Who Hijacked Our Country

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Travel to Iran? Only If You Hate America

Rick Steves is a favorite new scapegoat for the Far Right. His crime? He’s traveling in Iran, as a tourist. His theory, according to this column, is that “each journey abroad is micro-scale diplomacy, opening a mind at a time to our common humanity.” He wants to “give collateral damage a face.”

Traitor! Iran is The Enemy! We’re getting ready to obliterate that evil country, and this America-hating tourist is sabotaging our plan. He wants to humanize Iran — to show America that millions of Iranians have the same day-to-day concerns, hopes and fears that the rest of us have.

This will wreck everything. It’s much easier to bomb people if we think they’re just a bunch of one-dimensional zealots and peasants. It also helps that most Americans have no idea where the hell Iran even is. Let’s see, I think you go to Europe — wherever that is — and hang a right. Or is that Hawaii? Whatever. Those furrin countries are all the same.

Here are two examples of the enlightened responses Rick Steves has gotten:

“Sounds like a fun trip. See if you can interview the Iranians coming back from Iraq. Get a count of the American soldiers they have killed.”

“Perhaps they will take you on a tour of a terrorist training facility or show you the place they kept the hostages while Carter was president.”

As you can see from Steves’ blog and Danny Westneat’s column, Steves is pretty much describing what he sees, whether it’s complimentary or not. That’s what travel is supposed to be about. You go to one place and the people suck but there’s some interesting architecture. Go to another place and the people are friendly but the scenery is too flat and desolate. Etc.

Whatever you think of a place you’ve visited, it’s always a part of you. It’s a 3-dimensional place full of real people.

For me, Iran will always be humanized because I worked there for about ten months in 1976-77. I didn’t like it. Out of all the countries in Europe and Asia that I’ve been to, Iran is the only country where I just flat-out didn’t like most of the people. Nothing against them — that was just my reaction, my interpretation, for whatever reason. Or to paraphrase George Costanza: “It wasn’t them, it was me.”

But after I came back to the states, Iran was a place I’d been. It was humanized. Whenever Iran made the news (the Shah losing his iron grip on the country, Khomeini taking over, the hostage crisis), I could relate. Hundreds of personal memories and recollections would come flooding back.

In late 1978 I wrote an article for a local weekly “underground” paper, describing my personal impressions of Iran. The paper wouldn’t print it because they thought it was too negative; it might offend the hundreds of Iranian college students in the area.

cross-posted at Bring It On!

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26 Comments:

Anonymous Vice said...

Why? Why I ask you? After all the work Bush and company has gone through to convince us that Iran and its people are a part of the "evil-doers" gang, must a guy like Steves come along to put a face on the people who are "out to get us!"

May 28, 2008 at 2:46 PM  
Blogger J. Marquis said...

Yeah, it's a lot harder to bomb a country when it's revealed real, reasonable people also live there.

May 28, 2008 at 5:28 PM  
Blogger Carlos said...

Excellent post, Tom. The ignorance of Americans in general never ceases to amaze me. During my 21yrs in the Coast Guard I had the opportunity to travel to many Caribbean and Central American countries. Each one left me with an impression – most all were favorable. Even in the depths of poverty and decay (particularly in Port au Prince in the early 80s), I found good.

Whether it was people, food, culture or the land – I immersed myself in every country I visited. I spoke to and listened (and heard) to every person I encountered with an open mind, respect, and a warm heart. Being raised by a graduate-level professor of English as a second language exposed me to people (students) from many different countries and many different cultures from a very young age, until I enlisted in the Coast Guard at the age of twenty.

Respect goes a long way. Once upon a time in Montego Bay I found myself in a jam, thanks to a drunk, loud-mouthed shipmate. The only reason we got out of it was because the leader of the ten or so local toughs saw I was wearing an embroidered wristband I’d bought at the local market. It had the word “Jamaica” stitched on it and was black, yellow and green – the color of the Jamaican flag. He told the others to back off, and told me he would let us pass because I respected his country and his flag. He then went on to explain the colors of the flag: black for the people and the struggle; green for crops, wealth and hope; and yellow for mineral resources and sunshine. We traded sunglasses, shook hands, and went our separate ways. He left me with a hearty, “Irie, mon.”

Like you, Iran is humanized for me. Not because I visited it, but because of Iranians I worked with in the late 70s, and the ones I know now, who are friends of my wife’s best friend who is married to an Iranian.

