Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Pages 53-54
Ismael Hossein-zadeh’s and Karla Hansen’s perspectives on Iran surprised, challenged, and delighted Des Moines audiences. On June 25 the couple put their presentation titled “Encountering Iran” before a near-capacity crowd of more than 150 in Drake University’s Meredith Hall Auditorium.
Hansen, a Des Moines area peace activist and social worker, presented a video of her and her husband’s seven-week visit to Iran in March, April, and May.
The first American ever to visit some of the Kurdish villages to which they traveled in northeast Iran, Hansen was received with great warmth and hospitality.
In Shirvan, the city where Hossein-zadeh’s brother lives and works, a press conference arranged by the city council president was attended by hundreds.
“When I gave the presentation in front of almost 500, and apologized for the offenses of U.S. imperialism, there were city council members in the front row who were in tears,” said Hansen.
On their last day in Iran, she recalled, the couple was interviewed for a national news broadcast.
“They interviewed Ismael for an hour, and then they wanted to talk to me. The first thing they said was, ‘Why didn’t America investigate Rachel Corrie’s death? Why didn’t that happen?’ And all I could do was hang my head in shame,” Hansen said. “I got very teary-eyed. You know, I can’t explain why an Israeli soldier driving a U.S.-built Caterpillar bulldozer killed a young American peacemaker and there was no investigation.”
Hossein-zadeh, who teaches economics at Drake University and is the author of The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), discussed U.S. foreign policy and the political situation in Iran.
“One of the things that surprised me was that…all the pressure [on Iran], 30 years of economic sanctions, military threats, eight years of war with Iraq [which was] instigated and supported by Western powers, has not made the Iranian people bitter or angry,” he marveled. “They just don’t understand it. They say ‘Why? Why do you do this to us? We want to trade with you. We want cultural exchanges.’”
On the subject of Iran’s recent and hotly disputed elections, the accomplished social scientist, educator and author limned a far more sophisticated and nuanced view of Iranian politics than most Americans have ever imagined.
“A major misconception is that the turbulence in Iran and the struggle between different factions is a struggle between ‘hard-liners,’ that is, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and clerics, on one side, and reformers and the people on the other side. Related to this myth is that Ahmadinejad is very conservative whereas the opposition is ‘reformers,’ ‘moderates,’ or ‘democrats.’ But I think this is all wrong,” Hossein-zadeh said. “I would argue and hopefully show that it is not Ahmadinejad and clerics against people and reformers; it is Ahmadinejad and the grassroots against a corrupt clerical establishment.
“Ahmadinejad, whatever you think of his provocative approach or style, the fact is that he fights for the common person, for the grassroots,” he continued. “Just to give you an example, during the last four years of his presidency, he has instituted health care for 22 million Iranians. Now he wants to establish universal health care, but his opponents are blocking it. He has established crop insurance, health insurance for tribal people and villages. He has established something like the Social Security we have here, except that there, people don’t contribute to it. It is called ‘Old Age Security,’ that is, being over the age of 60 and being needy. This is first-hand information. Two of my brothers-in-law get that.”
Ahmadinejad has begun to institute plans to privatize some state enterprises and to give the shares to ordinary people, Hossein-zadeh, noted.
He also spoke at length about the details of the recent elections in Iran, citing reports and polls conducted in the weeks prior to the elections that supported the announced results.
Rev. Chet Guinn moderated a wide-ranging question-and-answer period and public discussion that followed. Participation was enthusiastic and well-informed. Several members of the audience, including at least two Iranian Americans, gave voice to contrasting views, questions, and concerns.
Hossein-zadeh and Hansen have been interviewed by several Iowa media organizations since they returned from Iran. Hansen, who displayed a nine-foot-long “Voices for Peace” banner that she took with her to Iran, is producing a documentary video about the couple’s visit titled “Silent Screams.”