Reflections on Iranian-American Dialogue
By: Reza Bayegan
An Iranian friend was saying that every time he has had the opportunity of meeting with American politicians, he has been impressed by their courtesy, humanity and their concern for taking the right and honourable path in relation to our country. Contrary to the rhetoric dished out to the Iranian public by their rulers, Americans are not after destroying Iran. In meeting with various Iranians they try hard to find out what to do with a country whose fanatical rulers by no means represent its forward looking and peaceful population.
As far as the official position of the Iranian government is concerned, meeting with Americans is heretical. American politicians are branded as evil and to dialogue with them is to betray our national interests. Nevertheless, in order to save their own skins, Iran’s dictators have in the past talked covertly to the Americans and even had secret dealings with their arch enemy Israel during the Iran-Iraq war. Accordingly their refusal to talk to Americans like the rest of their positions is a matter of expedience and not principal.
For the sake of argument however, let us assume that there are hardliners within the Islamic Republic who sincerely (not expediently) believe that talking to Americans is harmful to Iran’s earthly interests (And here of course I am not addressing those people who think that talking to the "great Satan " will contaminate them and bar them from entering into the kingdom of heaven).
Such hardliners are ignorant of the fact that international relations are not about demonizing or romanticizing various countries. International negotiations are governed by well-defined rules and well-established ethics. Within those rules one has to be able to manoeuvre and strike a profitable bargain for the country one represents. One also has to start from the premise that one’s counterpart or counterparts are after protecting their own interests and securing their own objectives.
The intellectually indolent Iranian fundamentalist who is averse to clear thinking finds it convenient to refer to all Americans as imperialists and shuns the idea of any contact with them. He has lived in an atmosphere where decisions are made by edicts and not through discussions and debates. Dictatorship has eroded his capacity for dialogue and any meaningful exchange of ideas.
‘Dialogue Among Civilizations’ was an idea proposed to the United Nations by Mr Khatami, the former president of the Islamic Republic. Ironically it was during the watch of this same president that a score of Iranian intellectuals were slaughtered and a number of dissenting university students were murdered and thrown out of their dormitory windows. In spite of all his smooth talking what he understood and meant by dialogue was that we talk and everyone else sits at the bottom of the pulpit and listens.
The psychology of an Iranian fanatic (like any other fanatic) is the psychology of fear, and exclusion. Exclusion of those possibilities of life, which require judgment and moral courage. An Iranian fanatic not only is afraid of Americans, he is also in a state of consternation about anything that entails making a choice one way or the other. He cannot trust himself to look at any girl beyond the age of puberty without a dirty motive so he makes it a law that forces all females to cover themselves up and refuses to shake hands with a woman for fear of being corrupted. He cannot trust himself to hold his own vis-à-vis an American or British official and therefore pigeonholes them all as evil and considers any meaningful contact with them reprehensible.
A healthy courageous mind has nothing to fear from encounters and engagements. A self-confident Iranian understands that when we meet Americans and people of any other nationalities with trust in our own abilities to talk to them on an equal footing and endeavour first and foremost to protect our own country's interests, there is nothing to be frightened of.
Some well-meaning Iranians who argue that we should go it alone and that we don’t need to talk or consult with anyone in bringing about liberty and democracy to our country also suffer from a variation of the same malady. They can be compared to a person who is trying to learn how to ride a bicycle and by stubbornly refusing everyone’s instruction invites all sorts of dangers. Imagine what would have happened if the Americans had refused the helping hands of foreigners like Thomas Paine or General Lafayette in securing their independence. The truth of the matter is that the cause of justice and liberty enlists all men in a universal effort and no one is asked to produce a passport in helping his or her fellow-human beings to rid themselves of oppression and tyranny anywhere in the world.
Finally, how do we answer the oft-asked question of some Americans regarding whether or not they should talk to the Islamic Republic? The reality of it is that Iranian rulers are clever enough to know that talking to Americans and the representatives of the free world would only expose their own moral and intellectual flaws and would deprive them of their best excuse to keep the country closed and isolated. The moment they let down that guard, there goes their raison d'être as missionaries of anti-Americanism and their role as the godfather of international terrorism. They would lose their control over a population impatient for democracy meritocracy and change.