Americans need to learn how to earn respect – not demand it simply because we can blast the piss out of just about every country in the world. That Jamaican guy could’ve whipped my ass, yet he chose not to – because I respected him, his flag, and his country. I didn’t demand it. I earned it.

Sorry for the long-winded post. I’ll spare you the anecdote about some Cubans I befriended whilst the ship I was on was carting them back to Cuba. That might get me branded a commie sympathizer! Cheers.

May 28, 2008 at 6:38 PM  
Blogger Carlos said...

Excellent post, Tom. The ignorance of Americans in general never ceases to amaze me. During my 21yrs in the Coast Guard I had the opportunity to travel to many Caribbean and Central American countries. Each one left me with an impression – most all were favorable. Even in the depths of poverty and decay (particularly in Port au Prince in the early 80s), I found good.

Whether it was people, food, culture or the land – I immersed myself in every country I visited. I spoke to and listened (and heard) to every person I encountered with an open mind, respect, and a warm heart. Being raised by a graduate-level professor of English as a second language exposed me to people (students) from many different countries and many different cultures from a very young age, until I enlisted in the Coast Guard at the age of twenty.

Respect goes a long way. Once upon a time in Montego Bay I found myself in a jam, thanks to a drunk, loud-mouthed shipmate. The only reason we got out of it was because the leader of the ten or so local toughs saw I was wearing an embroidered wristband I’d bought at the local market. It had the word “Jamaica” stitched on it and was black, yellow and green – the color of the Jamaican flag. He told the others to back off, and told me he would let us pass because I respected his country and his flag. He then went on to explain the colors of the flag: black for the people and the struggle; green for crops, wealth and hope; and yellow for mineral resources and sunshine. We traded sunglasses, shook hands, and went our separate ways. He left me with a hearty, “Irie, mon.”

Like you, Iran is humanized for me. Not because I visited it, but because of Iranians I worked with in the late 70s, and the ones I know now, who are friends of my wife’s best friend who is married to an Iranian.

Americans need to learn how to earn respect – not demand it simply because we can blast the piss out of just about every country in the world. That Jamaican guy could’ve whipped my ass, yet he chose not to – because I respected him, his flag, and his country. I didn’t demand it. I earned it.

Sorry for the long-winded post. I’ll spare you the anecdote about some Cubans I befriended whilst the ship I was on was carting them back to Cuba. That might get me branded a commie sympathizer! Cheers.

May 28, 2008 at 6:38 PM  
Blogger Mentarch said...

"For me, Iran will always be humanized because I worked there"

Ah-Ha! You are a self-admited traitor after all!

;-)

May 28, 2008 at 6:42 PM  
Blogger Lew Scannon said...

I'm certain there are as many powerless people in Iran as there is in the US who don't like what their government is doing and don't deserve to die because of it.

May 28, 2008 at 6:57 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Vice: That’s right. After all the hard work our government has done to paint Iran as a bunch of faceless zealots, some hippie comes along and derails the whole thing. How does he sleep at night?

J: Absolutely. We’d rather think of them as just a bunch of automatons running around yelling “Death to America.”

Carlos: Thanks. Sounds like you’ve had some fascinating adventures in your Coast Guard travels. I didn’t get to too many places when I was in the Navy — Samoa, the Philippines, Japan and Hong Kong. But everywhere I went I tried to get away from the tourist/sailor areas and see what the place was really like. Same thing several years later when I was traveling on my own. Every place I went has hundreds of distinct memories of places, people, encounters.

That’s the kind of travel that people should be doing. It’s the opposite of that “If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Belgium” syndrome that too many travelers fall into. That was the title of a 1970s movie about Americans on a package tour in Europe — really a riot.

Mentarch: Yup, I’m busted. When I was in Iran I was secretly conspiring with radical Muslims, helping to plan the overthrow of Evil America. I even know where Osama bin Laden is, and I ain’t telling :)

Lew: I’m sure that’s the case. I think most people just want to get on with their lives and could care less about their “leaders” picking fights with other “leaders.”

May 28, 2008 at 7:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everytime People rant at me about those insane Iranians I ask them this question:

Imagine you had a monarch who committed terrorism and sold your countries interest to foreigners and then you elect a person to take his place, only to find the next day that monarch was placed back where he was by the intelligence agencies of those same foreign countries how would you feel?

