In what country was Jalaluddin Rumi, America's best-selling poet, born? Where do Persian rugs come from? Where was the Oscar-nominated movie "Children of Heaven" made? And for good measure, which country is widely considered to produce the world's best pistachio nuts and Beluga caviar?
The answer is Iran -- one of the troika of countries that President Bush has labeled the "axis of evil" because of its government's sponsorship of global terrorism. It's also the country whose repressive Islamic leadership, many believe, is next in line after Afghanistan and Iraq to feel intense U.S. pressure for a regime change.
It might be worthwhile to brush up a bit on a country against whom our government is now making thinly-veiled threats of a new Iraq-like aggression.
But how to do that from little ol' Rochester, Minnesota?
Here's a start: There are 85 people of Iranian ancestry who live in Olmsted County, and 34 who were born in Iran, according to the 2000 Census.
One of the latter is Farhad Kosari, a pathologist at the Mayo Clinic who was born and raised in Iran and has now emigrated to the United States. He has volunteered to give a slide show and an informal talk about Iran, in Rochester, for anyone who is interested. If you are, drop me a line at email@example.com. I will send you information about the time, place and directions.
If you want to dive in right away, I telephoned five Iranian-born immigrants around the country, all of whom are active in U.S.-Iran relations, and asked each one: "How can a southern Minnesotan learn a few basic points about Iran?"
Here are their answers:
• Gina Nahai, a novelist and professor of creative writing at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles: "Listen to Borzou Daragahi, NPR's correspondent in Tehran. He is the best foreign journalist in Iran. I don't know how he gets the nerve to say what he does in his reports. He is accurate, fair, and his language is so beautiful it's a pleasure to listen to. Radio Farda, at www.radiofarda.com, is also worth a visit. It's the U.S. government-funded radio station that plays popular music for young Iranians."
• David Rahni, president of the Iranian-American Anti-Discrimination Council, which lobbies for the repeal of elements of the U.S. Patriot Act: "Iran has a population of 70 million, most of whom were toddlers or not born in 1979 when the Islamic revolutionaries toppled the monarchy. This majority has repeatedly expressed its aspiration and true love of freedom, democracy, and the West. It is critical that the U.S. remain on the side of the Iranian people and their aspiration for freedom. Islamic Protestantism has already begun in Iran. Let's hope it is not hindered or killed in the womb by shortsighted U.S. foreign policy."
• Hossein Derakhshan, a University of Toronto student and publisher of Hoder.com, a popular news and opinion Web log about Iran: "Read Web logs written by people who live in Iran. One of my favorites is called Lady Sun, at www.ladysun.blogspot.com. The best foreign correspondent in Tehran is Jim Muir for the BBC. A beautiful and accurate portrayal of modern life in Iran is the movie 'Under the Skin of the City,' which you can get at Amazon.com. Do NOT watch either of the Iranian TV stations out of Los Angeles (Azadi TV and Channel One) that are getting so much press attention these days. They are not pro-Iran, they are pro-money and pro-monarchy. They want to restore the monarchy to Iran."
• Abbas Milani, professor of modern Iranian politics at Stanford University: "I'd recommend three books that will give you altogether a pretty rounded picture of Iran. The Lion and the Eagle, by James Bill, is about the history of U.S.-Iran relations. The Mantle of the Prophet, by Roy Mottahedeh, is about how Iran's mullahs (Shiite Islamic clerics) are trained. And not to be self-promoting, but my book, The Persian Sphinx, tries to be an impartial account of an Iranian politician who was killed by the mullahs."
• Jahanshah Javid, publisher of Iranian.com, a leading English-language Web portal with links to the latest Iran news, music, arts and letters, photo essays, and political cartoons: "Read some poetry by Omar Khayyam, a great Persian poet. Look up 'pre-Islamic Persia' on Google and read about Cyrus and Darius, the founders of the ancient Persian empire. Check out Catherine Bell, the leading actress on the hit TV show, JAG. Her mother is Iranian and she speaks Farsi. Pierre Omidyar, the founder of e-Bay, is Iranian. And go to a Persian restaurant where you are sure to have a very, very good experience."
It doesn't seem too glib a thing to say that following the advice of these people would be the opposite experience of having a war with Iran, or of struggling for many years more of the present sanctions, threats, and bellicose tirades our nations trade.
Why not pistachio nuts instead?
I hope to see you at the slide show.
Hey, it's a start.
Copyright @ 2003 The McGill Report