RUMI shirts by Arash Norouzi
Rabbi Rosen: Understanding to Avoid Conflict

by Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project
| October 11, 2008

Rabbi Brant Rosen Rabbi Brant Rosen of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, Illinois is spending two weeks in Iran during November 2008 as part of an interfaith peace delegation with the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR).

On Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holidays, Rosen announced his travel plans in his sermon on Iran, expressing his concerns about the very real possibility of conflict and the role of Jewish Americans in mediating the crisis. He also covers the history of foreign intervention in Iran including the 1953 coup, and quotes from Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, "one of my personal heroes". The entire sermon is available on his blog, Shalom Rav.

A native of Los Angeles, Brant was named by Newsweek in 2008 as one of the top 25 rabbis in America. Rosen encourages understanding among the Jewish community rather than a "fear-based, knee-jerk" reaction to Iran. The alternative, he says, "will only further exacerbate this crisis and, God forbid, move us inexorably closer to military conflict – something that would only spell disaster for America, Israel and the entire Middle East."

Excerpt from A Sermon for Yom Kippur by Brant Rosen, October 9, 2008:

Iranians have always been deeply proud about their venerable national history. I think in some ways it is natural that Americans fail to grasp this, given that our own history extends back little more than two hundred years. But even today, all Iranians young and old, identify deeply with their ancient history. Though Iran is a diverse country in many ways, varying widely in religious observance and political belief, almost all Iranians are united in their reverence for Persian history, poetry and culture – and it is from this culture that they have developed their common sense of national identity.

But there is another aspect to their identity that runs just as deep: a deep sense of resentment over the foreign subjugation of their nation over the centuries. It is a profound frustration and when you study Persian history it is not difficult to understand why. In the modern era, Iran was dominated primarily by Great Britain, who seized Persian territories as well as most of Persia’s industrial resources. Britain would later gain control of Iran’s army, treasury, transportation system and communications network, and finally in the early 20th century, they would control Iran’s significant oil industry as well. The proceeds from Iranian oil powered the British Empire during this time, while most of Iran lived in abject poverty.

Today, if you ask most Americans who Mohammed Mossadegh was, more often than not, you’ll probably get a blank look. But I’ll willing to bet that if you ask the average Iranian of any age, every single one will tell you who he was. Mossadegh became Prime Minister of Iran in 1951 and to this day, he represents what was the last and best hope for democracy in Iran. Mossadegh was a highly educated, enlightened leader and he was truly committed to liberalizing Iranian society. But unfortunately for the British, he was also a nationalist committed to ending foreign domination of his country and shortly after taking power he called for Iran to nationalize its oil industry.

The British resisted of course, and together with the CIA they overthrew Mossadegh in 1953. The British and the Americans then installed the Shah as the sole leader over Iran and he proceeded to rule the country with an increasingly repressive regime. Indeed, those of us who accuse the Islamic Republic of being totalitarian shouldn’t forget our support of the Shah’s totalitarian rule for over twenty-five years. At any rate, you can be sure that contemporary Iranians haven’t forgotten this.

For most Americans, this is all ancient history if they even know about it at all. For most Americans our collective memory of Iran begins in 1979, when the Islamic revolution took place and 52 Americans were taken hostage in the US embassy. This is an image that continues to burn indelibly in our collective consciousness: angry Islamic extremists holding our citizens against their will, burning American flags, chanting “Death to America” in the streets. For most Americans, this image is Iran.

But we also need to understand that for Iranians, these events represented something else entirely. After all, the overthrow of Mossadegh was directed by the CIA from the basement of that same American embassy. Iranians, who had been frustrated for centuries over foreign meddling and domination, were now venting their fury on America, the country who had deposed their democratically elected leader and supported the Shah’s repressive rule.

I do believe that most of us are ignorant of this history – and that we ignore it at our peril. We need to study and understand this history – and face up to our role in it – if we want to maneuver through our volatile relationship today. For most Americans, Iran is simply a belligerent regime that hates the West, supports terrorists and now, dangerously enough, is seeking nuclear capability. But to Iran, America is just the latest foreign power seeking to subjugate them to its will, a superpower that deposes regimes it doesn’t like, and now wants to deny Iran access to technology, modernism and independence.

What’s truly ironic about this story, however, is that though Iran has great historical resentment toward the US, a significant percentage of Iran’s citizens – particularly its young people – admire America for its freedoms, its liberalism, its ingenuity, its openness to modernity – and they wish the same for their country. They also have a strong desire to meet and learn from Americans, but what they don’t want is to be dictated to about what is best for them by Americans. And you can be sure that if we bomb or invade or attempt yet another regime change in Iran, their citizens will be inflamed against us in ways we cannot even begin to imagine.

Related links:

The History of Jews of Ancient Persia and Israel - Iran Relations

Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi on Mossadegh: Eternal Adoration

Rabbi Michael Lerner: The Israel Lobby - Bad For Jews, Bad For Israel

MOSSADEGH t-shirts - "If I sit silently, I have sinned"

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