Let me stipulate it upfront: as a form of political action, the full-page ad is not my favorite. Often, such ads are clarion calls to condemnation. Many seem predicated on the hope that the perpetrators of destructive acts will be shamed by such attention. But really, I think they just turn the page and get on with their mayhem.
Yet here I am, endorsing just such an ad, “A Multireligious Call to Make Peace With Iran.” Why? This one is different. Here is why I signed it, and why I recommend you read it and consider taking that action yourself:
When I wake up worried about the state of the nation, the worry that elbows its way to the front of the queue is that we are so paralyzed with fear and discouragement at this government’s intransigence and indifference to suffering, we will let things happen that almost none of us want. Do you actually know anyone who wants the United States to dredge up the will and wherewithal to engage militarily with Iran? Yet between the lines of speeches, in a certain tone of voice issuing from the Oval Office, in the little hairs on the backs on our necks, that prospect seems to be taking shape.
One antidote, I think, is to awaken from the frozenness of our demoralization and say no to that war before the idea congeals even one more degree toward reality. Here’s a novel thought: don’t wait for them to do it, then plunge into a frenzy of reactivity. Call them on it before it starts.
One of my health care providers was born in Iran and still has family there. I went to see him in late September, during the week that Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited the U.S., making a big splash at Columbia University and the UN. The press coverage was starting to give me bad dreams: would a spectacle like this provide the excuse Bush needed to launch his attack? “What about your family in Iran?” I asked my friend. “Are they scared of Bush, afraid he’ll attack Iran?”
My friend laughed. Sighing with relief, he said, “I thought you were going to ask me what I think of Ahmadinejad.” Every person he’d seen that week had wanted him to denounce the Iranian president, just to be sure. “To tell you the truth,” he continued, “my family isn’t scared. They’re used to it. But they think this man—Ahmadinejad—is a buffoon. No one listens to him, no one thinks like he does.”
You can’t really generalize about an entire nation, of course, especially not based on the views of one’s own family. I would find it easy to say few take Bush seriously anymore, but that still translates into a third of the electorate approving his performance in opinion polls. It seems pretty clear that Ahmadinejad is both a buffoon and dangerously off-kilter, exhibiting an alarming credulity one doesn’t like to see in a person with his hand on the red button. Of course, I can swap Ahmadinejad for Bush in that sentence without muffling its ring of truth. Ahmadinejad is far more extreme and, in global terms, far less powerful. In both faces, I see danger. But like my Iranian friend, I retain a belief in ordinary people’s ability, once awakened to the choice, to choose life.
We can do that in many ways. Today, by signing “A Multireligious Call to Make Peace With Iran,” I hope to highlight the importance of acting to prevent war, rather than waiting until war is upon us. The Call was initiated by The Shalom Center, where I have the privilege of serving on the Board of Directors. It has already been endorsed by dozens of religious leaders of many faiths, and a large number of people like myself, who are just trying to lead our own lives. May it help bring peace.