Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Longtime Journalist Describes Iranians as Most Pro-American People in Middle East

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Longtime Journalist Describes Iranians as Most Pro-American People in Middle East

Article excerpt

Scott Peterson, who has covered the Middle East for The Christian Science Monitor for more than 15 years, currently is the newspaper's bureau chief in Istanbul. He is also a photographer for Getty Images and author of Let the Swords Encircle Me: Iran-a Journey Behind the Headlines, and in a Sept. 28 appearance at Princeton University he discussed "Iran and the Arab Spring."

Through his photographs of people in a variety of situations, Peterson sought to provide a fuller view of life in Iran than what he described as the one-dimensional, demonizing image that bipartisan politicians and the mainstream media serve up in the U.S. Although Americans imagine Iranians to be screaming "Death to America" at every opportunity, Peterson said he has found Iranians to be the most pro-American people in the Middle East. He was in Tehran the night in 1998 when Iran defeated the U.S. to win soccer's World Cup. The street erupted with joy, he recalled. When a small group of men approached with American flags to burn, people in the crowd pushed them away-but took the flags and waved them as well.

For three decades, Iran's 1979 revolution that deposed the shah was the only example in the region of people power overthrowing a regime, Peterson noted. He described Iranians as "proud of their template" and dismissive of their Sunni Arab neighbors still living under dictatorships-even though many Iranians have since viewed their revolution as hijacked by neoconservative elements within the country. Then came the 2009 election when, in spite of an 85 percent turnout-the only statistic that can be trusted, according to Peterson-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner of a second term by two to one. Millions took to the streets, but this time people power "was crushed and put on ice." Since then, Peterson has not been allowed to return to Iran.

Although it did not succeed, Iran's experience in 2009 was instructive for Arabs. Peterson cited two lessons: the democracy activists' use of social media, and what can happen when a regime is ruthless and not afraid to kill its own people. Official Iran's reaction to the nonviolent revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia was to celebrate them as an "Islamic Awakening." Peterson depicted the popular attitude among Iranians as both consternation and certainty that the pro-democracy movement will eventually get to their country. He told of a cartoon that shows Ayatollah Khamenei pushing a row of dominoes-the first labeled Tunisia, then Egypt, and so on-but the dominoes are arranged in a circle. Giving the example of an interview with a soldier confessing great shame over his actions in 2009, Peterson noted that the government's brutality that year created such internal problems that it no longer can count on its security forces to crush the next movement.

Palestinian Statehood? Implications Of a U.N. Resolution

The Ralph Bunche Institute held an Oct. 4 forum at the CUNY Graduate Center on "Palestine Statehood? Implications of a U.N. Resolution." Center director Thomas Weiss posed the question, "Why, at this time, did President Abbas present an application for membership in the U.N.?" to a panel comprising a Palestinian, an Israeli, and a career U.N. diplomat.

Prof. Ghassan Shabaneh, whose research is on building Palestinian statehood, posited the goal of a global forum in which Israel no longer can act with impunity and will be held accountable for its actions. He views the U.N. bid as Abbas' apology to the Palestinian people for the failure of Oslo.

Prof. Dov Waxman, co-author of Israel's Palestinians: The Crisis Within, described Israel's fears, which he considers exaggerated: legal accountabity, which Israelis call lawfare, and increased diplomatic isolation. Now that Palestine's application is "in committee" at the Security Council, Waxman added, Israelis feel they have dodged a bullet because the delay will take away any momentum. Waxman acknowledged that the Quartet has outlived its usefulness, the Road Map is defunct, and the peace process has been a charade. …

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