Even as the death toll of Iraqis and Americans in Iraq climbs and a war with Iran seems possible, there are a few bright spots on the global political landscape.
Last month, a delegation of religious leaders from America traveled to Iran in an attempt to start a fresh dialogue. This delegation is a heartening example of what our splintered sectarian world needs.
The delegation was sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee, a relief, aid and development organization that works in most of the troubled spots in the world. The leaders traveled through Iran Feb. 17 to 25, meeting with citizens, religious leaders, women in power and even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran.
The topics of their discussions revolved
around the perceptions Iranians have of Americans, and vice versa. The Christian leaders also asked some questions
about contentious issues between the United States and Iran. Iranian Ayatollahs
and Ahmadinejad talked about nuclear
power, women’s rights and the state of Israel.
The American delegation presented the president and religious leaders with hand-quilted wall hangings as a token of goodwill. Some of the religious leaders were visibly moved by the gesture.
This delegation is precisely what needs to be happening. Instead of exchanging
insults and accusations from newsrooms, the United States and Iran need to have personal, well-intentioned dialogue. Once the leaders and the average people start thinking with the goodwill and compassion that inspired this trip to Iran, actual progress can be made.
Changing attitudes can change policy.
The United States and Iran have been dismissive, belligerent and antagonistic toward each other. But this attitude is being perpetuated by leaders on both sides.
If Americans support the kind of attitudes and undertakings that MCC is displaying, perhaps we can show the world a more accurate representation of the United States. Even more importantly, it would be an example to the Iranians that citizens do not have to follow their president if he supports and enforces policies that they do not.These may seem like idealistic musings.
But before we write off a diplomatic solution, we should remember what the delegation has shown us. Iranian citizens and religious leaders are different from Americans culturally, but that does not mean that they are incapable, or even unwilling,to partake in a peaceful dialogue. After all, if a simple token like a hand-quilted wall hanging from America can mean something to an Iranian religious leader, there must be some hope.
Beginning and maintaining a dialogue with which to reach an understanding will not be easy, considering all the cultural and geographic differences between these two countries. Not only that, the leaders of Iran and the United States seem to be intent on creating as much animosity and tension between their countries as possible. But most of that tension is smoke and mirrors. It has to be, since Americans probably do not feel that threatened by Iranians.
With more outreach and understanding,
attitudes like the MCC delegation’s will hopefully become commonplace and our global discussions will become honest and well-intentioned instead of antagonistic.
Stephen Zook can be reached at