Wednesday, June 20, 2012


The Middle East

You are very beautiful. I’ve always been intrigued by the beauty of Arabian women.” I said this to compliment her. “Excuse me but I am Persian, Arabs are a different people.” Sepideh rebuked as if I just blasphemed the Koran. Like me, most Filipinos are more attuned to what’s happening in Europe or the United States, but not Persian Gulf states. There are many Iranian students in the Philippines mostly enrolled in nursing, dentistry and the medical field. If not for them, not much is known about Iran nor the other countries in the Middle East. Through them I’ve learned that Iranians are Persians and Iran used to be Persia, a glorious empire in the ancient world.

Now, it’s hugging the headlines. The controversy is centered on its nuclear programs and the United States is threatened by a futuristic nuclear-ready Iranian military. Stop it! sayeth the superpower. But it adamantly says, No! and the Iranians agree with their government’s can’t-bully-me stance. This defiance is a slap in the face for somebody used to having its way around, and its quite amazing to see a relatively small country stand up to a lone global superpower. But as I dug deep into history, the present controversy can be traced back many years ago, and was rooted not in uranium enrichment, but to a more basic commodity everybody can relate to - oil….

It began when Britain and the Soviet Union pursued their colonial interests in oil-rich Iran. They came in during WWII, stayed, and reaped huge profits until Mossadeq came into power. He nationalized the oil and petroleum industry but was overthrown by a CIA-backed coup in 1953. This was followed by an era of close alliance between Shah Pahlavi and the American government, which not only shared a huge pie in the billion dollar oil industry, it also had border access to its cold war rival - the Soviet Union. But as the rapid growth of oil revenues in the 70’s and 80’s strengthened the Iranian state, it weakened US influence in Iranian politics. Nationalism rose and the 1979 Revolution became unstoppable, which deposed the Shah and passed the reign of power on to the Ayatollah who became the most steadfast anti-American ruler in history. 

When the Shah fled, he was granted US asylum right away. In retaliation, the angry Iranian mob stormed the US embassy in Teheran and 52 diplomats were held hostage for 444 days. They demanded the Shah’s extradition to face trial back home. Succumbing to pressure, the United States released the Shah after the Algiers Accords was signed, but Egypt took him in. Like an old wound that refuses to heal, what followed is an era of turbulent US-Iran relations, strung more than 30 years now, one event at a time….

“My father’s cousin was in that plane when it was hit by US missiles.” Sepideh narrated. It was near the end of the Iran–Iraq War in July of 1988 when USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian Airbus bound for Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The attack killed 290 civilians. In its aftermath, An Iranian navy Captain sent this haunting letter to the one who pushed the button - Navy Captain William Rogers of USS Vincennes. "All Iranians felt they have a cousin that died in the tragedy. So you can understand the loathing we felt for America?" I said, “But it’s all part of history now. It’s in the past. Things change. People change.”  She said, “But the wound is inside. It cannot heal….” She was in a pensive mood now. “Ah let’s talk about something else.” I said. “When I go to Persia where will you bring me?” Her eyes lit and said, "I’ll show you Persepolis. It rivals Greece’s or Rome’s ruins. And you have to eat faloodeh!"
guru guru guru guru guru guru guru guru guru guru guru guru guru guru guru guru guru guru guru guru guru guru guru guru

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