Usually they said they would be pretty mad if that happened to them

"Now you know how the Iranians feel about us:

Erik

May 29, 2008 at 12:25 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Erik: Yup, you've got it. That's exactly how it happened, and that's why Iranians feel the way they do about the American government.

May 29, 2008 at 12:33 AM  
Blogger Randal Graves said...

I'm confused. You went to Iran - traitor! - yet you didn't like it - patriot!

Dammit, thinkin' is hard work!

Most everyone on this planet wants a decent living and to not be involved in conflicts for control of resources, which is pretty much what the world is on a daily basis.

All hail Rick Steves. People make fun of the dude, but between this and his pro-decriminalization of pot stance, he's an alright cat.

May 29, 2008 at 8:20 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Randal: But remember, when I was there the Shah of Iran was still in power. He was a ruthless rightwing dictator, i.e. an American ally, part of the Free World, etc. And the Shah begat Khomeini and all the rest of the crazed mullahs.

It's been almost 30 years and we still haven't been able to destabilize Iran and engineer a coup to overthrow their government and put in an American-backed dictator. This is just infuriating! It's time we just went in there and obliterated them.

May 29, 2008 at 10:17 AM  
Blogger Snave said...

Many conservatives probably do not think of Iran as a nation of people. They probably think of Iran as an entity, or as more of a single person with the face of Ahmedinejad, who needs to be punished.

What Steves is doing is wonderful for increasing awareness of the human factor re. Iran. J.Marquis said it well in his comment. And Carlos said "Americans need to learn how to earn respect – not demand it simply because we can blast the piss out of just about every country in the world," which pretty much sums it up for me. And Lew is correct in suggesting that not all Iranians like their government or current administration, just like not all Americans like ours. Erik, thanks for the excellent talking point.

You're right Tom... if you can't beat 'em, 'beat 'em.

May 29, 2008 at 11:03 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Snave: Yup, I think it's a great thing that Steves is doing. Every person who is interested in his journey is one less person who thinks Iran (or any other country) is just some faceless bunch of nobodies.

May 29, 2008 at 11:45 AM  
Anonymous JollyRoger said...

It's the Saudis I can't stand, but to each his own. I really enjoyed the time I spent working with Palestinians, however ;)

I can still raise wingtard eyebrows by telling them I had an Arab girlfriend (she was a Catholic, but I always make sure to leave that part out of the story.)

May 29, 2008 at 12:33 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

JR: I can't remember if I've ever met any Palestinians or Saudis. The few Arabs I've met seemed pretty likeable; more so than Iranians (just my impressions).

I'm sure that would get a rise out of the wingtards, telling them you had an Arab girlfriend.

May 29, 2008 at 1:12 PM  
Anonymous JollyRoger said...

Probably because of their Wahhabi educations, the Saudis I've met make it clear to you from minute zero that they consider themselves to be superior to you and your ways. I've had to work on projects with them on several occasions and could not wait to get away from them, so that I could swear, look for another job, and shower myself over and over again.

Some people might take offense to what I'm saying, but I'll stand by it. I've worked with a room full of Palestinians, Egyptians, Lebanese, even a couple of Algerians and a Moroccan-and the Saudis stood out, both for the way they treated me and the way they treated my other Arab colleagues.

May 29, 2008 at 1:22 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

JR: Interesting. Thanks for the info. The one Moroccan I remember was a hash dealer in Amsterdam; he was pretty cool.

May 29, 2008 at 3:21 PM  
Blogger Mile High Pixie said...

My husband and I heckle Steves when we watch his shows, and yet...we watch them. He really takes people to interesting places and shows Americans how to really see a place, how to enjoy it. I would be extremely interested in seeing what he finds in Iran. I think Iranians would be happy to meet an American who just wanted to listen and learn and experience, not bomb and kill and demonize.

May 29, 2008 at 7:15 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Mile High Pixie: I hadn't heard of this guy until I read that column about him last weekend. I guess he does a lot of traveling and then writes about it, takes photos, etc. I'm sure he's portraying a better American image to Iranians than what they see in their news media (or ours for that matter).

May 29, 2008 at 8:41 PM  
Anonymous S,W, Anderson said...

“Sounds like a fun trip. See if you can interview the Iranians coming back from Iraq. Get a count of the American soldiers they have killed."

OK, our right-wing friends have a point. But my counterpoint is, why didn't you ask that same question of President Bush when he got back from Saudi Arabia?

