Behind Enemy Lines

Fewer than a thousand Americans visit Iran each year. An informational black hole is thus created into which those who seek to harm the people and institutions of that country and diminish its resources pour disinformation and propaganda. Western politicians and media generate an image of a country as bleak and unfriendly as North Korea. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I traveled there in May as documentarian with a group of 14 “citizen diplomats,” whose purpose was to demonstrate the friendship of ordinary Americans, and to experience Iran. Beyond Tehran, we visited Yazd, Shiraz, Esfahan, and Natanz. Religion is a subject at a middle school we visited, much as it has always been in parochial schools in this country — another, dedicated to training mullahs is like seminaries in the West. The Council on Foreign Affairs dispels the myth that terrorism is taught in these places.

While 70% of Iran’s population is under 30, the traumatic events that helped shape modern Iran ­– the 1953 British-American plot to control Iranian oil by overthrowing democratically elected Prime Minister Mossadegh and establish Shah Pahlavi in power, the 1979 Islamic revolution, embassy hostage-taking, and eight-year, American-supported Iraqi invasion of Iran — are seared into the memory of these people.

President Ahmadinejad’s 2006 International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust, giving a forum to both Jews hostile to Zionism and outright Holocaust deniers, was indefensible — yet is part of this fabric of defense against the West. His own two speeches about Israel and the Holocaust have been deliberately misinterpreted in the western press.

With respect to Israel, his endorsement of Ayatollah Khomenini’s phrase “wiped off the map” referred not to Jews or to the State of Israel but to the Israeli government, specifically “this regime occupying Jerusalem.”

Three US carrier groups, some 60 ships with more destructive power than all expended in World War II, ride belligerently in Iranian waters. Americans are drummed toward war by lies, as they were for Iraq. “Regime change” in other countries, which the neo-cons proposed in “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” — is both illegal under international law and ill advised national policy.

Human rights is a very thorny issue, as is the supreme rule of the ayatollahs. At the former, the US has also been failing. “Democracy” is defined locally. At least the mullahs who select the ayatollahs are popularly elected.

While Shah Pahlavi’s drained the nation’s wealth and Iraq’s invasion sapped its strength, we experienced a prosperous country rapidly rebuilding infrastructure and self-sufficiency. History demonstrates such factors give people a stake in peace.

As for nuclear ambitions, what we heard repeatedly is that Iran has the right to peacefully develop nuclear power for energy and that, in order to block Iran’s technical progress, the US and Israel characterize theirs as a drive for nuclear weapons. A sidebar illustration is that Iranian oil continues to be refined in Haifa. Israeli nuclear scientist Mordechai Vanunu, with whom I spoke in Israel, discounts the notion Iran seeks nuclear weapons.

Passing quite near the Natanz nuclear site, we had no way of judging Iran’s intent. It is deeply troubling that individuals in Washington make inflammatory accusations regarding a country about which they’ve learned far less.

Sharia law, derived from the Koran, proscribes alcohol, drugs, pork, and gambling, and covering of women is enforced, but religious observance springs from people, not the state. This is a deeply spiritual people and in the great mosques, as in our cathedrals, faith encompasses the visitor.

Iran is a place of deep cultural roots and history. Persepolis, Esfahan’s splendid mosques, and the ancient bridges of Shiraz, are world treasures, to be preserved. These and the splendid people we met must be spared the savage warfare witnessed in Iraq.

One member of our touring group, Leslie Angeline, responded to Senator Lieberman’s call for attacking Iran with a hunger strike. To date, her Gandhian effort to meet with him to describe a country he knows so little about has been rebuffed.

The Bush administration’s ideological perception, we “face no greater challenge from a single country than Iran” (2006 National Security Strategy of the United States) bears one element of truth. In March 1999, President Clinton apologized to Guatemala for the US role in repression there. Apology to Iran and negotiations without preconditions are the ways to meet the challenge. This would be negotiating from true strength.

Carl Doerner is an author, journalist, and documentary filmmaker. He can be reached at Read other articles by Carl, or visit Carl's website.

22 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Randy said on October 9th, 2007 at 11:18am #

    An interesting article. My only regret is that it addresses only perceived wrongs by the US and none by Iran. If war is to be avoided, both sides must be convinced that it is against their interests. By focusing on the US’s role alone, you encourage those in Tehran who want to extend the revolution.

  2. gerald spezio said on October 9th, 2007 at 11:28am #

    Every American Polack-wop-jew-swede-jap-chink-nigger-muslim-frenchie-spic-cathlick needs to read and absorb these words, as soon as possible.

    Why else did we learn to read?

  3. jaime said on October 9th, 2007 at 12:01pm #,,2151798,00.html

    Iran hangs 30 over ‘US plots’

    Surge in public executions is a push to silence political activists, say critics

    Robert Tait in Tehran
    Sunday August 19, 2007

    Iran has hanged up to 30 people in the past month amid a clampdown prompted by alleged US-backed plots to topple the regime, The Observer can reveal.

