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Finding 'Peace' in Iran By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, August 14, 2008

The long-time Religious Left and pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOF) is dispatching a battery of clergy/activist delegations to Iran to forestall the suspected impending U.S. war against the mullahs’ nuclear program.

Horrified by America’s bellicosity, the earnest peace pilgrims are struggling to forge friendship with the Iranian “people.”  

One FOF visit was in May, one is currently ongoing through mid-August, another will be in November, and still another early next year. There have been six other FOF pilgrimages to Teheran since 2006.  So far, the Iranian people are receiving the earnest FOFsters with warmth and appreciation.  The Iranians are supposedly learning from FOF that not all Americans are hateful, militaristic and eager for war against Iran.

"We are convinced that there should be a group working to oppose a war or attack or invasion of Iran," explained United Church of Christ (UCC) minister Patricia de Jong of Berkeley, California.  "We would love for the UCC to take leadership in building this movement.”  After returning from the FOF’s May trip to Iran, she explained to the UCC’s news service:  “As Christians, we just cannot allow ourselves to be part of any attack or invasion by our government." She and another UCC clergy who went to Iran are preparing a resolution for their denomination’s convention next year opposing any U.S. action against Iran’s nuclear activities.  No doubt the resolution will go through the UCC jamboree like greased lightning.

The Iranians are a “loving and welcoming and kind people,” the FOF delegation from May is reporting back after an extensive investigation.  “The thing that was most striking for me," de Jong breathlessly shared, "is that the governments of our two countries are not necessarily where the people of our two countries are. The Iranian people we met were eager to know us, eager to open their lives to us, eager to find out who we are and eager to be friends."

Another FOFster on the May Iran trip was the Rev. de Jong’s husband, author and fellow clergy Sam Keen, who wrote Faces of the Enemy, which naturally was turned into an “award-winning” public television series. "Before the beginning of the Iraq War, U.S. churches fell down on the job," Keen fretted to the UCC news service. "This time, if we don't get ahead of this issue of waging war, if we allow war to happen without severe, severe protests, we in the church will lose all kinds of moral authority."

Missouri peace activist Lily Tinker Fortel was still another FOF delegation member who gushed about Iran’s hospitality.  The savvy Iranians whom FOF met in May readily understood the difference between Americans and its sinister government, showing “ wisdom and understanding, [and] an absence of blame for the horrendous things Iran has gone through since the US was engaged in a covert CIA operation to overthrow their democratically elected government under the leadership of President Mosaddeq in 1953.”

For the Religious Left, all of the Iranian regime’s monstrosities, including the tens of thousands of its opponents whom it has murdered, are inconsequential compared to America’s supposedly sinister role in Mosaddeq’s overthrow 55 years ago.  In the Religious Left pseudo-cosmology, the United States replaces human sinfulness as the ultimate explanation for all earthly turmoil.

In this vein, Fortel implored:  “We must work to recognize that the current conflict between our governments should not trump our human ability to care for each other and to see past the stereotypes and generalizations that we are too often presented with in the lead-up to war.”  She met “hundreds of Iranians” during her FOF trip, and they all demonstrated “love” and “understanding,” despite the “current political climate between our two governments.”

Fortel was amazed by the color and life of Iranian street life, including the “the stylish tunics on young women, the way they wore their scarves; we were amazed at the fashion of young men; we saw our first gas station and the cars lined up waiting to fill up with their weekly ration of fuel.”  She didn’t explain why an oil exporting country was rationing gasoline, which might have despoiled the wonderment of her narrative.  Fortel preferred to discuss the “delicious kabobs” at Tehran's Hotel Howeyzeh. 

The FOFsters met with the Armenian Church’s Archbishop in Teheran.  He reported that since Iran’s 1979 Islamist revolution, “migration has become an unfortunate phenomenon."  Why are Armenian Christians leaving Iran?  Fortel, in her blog, did not elaborate, and probably FOF has little interest in that topic. FOF was more interested in the Archbishop’s criticism of Israel and the United States.  “Iraq has become another Vietnam for the United States,” Fortel reported him as saying.  “The Bush administration is playing a tragic role, bringing war and hatred.”   No doubt, all the eagerly listening FOFsters nodded vigorously.  “Tea was served,” Fortel concluded of the meeting with the Archbishop.  “Then, delicious pastries.”

There was some acknowledgment among the FOFsters that Iranians are not entirely at liberty to speak their minds to visiting foreigners.  “These people have suffered hugely from government policies and the Iran-Iraq war,” admitted Mennonite peace activist Susan Mark Landis.  “We know people's cell phones are tapped and their Internet usage watched, that arrests are arbitrary and the prison horrendous, that talking too much is costly.”

FOF’s May trip to Iran was led by Jewish Rabbi Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, who reported that Iran’s Jewish communityappears to be doing well, worships freely, and sponsors six day schools with a population of five hundred children attending.”  But she admitted there is among “many people a desire for more freedom and it has been difficult to wear hijab, and at the same time, I am finding Iran a very vibrant and sophisticated society composed of people who want to be seen as human beings able to determine their own future.”   

Before leaving for Iran, Rabbi Gottlieb condemned Senator Hillary Clinton for suggesting decisive action against Iranian nukes.  "I am deeply concerned that Senator Clinton, a national political figure, discussed the prospect of military action against Iran and even stated, 'we would be able to totally obliterate them'," Gottlieb complained. "This is a time for finding common ground between our two nations, not threats. When our elected leaders choose belligerent rhetoric over dialogue, it is up to us as everyday Americans to serve as civilian diplomats."

FOF claims a “distinguished history of successful ‘behind the scenes’ friendship and solidarity delegations to regions in political conflict.”  Such successes included multiple trips to the old Soviet Union, to Vietnam during the 1960s; to Central America in the 1980s and “Palestine/Israel” more recently.   Currently FOF is also sending regular delegations to Colombia, “the most militarized nation in Latin America.”    

Over its 90 year history, FOF has strenuously upheld a consistent record of naivety and mindless anti-Americanism, finding favor with an endless and unsavory gallery of tyrants and warlords, FOF’s pacifism notwithstanding.  Iran’s mullahs, and countless other rogues, can be grateful.

Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.

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