|By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, July 07, 2001 - 3:56 pm: Edit Post|
An RPCV asks: Can Iran be forgiven?
Can Iran be Forgiven?
Barry Rosen first went to Iran as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1967 before taking up graduate studies in Iranian culture at Columbia University three years later. He became U.S. embassy press attache in Tehran in 1978, at the height of the revolution that overthrew the Shah. And he was in the embassy on Nov. 4, 1979, when bearded militants poured over the compound's walls and began the 15-month hostage crisis.
CAN IRAN BE FORGIVEN?
A dramatic meeting between a former American hostage and one of his captors could be a powerful symbol of reconciliation
By SCOTT MACLEOD /PARIS
t has been almost 19 years, but the images from Tehran are forever burned into the American psyche. The sudden assault on the U.S. embassy by Iranian students. The angry street mobs shouting "Death to America!" The parades of helpless, blindfolded hostages. Back home, outraged Americans could only imagine the horrors that the 52 prisoners faced during their 444 days of captivity.
Barry Rosen did not have to imagine. He was there. As the embassy's press officer in 1979, he was not only taken hostage at gunpoint but also accused of leading a spy ring and subjected to a mock trial. His punishment included months in a barren prison cell, where an always burning light bulb and constant stress made it almost impossible for him to sleep.
The American government has never forgiven Iran for what happened, so why should the hostages? But rather than carry resentment around for the rest of his life, Rosen has decided to make a remarkable gesture of reconciliation. This Friday at a conference in a U.N. building in Paris, he will come face to face with Abbas Abdi, one of the dozen student leaders who planned and directed the hostage taking. As the dramatic meeting unfolds, the former hostage and his former captor will give talks on U.S.-Iranian relations, sit down for meals together and probably even shake hands.
That powerful image of healing is sure to be criticized by hard-liners in Iran and by many Americans, perhaps including other ex-hostages. Both men are attending as private citizens and do not represent their governments or any groups. In interviews conducted by TIME with Rosen in New York City and Abdi in Tehran, they said they were encouraged to meet after Iranian President Mohammed Khatami's call last January--quickly taken up by President Clinton--for cultural exchanges aimed at bringing down the "wall of mistrust" between their two nations.
The idea for the meeting originated with Iranian moderates who were friends of Abdi's. They approached a Cyprus-based human-rights group called the Center for World Dialogue, which organized the conference and invited Rosen. Although the two men are still poles apart in their thinking, they welcomed the chance to put the past behind them and help their countries build fresh ties. "I am not naive about Iran, but I think it is important to understand one another's feelings," says Rosen, 54, director of public affairs for Teachers College, Columbia University, in New York City. "I don't have to forgive and forget. But we are trying to restart this relationship, and this is an important beginning." Agrees Abdi, 42, a columnist for Salam, a Tehran newspaper: "The aim is to contribute to a better understanding and promote a normalization of relations."
That is easier said than done. Plans for a London meeting were aborted when British authorities refused Abdi a visa. He has had to make his preparations in utmost secrecy lest Iran's still powerful hard-liners detain him before his departure for France. Once a fervent supporter of Iran's clerical regime, Abdi was arrested in 1993 and spent nearly a year in prison for criticizing the mullahs' aversion to democracy.
Rosen has had to overcome his own concerns. Will a public reconciliation with Abdi create a backlash in Iran against the rapprochement that Rosen deeply hopes for? Or will Abdi somehow publicly embarrass him? While Abdi is ready to shake hands, Rosen is reluctant to commit himself until the moment comes. He hopes, though, that his meeting with Abdi will help "close the circle, close that 444 days."
That would bring Rosen closer to a country he loved--and still loves, despite his hostage ordeal. He first went to Iran as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1967 before taking up graduate studies in Iranian culture at Columbia University three years later. He became U.S. embassy press attache in Tehran in 1978, at the height of the revolution that overthrew the Shah. And he was in the embassy on Nov. 4, 1979, when bearded militants poured over the compound's walls and began the 15-month hostage crisis.
Among those militants was Abdi. In an interview at his spare Tehran office a few blocks from the old U.S. embassy--now a school for the Revolutionary Guards--the Iranian provided rare insight into the takeover and his role in it. The students' aim was to force the U.S. government to extradite the deposed Shah. They genuinely feared, Abdi insists, that the Shah's arrival in New York City in 1979 for medical treatment was part of a U.S. plot to restore him to power, as was done by a CIA-engineered coup d'etat in 1953. Abdi denies that Ayatullah Khomeini ordered the embassy seizure or knew about it beforehand. "The way we saw it, the Imam would either approve of the action afterward or disapprove of it, in which case we would have left the embassy," says Abdi.
At 7 a.m. on takeover day, Abdi held a secret meeting with 130 students he had summoned to a hall at Tehran Polytechnic University, where he was leader of the Organization of Islamic Students. He described the takeover plans, gave out assignments and ID badges and told the students to head, one by one, to the embassy, where they would meet up with recruits from other universities. As hundreds thronged into the compound, Abdi's task was to seize the embassy's visa offices while others handled the main building and the ambassador's residence. According to Abdi, the restraint shown by U.S. Marine guards may have averted a bloodbath. Had they shot and killed any of the students, he says, he and other leaders planned to depart and leave the compound to be engulfed by the mob.
Abdi says he never guarded the hostages and has no recollection of meeting Rosen personally. The Iranian still justifies taking the prisoners as a defense against a potential U.S.-backed coup d'etat, holds American support for a despotic ruler partly responsible for provoking the students and tends to downplay the ill treatment of the hostages. However, Abdi echoes the conciliatory words spoken by President Khatami. "No one likes hurting others," Abdi says. "The Iranians regret what the hostages and their relatives endured." He adds that he can understand why Americans felt that hostage taking was wrong.
Rosen flatly rejects the notion that the students' ends justified the means: "It is very dangerous when you cross that moral line." But he sympathizes with Iranian complaints about U.S. support of the Shah's repressive regime. "There is a moral and ethical question that Americans have to face up to," Rosen says. "The Shah served the purpose of stability in the region. But we should have been much more aware of and sensitive to what was going on inside Iran, whether it was human-rights violations or lack of political growth."
If that sort of exchange is heard this week in Paris, conference director Eric Rouleau will judge the gathering a success. "We thought this meeting could contribute to a better understanding," says Rouleau, who witnessed the hostage crisis firsthand as a correspondent for the French daily Le Monde. "There are people in both countries who would like to turn a page of history, a page that was very painful." Rosen and Abdi may already have begun writing the next chapter.
--With reporting by Henry Schuster/CNN
--With Reporting by Henry Schuster /Cnn
|By Anonymous (cache12-2.ruh.isu.net.sa - 22.214.171.124) on Monday, December 05, 2005 - 7:41 am: Edit Post|
The notion seems good, as to normalize the situation among the nations in the world. If we dig the happenning of the past you rarely looks upon the good things happened and thankful for whatever happened good likewise why not widen the heart and offcourse forgive the past mishaps and create a new happy atmosphere for our new generation the kids who gonna live ahead.
One aught to laydown the chroniche grudge, since the statement arise that no one willing to hurts anyone, it was a mass action which was not in the control or beyong the control of human limits.