget or be unaware of those devastating eight years and their lasting effects. Iraq saw an opportunity in the chaos of your revolution and figured they could invade the areas of your mutually disputed borders in hopes of becoming the new dominant state in the Persian Gulf. They attacked you in a blatantly opportunistic move. It's hard to forget an unprovoked war that took the lives of nearly 300,000 of your people and resulted in economic losses in the vicinity of US$627 billion. It's also hard to forget that the U.S. openly supported the Iraqi army with several billion dollars’ worth of economic aid, military intelligence and training, and a covert supply of weapons. (Strange to think that we were so buddy-buddy with Iraq at that time -- particularly since the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, became one of the single greatest enemies of the United States in history.) It would be hard not to recognize that this support of the Iraqis, which was deliberately done to destabilize and punish you, might leave you bitter toward the United States.
The United States has fought hard against your efforts for independence while claiming the title "Leader of the Free World" and a champion of democracy. You had a democracy in 1953 and we fought to take that away from you. You fought to regain that independence in 1979 and we punished you for those efforts for eight years by backing Iraq. If another country did half as much to the United States, it wouldn’t take a genius to guess our response. (Except maybe Russia…we’ll see how that turns out.)
But you already know all this. I'm just writing to let you know that, while it’s not taught in classrooms, many Americans are beginning to learn it and understand how foolish we were for blindly accepting Bush's proclamation that you were part of the "Axis of Evil." Were you as puzzled as many of us were when you were lumped in with Iraq and North Korea? I mean, Iraq is a known enemy of yours --and do you even know anyone in North Korea?
Considering the depth and breadth of your long and many-layered history, Iran, I don't really know all that much about you. My first introduction to Iranian culture came when I was in elementary school. Several Persian families moved to our southern California community and I attended school with several of the children. The only difference I really noted was that they were fluent in English and in Farsi, and Farsi was a super-cool sounding word. From my perspective, those students fit in and were seamlessly integrated into our student body. They took honors classes. They were sports stars. They were members of our Associated Student Body. My father worked with one of the mothers, and occasionally she would tell me about her memories of Iran and her reflections of the political climate. I recall these people having a tight family network that I admired. I have casually maintained contact with several of them through social media, one of whom helped provide me with the simple title of this letter.
But after high school I didn’t have much interaction or awareness of you or your people, aside from the occasional "Axis of Evil" speech from our now second-most embarrassing president. But many years later I began taking interest in traveling the world. I became mesmerized by the histories of the countries I visited, particularly enjoying the rewarding moments when I could see where those histories overlapped or connected. Given the far-reaching span of your ancient empire, it’s difficult to explore the history of Northern Africa, Southern Europe, or anywhere in the Middle East without encountering your presence and influence. Naturally, you gradually worked your way to the top of my destination wish list.
I have heard overwhelmingly good things about your people from my fellow travelers. They speak of the Iranian generosity, hospitality, the amazing food, and the characteristic strength of your women (contrary to the stereotype many Americans have of women from Islamic countries). I would relish the chance to experience these things myself. I want to see the ruins of the legendary ceremonial capital Persepolis, Shah Cheragh Mosque with its celestial, mirror-encrusted walls and ceilings. I want to see the old horizontal windmills of Nashtifan, some of which have been operating since as early as the fifth century. I want to see your natural beauties, such as the stepped travertine terraces of Badab-e Surt, the breath-taking Bisheh waterfall, and the last remaining habitat of the Asiatic cheetah. I want to know the human treasures that walk through your streets -- the young men doing parkour among your parks, their female counterparts who are paving the way for female equality, their fathers with impressive mustaches who would recite Persian poetry by heart, and their mothers who would feed me a spread of Shashlik, Tachin, and Falude until I’m unable to breathe!
Hey! On a side note, thanks for being one of the first and only countries to actually be fighting ISIS, not just Asad or his opposition. You don't get enough appreciation for your efforts in this fight. I appreciate that you recognize ISIS as an enemy which is "neither Islamic nor a state" and needs to be defeated. I realize our efforts are fueled by different factors, but nevertheless, we are fighting a despotic entity that needs to be defeated and I wish my country could accept this common ground as one to unite over and hopefully begin a process of reconciliation.
The current U.S. administration’s attempted travel ban has already been restrained twice by multiple courts in my country and looks likely to fail the third time around because our laws and constitution make discrimination based on religion a no-no. It was clear throughout the campaign that the current administration had it out for Muslims, and no matter the wordsmithing and retro-fitting of this executive order, Americans have not forgotten that this executive order is based on unconstitutional principles. Some of us still care about those, and we are the ones who are fighting against that executive order. I hope that we're able to arrive at a solution that is based in logic and facts and results in true securities for the American people that aren't so unnecessarily prohibitive and offensive to other sovereign nations, such as yourself. And when we are able to defeat this xenophobic executive order, I hope you'll consider lifting your present travel ban for U.S. citizens.
One of my favorite accomplishments of the Obama administration was its moves to normalize the United States' relationship with nations that we have tumultuous histories with, such as Cuba and yourself, Iran. If history has taught us anything it is that our differences will never be resolved by cutting off communications. The injustices of the past will only continue to fester if we insist on refusing treatment. I know that there are elements of your government and political establishment that are as corrupt and stubbornly hell-bent on confrontation as some of the mirroring political figures here in the U.S., but I also know that, like here, there are great gaps between the desires of these controlling entities and large portions of your populace. Perhaps we could come together despite some of the older, more entrenched elements of our prospective countries.
As I understand it, more than half of your population is under the age of 24. That means a huge percentage of Iranians were born after the conflicts that caused the strain in our relationship. Perhaps the scars they bear aren’t as deep as the older generations’. Perhaps our young people and your young people have a chance of a brighter future.
As we approach the first trip abroad for our new history-illiterate president, one can only marvel at the irony behind the symbolism of the itinerary. A list starting with Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Vatican City might imply a message of religious tolerance and unity which in no way would support the attempted travel ban that initially inspired this letter. As the world gets smaller and as we are all exposed to thoughts and cultures that differ from our own, we each have a personal choice to make. We can reject the other and reinforce the box in which we each reside, or we can seize each new and opposing idea as an opportunity to learn from each other and find ways to find value in people who are different from ourselves.
Until that time, my desire to see you will continue, stronger than ever. Hopefully we don’t have to wait too long to meet one another face to face. Take care & I hope to see you soon!
C. Jefferson Thom
Contributing Editor: Lori Thom
Mr. Thom lives in Seattle with his wife Lori and their terrier Tug where he walks dogs and is a tour guide for the Seattle Underground. He is also a playwright who loves traveling to other countries and playing the armchair historian.