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Questions From an Iranian Soldier


From time to time, my readers send me interesting questions. Here is one of those letters along with my answer.

Sunday March 26, 2006

Harley,

I am from Iran and I have been doing my military service. Since you live in United States, I would like to take this opportunity to ask you questions regarding the issue of Iran, and I will be grateful if you reply to my message:

1) As you know, Iran insists the program to develop nuclear power, so what do you think of the international pressure to force Iran to stop its activities? How is American people's viewpoint on such an issue, and how are Iran and Iranian people thought about in your country? What do you think about the means the Security Council may use to halt the program of Iran? Does the pressure include sanctions only?

2) Is there any possibility of a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities? Since I am in the army now and all the troops have been alerted, I am very worried whether a war may occur especially because there is a nuclear facility near the city where we live.

Sincerely,

Nasir

Nasir:

Americans do not have hostile thoughts about the people of Iran. As a matter of fact, there are many people of Iranian descent in the U.S., and they are accepted as being part of the country, as are the millions of other people who have moved here from around the world.

Most Americans, however, do believe that Iran is controlled by a dictatorial theocracy that is making decisions according to an impractical interpretation of religious traditions. They also think that within Iran, the people are taught to hate Americans only to further the aims of the leadership.

I was not born in the U.S. and I can tell you that, if you were to visit America, you would be surprised at how peaceful and generous the American people are. It might be hard to believe from where you are, but what I see is a large powerful country, full of people that honestly want to make the world better. This is a big country with many different types of opinions, but overall, the American people want only happiness and self-determination for the Iranian people (as well as the Iraqi people, the Palestinians, and the Israelis). You will remember that, when the Iraqi military invaded Kuwait, it was the American people who sent their sons and daughters thousands of kilometers away, to a harsh climate on the other side of the world to fight for the freedom of people they had never met.

Look at Israel, Palestine, Ireland, Africa, Iraq, and many other places, and you will see how much money and sacrifice Americans give to promote freedom and democracy to people anywhere. If you have never lived under a democracy, this is hard to understand, but the freedom to say what you want, and write what you want, and hold meetings in public places, and elect your own president and representatives without religious leaders telling you what to do, is built-in to the American way of life. Although I come from a free country (Canada), it is not as free as the U.S.

I will tell you something that you will find hard to believe, because you read so much to the contrary, but George Bush is a man of peace. However, he and the U.S. Congress feel very strongly that they must protect the U.S.; to them, that is more important than anything. The Europeans feel the same way about the European Union. However, there is a major difference. World War II was fought in Europe and the South Pacific. Even though the Americans had a large involvement and they lost many men, their country was left intact. Europe, on the other hand, was devastated and had to be rebuilt. For this reason, Americans are less afraid to go to war than Europeans.

When there is no openness in the political process, no free press, no checks and balances, and no way for the people to vote freely, leaders are more likely to use nuclear weapons or sell them to terrorists.

With respect to nuclear weapons, there are too many countries that have them (including the U.S. and Europeans). However, when a democracy has such weapons, the chances of using them is very small. In addition, the chances of a democracy selling weapons or related technology to terrorists is even smaller. It is believed that, when a dictatorship has nuclear weapons, they are much more dangerous. Because there is no openness in the political process, no free press, no checks and balances, and no way for the people to vote freely, the leaders running the country are more likely to use nuclear weapons or sell them to terrorists. Although all countries have corruption, unfree countries have a lot more. This also makes it more likely that the people in charge will do such things to enrich themselves and to maintain power. You may be aware that this is what happened in Pakistan with the head of their nuclear program, and that is responsible for North Korea getting some nuclear technology.

At this point, responsible people take the prospect of nuclear weapons in non-democratic countries very seriously. Neither the European Union nor the U.S. (nor the U.N. Security Council) will allow Iran to develop nuclear bombs or sell them to other countries or terrorists. Neither, I imagine, will the Israelis.

You may be aware that, in 1981, the Israelis destroyed the Osirak nuclear facility near Baghdad. Their intelligence had been following the situation for five years. Saddam Hussein had assembled an army of 190,000 men organized into 12 divisions, with 2,200 tanks and 450 aircraft. I know that you are taught in Iran to hate Israelis and Jews. However, suppose the Israelis had not destroyed the facilities. What would have it meant to the Iranian people for Saddam Hussein to have had nuclear weapons during the Iran-Iraq War war from 1980-1988? Perhaps one day, you will live in a free country. If so, you will find that the Israelis and the Americans and the Canadians and the Europeans, especially the English, are your best friends.