    Many executions have been carried out in public in an apparent bid to create a climate of intimidation while sending out uncompromising signals to the West. Opposition sources say at least three of the dead were political activists, contradicting government insistence that it is targeting ‘thugs’ and dangerous criminals. The executions have coincided with a crackdown on student activists and academics accused of trying to foment a ‘soft revolution’ with US support.

    …The most high-profile recent executions involved Majid Kavousifar, 28, and his nephew, Hossein Kavousifar, 24, hanged for the murder of a hardline judge, Hassan Moghaddas, a man notorious for jailing political dissidents. They were hanged from cranes and hoisted high above one of Tehran’s busiest thoroughfares.

    …International gay rights campaigners have also said that homosexual men were among the executed. Homosexuality is a capital offence in Iran, along with adultery, espionage, armed robbery, drug trafficking and apostasy.

    Iran has long been one of the world’s most prolific exponents of the death penalty and ranks second only to China in the number of executions. Human rights groups say it has the world’s worst record for executions for crimes committed when the defendant was under 18…

  4. gerald spezio said on October 9th, 2007 at 12:08pm #

    I think that Jaime is a computer program on meth.

  5. H. Dune said on October 9th, 2007 at 12:23pm #

    It’s so abundantly clear how important propaganda is for a rogue nation to march its citizens into agressive war. How can American citizens make informed decisions about anything when the mainstream media fails to point out obvious lies and mischaracterizations from this administration? All the lies that got this nation into the Iraq tragedy is all but lost with mainstream media. You would think they would be more skeptical and ask tough questions of this administration before taking us into yet another disaster. They just seem to believe whatever comes out of Bush’s mouth. Your description of your visit to Iran should be read on all the national news broadcasts. To think that we may be destroying that country in the near future is very depressing indeed. I wish Bush would be stopped, but I don’t see anyone or anything getting in his way.

  6. Shabnam said on October 9th, 2007 at 12:42pm #

    The Zionists are so desperate for preservation of their apartheid system on the stolen land of Palestine where have committed so many war crimes in the region and beyond including Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Africa, Central America, Somalia ………. In close cooperation with American in destruction of Iraq where have committed genocide, more than 1.2 million death in Iraq alone, rape and torture, including Abu Gharib which has bought the condemnation of the international community for generations to come. Yet have no shame to continue their campaign of lies and deceptions to keep the ignorant people as they are through the Zionist mass media to wage yet another Zionist War. I must warn the Zionists that the Jinee is out and will not going to be silent.
    You have been exposed long time ago. The International Community is against another Zionist war.

  7. jaime said on October 9th, 2007 at 1:46pm #

    Well then I sincerely expect to see both of you on Thursday.
    I’ll save you some towels.

    US Iran Friendship Day Celebrating Iran’s Nuclear Technology
    Thursday Oct. 11th 9:00 Pm
    Hope Steam Baths
    163 Hope Ave., Passaic, NJ.

    No Drugs – No Weapons – No Women – No Jews


    Jaime Antecol
    Queers for Ahmadinejad
    P.O. Box 420
    Somerville, NJ 08876
    ph: 973-792-3000

  8. Mike McNiven said on October 9th, 2007 at 2:45pm #

    Other reports from the travelers to Iran:

  9. Mike McNiven said on October 9th, 2007 at 3:03pm #

    Other reports from the travelers:

  10. Mike McNiven said on October 9th, 2007 at 3:04pm #

    The latest report from Iran:

  11. eileen fleming said on October 9th, 2007 at 3:42pm #

    Vanunu is NOT a scientist! He was a mid-level tech in Israel’s WMD Program 21 year ago and he told this civilian journalist:

    “The Dimona is 46 years old; reactors last 25 to 30 years. The Dimona has never been inspected and Israel has never signed the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty but all the Arab states have…Twenty years ago when I worked there they only produced when the air was blowing towards Jordan ten miles away. No one knows what is happening now.

    “The Israelis have 200 atomic weapons and they accuse the Palestinians and Muslims of terrorism. The world needs to wake up and see the real terrorism is the occupation and the Palestinians have lived under that terror regime for 40 years…

    “It’s very sad that Hilary Clinton went to the Jewish Wailing Wall and forgot the real crying wall is the Palestinian wall…the apartheid wall… the wall is not for defense, but to keep this conflict permanent…

    “Israel is only a democracy if you are a Jew.”

    Vanunu says all that and more in “30 Minutes with Vanunu” FREELY streaming on WAWA:

  12. JE said on October 9th, 2007 at 3:54pm #

    “President Ahmadinejad’s 2006 International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust, giving a forum to both Jews hostile to Zionism and outright Holocaust deniers, was indefensible”

    According to whom? The Holocaust Industry?

