Despite my sick mother's needs, I couldn't send anything to her due to the sanctions, writes Majid Rafizadeh
Iranian people are the most pro-American society in the Middle East, he says
Editor’s Note: Majid Rafizadeh is an author, political scientist, human rights activist, public speaker and TV commentator on U.S. foreign policy and the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter @Dr_Rafizadeh.
“I have not seen you for seven years. Will this deal between Iran and the U.S. (the Implementation Day and lifting of sanctions) mean that I can see you soon in Iran, my son? I would really like to see you before I die.”
The pleading voice of my 72-year-old mother crossed a great distance, from her bed at Imam Khomeini hospital to America, and burdened my heart. She struggled to speak as she recovered from heart surgery.
It would have filled me with joy to proclaim that I would be by her side. But I did not know the answer. Thoughts of the difficulties faced by my mother, a Syrian refugee married to my Iranian father, inspired a deep ache in my chest.
Despite her desperate need for financial assistance, I couldn’t send anything to aid her due to the economic sanctions. While she fought to survive, my hands were tied to ease her suffering.
My mother is illiterate, not by any choice of her own. Her parents refused to allow her to have an education, no matter how much she begged. Still, in her desperation she asked me one of the most complicated questions about the Iran-U.S. future rapprochement – a question on the minds of many.
Will the lifting of sanctions mean that American and Iranian-American citizens can visit Iran, one of the oldest civilizations, without the fear of being detained? Will Iran and the U.S. open embassies in Washington and Tehran? Will many Iranians be able to visit the country of their dreams soon? Will the slogan “Death to America” finally be dropped?
The response to these questions depends on the understanding of the interaction between Iran’s hardliners and the moderates.
I think the real question is how flexible the hardliners – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the senior cadre of the Revolutionary Guard Corps – will be in modifying some of the rigid fundamentals of the Islamic republic’s foreign policy and ideals.
Are the hardliners prepared to trust the belief of the moderates – President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and his technocrat team – that engaging with the United States is not going be detrimental to the geopolitical, socio-political, socio-economic, strategic and national interests of Iran? Will the Supreme Leader start believing that the United States is not seeking to change the political establishment in Iran and that any change in Iran will be left up to the Iranian people?
Maybe the politicians can start by focusing on the fact that Iran and the United States can cooperate on many critical issues in the region. The emergence of ISIS and its increasing use of terrorist actions against citizens around the world are a threat to both Tehran and Washington.
With regard to Syria, a resolution could potentially be found if Iran abandoned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and pushed for a transitional government, as the U.S. and other nations have. Step by step, the interconnected web of conflicts in the Middle East might subside and ordinary people would again begin to live their lives without fear of terrorism.
This might seem idealistic, but it should not be forgotten that it was because of the idealism of powerful individuals such as Woodrow Wilson, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela that fundamental changes came true. We need a political will.
I had the firsthand experience of growing up and living in both Iran and Syria during my childhood and adulthood under Assad’s and Khamenei’s rule. I came to the United States and became a citizen recently. The most intriguing cultural issue that I witnessed in Iran was that Iranian people are the most pro-American society in the region. This is probably because Iran has a highly educated and tech-savvy middle class which respects American values.
That is why Implementation Day is one of the most exciting and joyful days for Iranian people. Many young and educated Iranians are expecting this development to lead to the beginning of a full diplomatic rapprochement between the Islamic republic and Washington. This would allow for the opening of new embassies and easier travel for both sides. “The lifting of sanctions is the best political news I have ever heard in the last three decades,” Haleh, a university professor in Shiraz, told me.
Will there be a socio-cultural bridge that resolves the geopolitical and strategic complexities?
My mother’s labored breathing carried through the phone, a reminder that I couldn’t explain all of the political nuances to her. All she wanted from me was an answer. Though I knew I would risk lying to her, something I’d never want to do, I couldn’t resist being optimistic for once. I wanted her to be able to share in the joy that many in Iran already celebrated.
Maybe she would be gone before either of us knew the truth, but I hoped that I would have the opportunity to look into her eyes one more time, with tears of joy and hope rather than tears of grief and desolation. More powerful than economic sanctions, more powerful than the pull and push of hardliners and moderates, a mother’s love for her son reached across borders and war zones. That was something I knew I could believe in.
“Yes, Mom, soon.”