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American peace delegate to Iran responds to Daily Telegraph propaganda
Editor's note: Phil Wilayto, who led the People's Peace Delegation to Iran between 20-30 July, replies to Con Cophlin's latest war propaganda story "Iran's hangmen work overtime to silence opposition", (Daily Telegraph, 24.8.07) against Iran. Cophlin is the author of the now discredited Iraqi 45 minutes capability to launch WMD missiles directed at European cities, a claim widely used to soften British public opinion for the illegal invasion of Iraq. Phil Wilayto is a founding member of the Virginia Anti-war network (VAWN), an association of 22 peace and justice organizations in the U.S. state of Virginia; and the editor of The Richmond Defender, a bimonthly, all-volunteer newspaper with a circulation of 15,000 serving predominantly working-class, African-American communities in Virginia.
An interesting opinion piece. Interesting, because the parts that I can compare to my own experience are simply untrue.
This July I traveled for 1,750 miles through Iran, visiting five cities and several small towns, as the organizer of the People's Peace Delegation to Iran. Our group was composed of five U.S. peace activists -- two Army veterans, a former labor official, an environmentalist and myself, the editor of a community newspaper in Richmond, Virginia.
Mr. Coughlin states in his piece that "an estimated third of the country's petrol stations were destroyed by protesters angry at the introduction of fuel rationing." If that's true, somebody should get an award for conducting an amazingly fast clean-up. We arrived about 10 days after the imposition of rationing, and nowhere we traveled did we see evidence of torched petrol stations. Yes, there were protests, and some included property damage, but most reports we've seen have stated that at most about a dozen stations were damaged – hardly a mass rebellion.
Yes, Iran has the death penalty, and uses it. But not nearly so often as the United States government, which also now has the largest prison population in the world, both in terms of absolute numbers and as a percentage of the population. Moreover, the vast majority of the prisoners here are poor and people of color.
Neither did we see any evidence of deep, mass anger with the Iranian government. We talked with Iranians from a wide range of occupations and social classes. People grumble about their economic situation, but most seem to blame the U.S.-imposed sanctions. Not everyone is happy with the religious and social restrictions, but that discontent seems to be mainly among the middle class, a distinct minority in Iran. The vast majority of the people are lower-income, and those are the ones who have benefited the most from the Revolution. For example, unlike in the U.S., health care is free, as is education. Women must cover their hair, arms and legs, but 60 percent of university students are now women, as are 30 percent of doctors. And most women we saw chose to wear the more conservative chador, the tent-like black veil, as opposed to the more secular manteau and head scarf.
There are definitely trade-offs. The government is authoritarian, but the streets are safe -- no small thing in a region that worries not about street crimes, but suicide attacks.
It's also important to remember that Iran hasn't attacked another nation in more than 200 years – while the U.S. has been in a near-constant state of war since the end of the 19th century.
It's been very disturbing since our trip to read stories like the one by Mr. Coughlin, which seem to suggest that a military attack by the U.S. might be just the thing Iran needs. As Yogi Berra once said, it sounds like deja vu all over again. Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, but it got invaded and occupied. There is no evidence that Iran is moving to produce nuclear weapons, but an attack seems more probable every day. And as for “meddling” in Iraq, how much more meddlesome can you be than invading, overthrowing the government and occupying the country?
If anyone would like more information about the People's Peace Delegation to Iran, please log onto www.vawn.org.
Editor, The Richmond Defender
Organizer, People's Peace Delegation to Iran