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Rusty Nelson on Peace and War: we can refuse to have people for our enemies

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By Rusty Nelson

Here in our golden years, in our pastoral, rustic homestead, Nancy and I watch quite a few movies.  It’s sometimes a good way to escape reality and, sometimes a way to confront and examine reality, depending upon perspectives. As movie-watchers, we found ourselves viewing the whoop-de-do around the presentation of the Golden Globe Awards, holding out the hope that a “Hollywood Liberal” or two might make an inspiring statement about Martin Luther King or the Occupy movement, or denounce militarism or capital punishment or money-driven elections in the temporary, bully pulpit.

My moment arrived when Iranian director Asghar Farwadi went to the stage to accept the award for his film, “A Separation.”  One might think of this as a dramatic scene.  The film was not unknown.  It won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.  But how can an Iranian speak in the U.S. without carving a bull’s eye on his forehead?   What can be said without inflaming Americans anxious to attack Iran as soon as Israel demands it; without defaming the hyper-sensitive ayatollahs of the Islamic Republic, without reframing the plight of the ordinary Iranians portrayed in his film?  And why must he receive the globe from the poster-girl for western decadence?

Farhadi, without shaking Madonna’s hand, which would have been offensive to the powerful clerics in his government, rose to the occasion. Brushing aside a list of topics he might have wished to explore, he said, “I just prefer to say something about my people.  I think they are a truly peace-loving people.”   I bow to his courage, his wisdom, and his restraint.  And I will see his film, someday, too.

Farhadi’s simple statement is a gift to me.  I’ve been fidgeting, fretting and ranting for over four years about our imminent and ridiculous war upon Iran. President Obama’s assurances of non-military solutions sound much too familiar, and I don’t trust the people he trusts to advise him about war and peace. Decision makers in Iran seem willing to make the same bets Saddam Hussein made, since he won more than he lost, even if he did lose the last one.  And Israel is the only country allowed to dictate U.S. foreign policy.

Is it too late for us to hear that Iranians are a peace-loving people? Could any American be upset by the high profile rescue of Iranian fishermen from pirates in the Strait of Hormuz?  Those of us over 50 years old may still carry baggage from the public relations triumphs of the Shah, his American queen, and his American apologists.  Perhaps we were fooled a second time by the October Surprise, the delay of the release of American hostages until Reagan replaced Carter in the White House, one of the great accomplishments of a shadow government which continued to haunt our country through the G.W. Bush administration and retains great influence in our wartime mentality.

Spokane is fortunate to have someone like Shahrokh Nikfar to show us that the ordinary people of Iran are not the nuclear soldiers and the scary ayatollahs and bureaucrats featured in the urgent propaganda of the U.S. warlords.  Now perhaps Farhadi can introduce more Americans to Iranians who honor their heritage of Persian culture and simply tolerate a fundamentalist Islamic government because it is so much better than the oppression of the Shah and the result of something of an Occupy Iran campaign which Americans could not comprehend 35 years ago.

Yes, there is repression in Iran, but probably less than there was in Egypt a year ago.  Yes, there are religious fundamentalists holding undue power, much as there might be in the U.S. if we choose a president like Rick Perry or Rick Santorum.  But our favorite warmongers have a much stranger reason for wanting to go to war against Iran.  They will probably have a nuclear weapon in 20 years!

That was a mighty powerful argument for blowing up Iraq.  It was not an honest argument, but it was powerful.  More people, even in the U.S., were saying, “don’t attack Iraq, Iraqis are not our enemies, this is just wrong,” but that’s not much of a case when Iraq had oil and a leader who was too easy to demonize.  We weren’t told, “Iraqis are a lot like we are, Baghdad is comparable to Chicago, Iraq leads the world in advanced education and the Middle East in women’s rights and religious tolerance.”

You know the nuclear weapon arguments:  Pakistan has nukes; Israel has nukes; we have nukes, and why aren’t we afraid of what big military countries like that will do with more firepower than Iran could ever dream of having in a million years?  After all our competition with Russia, don’t we know that one nuke is as bad or as good as a thousand?  The nuclear arms race was just another facet of the campaign to make rich people richer and allow our friendly corporations to rule the world.

Map of US bases surrounding IranBefore I submit to simplistic sloganeering, as if I were running for office, I need to say this:  We must oppose this war, the current wars, the war against Iran, the war against the poor.  If the war is foisted upon us, we must continue to oppose it.  A few of us are still learning that war is always our enemy, it is always a poor choice, a failure of imagination, a failure of human rights, even a failure to protect our country, way of life and loved ones.

Once we recognize that war is always our enemy, we can refuse to have people for our enemies.  We can reject war.

Politicians are too busy raising money to ever convince us that war is obsolete, morally bankrupt, and utterly wrong.  When the bulk of the people in our country learn these important facts, we’ll probably learn them from an altruistic film maker who believes her or his people are peace-loving.

I hope a war against the people of Iran is not a foregone conclusion, but we have plenty of bad precedents for bullying, blasting and bombing countries who identify with Islam, possess petroleum resources, and cultivate the animosity of Israel.  It may soon be our responsibility to organize, speak and stand against U.S. aggression toward the diverse population of Iran.

In many ways, I think of PJALS as “my people.”  As you struggle for justice and advocate for understanding and urge our leaders not to take the devil’s bait in Iran, I hope you won’t mind if I describe you as a truly peace-loving people.

**Join us at our next Peace and Justice Action Committee meeting to plan how we can resist this impending war: Thursday Feb 2, 5:30, 35 W. Main.

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