  13. jaime said on October 9th, 2007 at 4:23pm #

    Thank you Mike.

    And here’s another U-Tube which I’d like to dedicate to JE, Shabnam, and Gerald. For the struggle for peace, social justice….tolerance and understanding between people.

    Oh and Shabnam, Israel’s unspeakable crimes not only apply to Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Africa, Central America and Somalia…

    You missed: Mali, Mauritania, Albania, Lichtenstein, The Republic of Togo, Fiji and Vanuatu.

  14. Deadbeat said on October 9th, 2007 at 7:55pm #

    Zionist love to call the kettle “black”. All nations need for their citizens to struggle to improve conditions. Iran is no different. But it is hypocritical for Zionist to make such claims when Israel has invaded, disrupted and destroyed nations. These internal protest are good to see citizens struggle to improve their conditions however to used those image as an excuse to distort and to encourage citizens of the United States to destroy another nation is reprehensible. Yet you will still find members on the “left” who will ignore the racist poison of Zionism and assure folks that it is all about “oil”.

  15. Deadbeat said on October 9th, 2007 at 7:58pm #

    Jaime’s presence in this forum show how far the dialog has come over the past two decades. Even as little as 10 years ago one could not openly critique Zionism. The more people speak out against Zionism as well as racism perhaps citizen will be inspired to finish the unfinished business of the Civil Right movement for the eradication of all forms of racism.

  16. jaime said on October 10th, 2007 at 12:49am #

    Deadbeat wrote:

    “Even as little as 10 years ago one could not openly critique Zionism.”

    But even if it wasn’t, you’re free here to criticize Zionism all you want AND you can kiss Ahmadinehad’s ass as much as you want too!

  17. gerald spezio said on October 10th, 2007 at 12:53pm #

    Where struggling jaime may get most of his programmed droppings;

  18. jaime said on October 10th, 2007 at 4:02pm #

    I hate to disappoint anyone, but I’m not THE LOBBY. Just a lowly, Male-only steam bath attendant from New Jersey…You want towels? That we can do. A massage? That can be arranged.

    A country invaded and its indigenous inhabitants usurped in a racist genocidal process after their banking industry was rendered moot? (Just like the Jews did to Vanuatu see David Icke for details) That could take some work.

    Thanks Gerald and Norm, I suppose this is the year-old referred to:

    Israel backed by army of cyber-soldiers

    07.28.2006 | The Times
    From Yonit Farago in Jerusalem

    WHILE Israel fights Hezbollah with tanks and aircraft, its supporters are campaigning on the internet.

    Israel’s Government has thrown its weight behind efforts by supporters to counter what it believes to be negative bias and a tide of pro-Arab propaganda. The Foreign Ministry has ordered trainee diplomats to track websites and chatrooms so that networks of US and European groups with hundreds of thousands of Jewish activists can place supportive messages….

  19. Lloyd Rowsey said on October 11th, 2007 at 5:47am #

    Thank you, Carl Doener. The little boy in me says, “Try Cuba.” The man knows how goddam close the Chipmunk is to giving the word to that naval group.

    And there’s a record for the cute, little fellow — bringing it closer to The End than anyone since JFK and Khrushev. Or an epitaph for us all.

  20. Mike McNiven said on October 26th, 2007 at 3:13am #

    A travel report as experienced by Che Guevara’s children:

  21. Jes Richardson said on November 1st, 2007 at 4:49am #

    Leslie and I went to Iran with Carl. We are becoming increasingly frustrated and alarmed by the Bush Administration’s preparation for a military attack on this nation of children (70% of the population is under the age of 30). Diplomacy is not, and never has been, on the Bush Administration’s table. This leaves war as the only option and we are concerned not only for the people of Iran, but also for the people of the United States and our soldiers abroad. Iran has not attacked another nation in over 200 years and does not pose a threat to the United States. If we attack them, however, they will fight “to the last drop of Iranian blood”.

    Thank you for the great article Carl.
    Reader: Please write or call your Congressperson TODAY and tell them you don’t want the United States to launch a military strike against Iran.

  22. Moji Agha said on November 2nd, 2007 at 11:42am #

    Thank you Carl for your EXCELLENT report above.

    I had the pleasure of going to Iran with Carl, Jes, Leslie, and others, as the group’s “cultural translator.”

    But, I am “very sad” 😉 to have found a “huge” 😉 error in Carl’s otherwise excellent narrative.

    He states–in “shoking error” 😉 :

    “Iran is a place of deep cultural roots and history. Persepolis, Esfahan’s splendid mosques, and the ancient bridges of Shiraz, are world treasures, to be preserved. These and the splendid people we met must be spared the savage warfare witnessed in Iraq.”

    What? Shiraz’s ancient bridges?! — not Esfahan’s ?! 😉


    Moji Agha

    What a sad excuse for human thought the words of this “Jaimie” character seems to be! His comments above give a good name to the word “ignorant.”