Mr Obama – tear down that wall


Dear President Obama,

if I had to draw up a list of the defining moments in world history during my childhood, the Islamic Revolution in Iran certainly stands out. As a 69er I have somehow seen the last years of the Shah’s reign, but not enough to remember vividly. After all, I lived in Austria so the whole event came as some sort of newsfeed from something very distant to the little child I was then.

Therefore, in a sense, Iran has always been the Islamic Republic to me as I was too young and too removed from the scene for any real impact from anything that happened before. And at my age at this time, nobody cared about those events at school.

Before turning 20, I fell in love with oriental cultures and Iran was one of them. A bit mysterious as everyone talked about it in awe as if all Iranians are bent on killing every last human person on this earth. I was exposed to Arabic countries pretty early and knew the horror stories about them but I also knew from my father who had travelled the world as a sailor, that very often those stories were utter rubbish and to my amazement and pleasure, I had found some of the most hospitable, generous and kind people on this planet there. No wonder my love for oriental cultures deepened.

At this time, I imagined that Iran would be no different and when I came to the country first in 2007, I found all my ideas confirmed. The country, as well as its people, were as stunningly kind and hospitable as I had always imagined them.

Let’s look at the basics. Militant Islamism is threatening the world and through the rise of the Islamic State they especially threated the decade old structures in the Middle East. This threat is dangerous for western style democracies as it’s an endless source of death and mayhem. But what’s happening in those countries incites young people everywhere on this planet to follow this murderous lead.

Nations in the Middle East are way more threatened as this whole thing happens at their doorstep. Iraq and Syria are disintegrating and seeing this happening right in their neighborhood must be a disquieting prospect for nations in the region.

The prospect of a radical Sunni entity springing up at their doorstep must be especially galling to Iran and its Shiite government which is especially targeted by the radicals. Salafists consider the Shiites in Iran as Khafir or infidels just as we are and want to wipe them out.

It is in Iran’s vital interest to see the IS threat contained even if the country was not the creator of those butchers and I also would understand if they would like to leave the problem to those who have supported the group before. But when national security is at stake, one may not be so picky.

The US has assembled an alliance of nations against IS and it did its best to make it a broad one, including numerous Arabic states. But the most important paragon of stability in the region – Iran – is not even being invited.

Just in order to see this straight – countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, that have helped creating IS and numerous other Salafist groups that threated civilization are considered allies in the fight against those bloodthirsty beasts, and Iran is not? That’s what we deal with it seems.

If Saudi Arabia and Qatar are partners for peace then it’s highly hypocritical to not consider Iran which has more of a stabilizing influence on the region. Sure, Iran has supported groups that are not only pushing their agenda on the negotiation table but so did the US, the EU and numerous Arab countries.

Iran acts in its own national interest – and so does every other country on earth so can we please agree that we use double standards here. Let’s come to the sanctions issue. Any time someone thinks of Iran, he cannot leave out the sanctions issue. Yes I know they are designed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons but let me ask you: are the sanctions effective? If Iran really wants nuclear weapons, then they will get them – sanctions or not.

Looked at it from another angle – would a nuclear Iran be such an incredible threat to world security? I don’t say that they want the bomb come what may. Many nations started working on it and found it forbiddingly expensive so they stopped.

Pakistan has the bomb and India as well. Knowing Pakistan and its sometime pretty extreme politics and leaders, I am much more uncomfortable with the Pakistani bomb than I would be with the Iranian one. And Pakistan is at least as much a threat to Israel as Iran is. In fact, an Iranian nuclear bomb would be controlled by a stable and settled governmental structure in Iran that is very unlikely to play with those weapons. I am not sure if those structures do even exist in Pakistan.

But let’s push this further. Many countries in the region have chemical weapons and those weapons are at least as dangerous for the existence of Israel as the nuclear ones are. Chemical weapons are often called the nuclear bomb of the poor man as it’s so much easier to fabricate and to handle. Israel, if this is your concern, is a tiny country and it would not take much to decimate the country’s population with toxic substances. Iran sure has those chemical weapons as most countries in the region and it has the means to deliver them.  It has not used them once. Even at the height of any Israeli conflict or whatever else happened – the threat remained theoretical.

The real reason that has kept any Islamic country from using those weapons of mass destruction on Israel was because the counterstrike would be absolutely certain and deadly to themselves. Even madman such as Saddam Hussein had understood this and shied away from using chemicals on Israel even during the height of the wars.

The Iranian leadership pushes Iranian national interests just like the US pushes its own interests and any other country on earth does so. Iran is more peaceful then pretty much any of its neighbors and does not train groups that want to attack high rise buildings in the US or Europe killing thousands. Iran is also one of the most important regional powers in the Middle East and it is going to become one of the new economic tigers. Do you really want to leave all this to China and some others who don’t heed the sanctions call?

Shale oil and gas made America almost energy independent. For the first time since almost a century, America is able to take a much more relaxed stance towards the Middle East and does not have to toe the line of oil exporting countries anymore. Do the right thing for the world and for the American people! The American and the Iranian people are similar in many respects.

Iran has survived the sanctions for decades. They can afford a few more years. Can America? For a short time when the Taliban were the rulers of Afghanistan and before September 11, the radical Taliban leadership started to tone down at the prospect of engagement with the rest of the world. Only the prospect of being respected by the rest of the world made them wanting to be less extreme.

Then the towers collapsed and all hell broke loose. Engagement is always a much more potent way to get peace and stability than a frozen antagonism. America has a tradition of engagement with those on the other side – just look at the heritage of the great Henry Kissinger who created lasting bonds with China.

I am a child of the Cold war and having grown up just 5 kilometers away from the Iron Curtain taught me a thing or two about the value of freedom.  Watchtowers and barbed wire had shown me as a little child that pursuit of opportunity by free and responsible beings would be a worthy thing to stand for. It created a lifelong connection to the American dream.

But I am also deep in love with oriental and especially the Persian culture as my wife and my children are here to demonstrate.

The US and Iran are worthy partners. And there might be doubt on your mind – doubt, that you cannot lift the sanctions – doubt, if you are able to reach out sensibly to Iran – doubt in engagement and even friendship between two great countries. If you have doubt in your abilities to change history in a good way, I have just one thing to tell you.


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