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December 26, 2007
We traveled to Iran, December 17-22, arriving, 3:45 a.m., at the brand new Imam Khomeini airport south of Tehran. Immediately, we experienced the full contrast of Iranian hospitality.
As U.S. citizens, we were singled out for extensive fingerprinting –all digits with “permanent” ink! (For years now, the U.S. has fingerprinted Iranians who travel to the United States, but this was our first time to be fingerprinted in Iran.) On the other hand, our host drove more than 100 kilometers to welcome us in the wee hours of the morning.
For the next five days, we visited MCC partners in Qom and Tehran. Qom is the city where clerics are trained and where MCC has been engaged in a student exchange for the past 10 years.
Three things impressed us on this trip:
Peacebuilding. There is growing interest in Iran on peace studies. We heard the language of peacebuilding at every stop. One professor has just received approval to begin a peace studies program linked to theological studies at Qom University. Another education center in Qom is developing a strong interfaith dialogue program and is eager to consider semester-long professor exchanges with Canadian or U.S. universities. One student at this center is doing his masters thesis on the Peace Churches!
In Tehran, one academic is interested in starting a peace center that would be linked to the disciplines of philosophy and sociology. He wants to be involved with improving U.S.-Iranian relationships, and is eager to make another attempt at sending an Iranian interfaith leaders’ delegation to the United States in 2008. A similar trip was canceled in September 2007 after the U.S. government decided not to approve visas for all members of the delegation.
Young adults. Some 70 percent of Iran’s population is under age 30. We spent two fascinating evenings with young adults. In Qom, we met with three English Lit majors who are eager for contact with Westerners and intent on learning English idioms. While they love Americans, they are supportive of Iranian President Ahmadinejad and offended by the treatment he received at Colombia University in Sept. 2007.
In Tehran, we had dinner four young adults. Two are producing a 10-part documentary on why America goes to war. It will air on Press TV in spring 2008. They have a vast knowledge of Western culture (e.g. movies, TV shows, they read Tolkien). They are somewhat critical of the current Iranian government, but also of U.S government policies. Over dinner, they asked, “How can we nonviolently move from a paradigm of superpower dominance to one of mutual relationships?”
Christians in Iran. We had indepth conversations with several church leaders. One pastor said that U.S.-led military actions in the Middle East and Afghanistan during the last 15 years have made it extremely difficult for Christians in the region, as Western countries are viewed as “Christian nations.” The challenge for MCC will be to find ways to support Iranian Christians without making their situation more difficult.