Many people don't understand why your President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is so adamant about producing nuclear weapons. No one outside Iran believes he wants only peaceful production of nuclear fuel for electricity. Everyone believes he is building weapons, even the Russians and French. Outside of Iran, people think President Ahmadinejad is making a mistake and leading his countrymen into great suffering, possibly because he wants power, or money, or greatness, etc; such as do many leaders in the world, especially in the U.S. I understand that President Ahmadinejad is a man of great conviction and religious belief, who believes that the way in which the history of the world is unfolding right now requires him to lead his country to greatness as he sees it. However, on the outside, this is perceived as a world threat that is very serious. The world is very concerned with how Iran aids terrorists and they won't allow such a country to have nuclear weapons.

You ask whether a war will occur? I don't think so. I think the world (and the U.N. Security Council) will find a way to stop the weapons without war. However, you must know that Americans are cowboys, much more than Europeans. They will go to war if they think they need to protect the world. The Israelis will go to war to protect their existence. The Europeans will go to war last, but they also will do so if they have to. Right now, war is unpopular in the U.S. and Europe, and many people want the soldiers to come home: the last thing they want is to attack Iran. However, the situation is very serious, and the danger is real.

The pressure will start with economic sanctions, that will be expanded if necessary. Sanctions are very effective if you have patience. Look at Libya: they had sanctions for years and, finally, they agreed to behave better and take responsibility for their previous actions. No one had to attack them. This may well be the case with Iran. The world is willing to make sanctions against Iran and wait years for them to work. However, if Iran ever does make nuclear weapons or even comes close to it, everything changes very quickly. Then I don't know what will happen. You can bet, however, that the armies of the free world already have all the plans they need to do whatever is necessary. I don't think they will use the plans, but they are ready.

If I were you, I would worry more about what life will be with economic sanctions, rather than a war. You can be sure that, when there are sanctions, it is only the people who will suffer, not the leaders.

Here is something to think about. One of the great advantages of a democracy is that leaders must be reelected by the people to keep their jobs. Did you know that the president of the U.S. is elected every 4 years by a vote of everyone in the country in a free election? And that he is not allowed to be president more than 8 years total? This means, for example, that President Bush cannot be president after two more years. The U.S. Congress is made up of 100 senators and 435 representatives. The senators are elected every 6 years, and the representatives are elected every 2 years. All are free elections.

Did you know that Americans vote to elect most of their judges? For example, if you live in the U.S., you will vote to elect many of the judges who will rule in the courts in your areas. Did you also know many important expenditures must be approved by the people? For example, if a city wants to sell bonds to raise money, say, to build new schools, the people in the city must vote and approve the sale of the bonds, because it would be taking on more debt for the city. In many states, people can form a group to suggest new laws. If they get enough people to agree by signing a special document, the proposal must be voted on in the next election by all the people in the state. This can also be done at the local level. Did you also know that if a politician is found to be dishonest or corrupt, he loses his job and, often, goes to jail?

Democracy is so ingrained in the people in the free world, that even children understand it. For example, say a small group of children are going to the cinema together. They have several movies to choose from and they can't agree. Such children know, even at an early age, how to live in a democracy. They will take a vote and, whichever movie the majority picks, that's where they will go.

Children in America grow up knowing they can say whatever they want. The words "It's a free country" are very common in the U.S., and they are taught to everyone at a very early age. For example, let's say one person tells another to not say something. The second person will say, "You can't tell me what to say, it's a free country".

The U.S. is a very rich country, but there are also many poor people. However, even the poorest, most ignorant person has the same rights as a rich person. For example, the police cannot enter the house of a person, not matter how poor he is, without a special order that must be signed in advance by a judge (and remember, most judges are elected by a free vote).

You probably know what is taught to Iranian children when they are young. Here children are taught that everyone is equal: men, women, black people, white people, Asian people, Iraqis, Iranians, Jews, Muslims, Christians. Did you know that, in the U.S., it is a crime to discriminate against anyone, including Muslims (and Iranians for that matter)? If you were to say something bad about Muslims in a newspaper, you would be criticized strongly. If you own a house and you refuse to rent it to a Muslim, you will be charged with a crime and punished.

In the U.S., everyone is allowed to worship as he wants. Two days ago, I was walking in a park in the late afternoon, and I saw a Muslim put down his prayer mat and say the Afternoon Prayer (part of the Salat) as described in the Quran (2:238). If someone had tried to keep that man from praying to Allah, it would be a crime. In America, a Jew can pray, a Christian can pray, a Muslim can pray; you are also free to not believe in God, and no one can compel you to pray.

Every morning, every child in an American school stands up, looks at the flag and recites:

I Pledge Allegiance to the flag
of the United States of America
and to the Republic for which it stands,
one Nation under God, indivisible,
with liberty and justice for all.

Some of these children will grow up to be in the army, and will be sent to foreign lands to fight for freedom for the people who live there. Some of them will die; many will be wounded. This may not be what you read in the newspaper, but this is how it is.

Can you imagine living in such a country?