Submitted by FOR on February 21, 2009
The Fellowship of Reconciliation's ninth peace and civilian diplomacy delegation to Iran arrived safely in Tehran on Thursday, February 19th, 2010. There are six members of this delegation, making it the smallest one to date, as two-thirds of the group were denied visas. FOR is deeply concerned about what we are experiencing as an increasing series of challenges to an already difficult process of obtaining visas for U.S. citizens.
The six members of the current delegation come from New York and California. They are:
Ann Morrell, a long-time consultant and activist with the American Friends Service Committee who has traveled the world focused on global economic, development, and trade issues (Brooklyn, NY)
Jack Schultz, a civil engineer and water systems expert (Santa Cruz, CA — see article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel)
Rev. Louie Vitale, SSF, a national anti-militarism leader through Pace e Bene nonviolence service, who works to close the School of the Americas, the Nevada Nuclear Test Site, and other sites of U.S. military training and arms development (San Francisco, CA)
Max Cooper, a peace activist and communications professional (Philadelphia, PA)
William Patrick Gillen, a retired editor and peace activist (Brooklyn, NY)
Ann Morrell sent the first report from the delegation today from Tehran:
As the sole woman delegate in this six person peace delegation, landing in Tehran was very poignant for me as I had to put on a shawl to cover my hair to meet the Iranian standards of modesty.
Waiting on line to enter the country, it seemed that each person ahead of us took two or three minutes to clear. I was the first of our delegation to go through. My visa raised some red flags at the Tehran Airport Customs line. The young man looked at my visa and checked in his computer. He showed my visa to the other young man in the booth with him; they both checked the computer. The second fellow walked my visa over to the next booth; and from there he was waved to yet another official. All six passports were collected and taken away. The agents were unfailingly courteous but offered no explanation of the delay. Eventually they returned with the passports and indicated that they needed to take our fingerprints. We knew to expect this, because the U.S. fingerprints Iranians who enter the United States.
The first man into the private fingerprinting office reported that the customs agent pressed his hand firmly down onto the machine. We wondered if they would want my husband present when I was fingerprinted as there are very strict rules against physical contact between a man and woman who are not married to each other. I went in alone. The gentleman asked me to put my hand on the machine. Then he placed my passport on top of my hand and pressed down on the passport, thus maintaining a chaste decorum.
The entry process took at least an hour-and-a-half, but our tour guides waited patiently outside the baggage claim area for us. At about 3 a.m. we joined then where they loaded us into a van and whisked us and our luggage to the hotel. Fortunately, the next event was not until noon on Thursday, allowing us about six hours after the trip from New York.
Thursday afternoon we went to see the Shah’s “summer palace,” a palatial estate in a pleasant park in north Tehran. It had lavish decorations and furnishings, as one would expect from a long line of Shahs. In the tall, graceful old trees outside the buildings, I heard a great many bird calls. I looked up, expecting crows, and instead saw beautiful big green parrots.
We went on the excursion in two separate taxis. In one, the tour guide engaged in an interesting conversation about how Iranians see Americans. He is a young man who is studying international relations. Along the highway, we saw first one young man, and then a half-dozen more, walking among the cars stopped in traffic, selling narcissus and iris flowers.
The highlight of the day was a meeting over dinner with friends David contacted. This man and woman work to bring about peace by promoting Iranian culture and art on the subject of peace, and hope eventually to share these works with people in other nations. In Tehran, they staged a Fair for Peace that featured artists presenting stories, poems, photos and caricatures about peace. They organized advocates for peace to go and help each other climb Mount Damavand, the peak in the Albourz mountains that one sees from Tehran.
I explained my own path to Tehran: that American Friends Service Committee, for whom I work, participated in the first meeting of U.S. religious leaders with President Ahmadinejad of Iran, when he came to attend the United Nations in September 2006. That conversation was so respectful, despite the challenging questions that were asked, that Ahmadinejad invited the delegates to come to Iran “during the winter when the nights are long and we can talk long into the night.” About 13 people did go to Iran in 2007, including several of Ann’s AFSC colleagues, and the President met with them for two hours. In both 2007 and 2008, American religious leaders met with Ahmadinejad in New York again.
I was very touched by these direct, person-to-person contacts, and see such basic, face-to-face dialogue as a source of hope for increased understanding. As I explained that, the Iranian woman reached across the table and took my hand. And again, when we walked to the hotel from the restaurant, she held my hand and said how much she appreciated meeting me. She said that peace is an empty word if it does not also entail its basic components: respect, understanding, tolerance, and love. She said that it is the responsibility of ordinary people to become the obstacle that stops the rich and greedy from going to war. She had us all write down the peace groups for whom we work, and we urged her to be in touch with us all if she travels to the United States.
FOR will post additional reports as they are received from Iran. The delegation will travel to Esfahan, Shiraz, Qom, and other parts of the country until March 3rd.