Keep in mind, while there were no — zero — Iraqis involved in 9-11, 14 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. Osama bin Laden is a Saudi. Saudis have persisted in bankrolling jihadi fighters. And Saudi fighters and suicide bombers have shown up in Iraq in greater numbers, more consistently throughout the war/occupation, than those from any other country, Iran included.

So, why the big concern about Iranians when Saudis are a much greater and more deadly problem for our troops in Iraq?

Interesting parallel: Bush & Co. is OK with communist China (which bankrolls W's war and enriches his big-money financial supporters) and with communist Vietnam. But Cuba is a whole 'nother matter.

Why?

May 29, 2008 at 10:38 PM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Another fine post, Tom.

Here's a food-for-thought angle on this, one I've posted about at Oh!pinion.

Put yourself in Iran's place. Across the way you've got nuclear-armed Israel, which has already attacked your homeland, although Iran has not attacked Israel.

Recall that when Iranians were fighting against Saddam's aggression in the 1980s, with about a half million Iranian soldiers killed before it was over, the U.S. was backing Saddam with money, weapons and intelligence. How many lives do you Americans suppose that help cost us?

A U.S. fleet is permanently posted in waters off our shore. One of its ships once "accidentally" brought down an Iranian airliner, with great loss of innocent lives. No Iranian missile ever brought down an American airliner.

Then a few years ago, there was the 9-11 attack on the U.S. that Iran had nothing to do with. But afterward we offered to help the U.S. find and fight these terrorists. Our offer was rejected out of hand.

So then, Israel's 800-pound gorilla of a superpower ally invades nearby Afghanistan, then invades Iraq, right on our doorstep. Next thing you know, America has posted a large, well-equipped army in Iraq with plans to stay indefinitely.

All the while, the American government can't say enough bad about Iran. President Ahmadinejad is invited by a supposedly great, enlightened university in New York, and so he goes there. Local media say nasty things about him and protest his being invited. The president speaks his thoughts firmly but politely and takes questions. American students ask insulting questions. Then, the university president, aware of the unpopularity of inviting Ahmadinejad, proceeds to criticize and insult our president before this audience — an insulting attempt to humiliate our official and our nation.

For years, the Bush administration has demonized our country and its intentions, threatening attack against us. We feel it's only a matter of time until an attack or invasion will be carried out.

Put yourselves in our place, Americans, and then see if you understand why we might feel a need for some nuclear weapons, for protection, for deterrence.

May 29, 2008 at 11:07 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

SW: Yup, the rightwingers are pretty selective about which countries to get "alarmed" about. Like you said, they get hysterical about any American dealings with Cuba or Iran, but it's AOK to be in bed with China and Saudi Arabia. Go figure.

And yes, if things were switched around and we were in Iran's position (remember, rightwingers aren't very good at complicated thought processes like this), Americans would be reacting in the exact same way as Iranians have been.

Overthrowing their elected government in the 1950s, supporting Iraq in their Iranian invasion in 1980, all the saber-rattling America has done in the past 7 years -- gee, why could Iran possibly want access to nuclear weapons?

May 30, 2008 at 12:27 AM  
Blogger American Hill BIlly said...

I am glad the man is "humanizing" Iran. They are an emerging society. The Iranians do have access to all the American/Western Movies, Toys, Etc. In articles I have read they express concern about these items, solely because of the stupidity that has been bred into "OUR" land of the....... Free? It's funny that close to 500,000 people don't have the right to at least travel by air in Our country.

May 30, 2008 at 3:22 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

American Hill Billy: You're right, somebody needs to do this. Iran needs to be humanized, since they're in our crosshairs and most Americans think of it as some faceless country full of one-dimensional zealots.

I'm sure Iranians have access to all sorts of modern technology. When I was there in the '70s, Iranian cities were pretty modern and westernized, much more so than their neighbors in Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

May 30, 2008 at 3:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...they get hysterical about any American dealings with Cuba or Iran, but it's AOK to be in bed with China and Saudi Arabia. Go figure."

Tom, dude, regimes in China, Cuba, Iran and Saudis are all oppressive. But the main difference is chinese regimes and saudi royal family is corruptible to the point where interest of the US corporations can be accommodated. But Cuba and Iran (and Venezuella) wants to control their natural wealth, they do not believe in "sharing" the wealth with our great corporations!!! That is the main differentiator.

August 3, 2008 at 1:02 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Yup, that's undoubtedly the real reason that Cuba and Iran and Venezuela are in our crosshairs.

August 3, 2008 at 2:34 PM  

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