We need to shift thinking in the United States on the meaning and purpose of diplomacy. During the Bush administration, diplomacy was viewed by some as “appeasement” or something that should only be used as a reward for good behavior. This is a misguided and dangerous approach. The United States needs to view diplomacy as a pragmatic tool used to resolve tensions with other countries and to bring about greater stability in the international community. Smart diplomacy has a history of success, and does not bring with it the dangerous consequences that military action, isolation and economic pressure can bring. President Nixon engaged with China and President Reagan engaged with the Soviet Union despite tensions, and we are safer today as a result. It is clear in weighing the various policy options for dealing with Iran that diplomacy is the only viable option that does not carry dangerous consequences for Iranians and Americans.
Ziabari: Please tell us about your experiences in Iran. How much did your perceptions change after visiting Iran? Could you relate something about the Iranian that is usually withheld from the public by the corporate media? What inspired and influenced you the most in Iran?
Griffin: Having studied U.S.-Iran relations for a number of years and knowing other people who had been to Iran, I thankfully had access to other perspectives than what the American media tells you about Iran. I was excited to be able to personally experience the beauty and warmth of Iran so I could be more effective in persuading Americans that Iran can be a friend to the U.S. and has much to share with the United States.
I can’t imagine that a traveling American could receive a warmer welcome than I received in Iran. From Tehran to Isfahan, Persepolis to Shiraz, I was always greeted with warmth and hospitality. Because so few of us visit, people were often very excited to meet an American. The first question people tended to ask is what I think of Iran and Iranians. When they would follow up by asking me what other Americans think of Iranians, I would explain that most Americans want peace with Iran, but are also dealing with fear because of how our media and politicians portray Iran.
One of my projects while I was there was recording videos of Iranians sharing a message of peace with Americans, and delivering messages from Americans to Iranians. I was moved to see the genuine desire for peace in the Iranians I met. Young and old, they all wanted friendship between the U.S. and Iran and recognized that the obstacles lie with our governments. It was particularly interesting to hear people reflect on the experience of the Iran-Iraq war and how that informed their commitment to peace. In the United States, we do not hear much about this conflict, but it was devastating to the Iranian people. Even teenagers and young people I met, who were small children during the war, carry that burden with them and are passionate about making sure such horror is not inflicted on anyone else, including Americans and their fellow Iranians.
Ziabari: And finally, I’ve frequently heard that contrary to those American people who think of Iran and Persian culture optimistically, there’re a vast majority of Americans who are not even able to locate Iran’s location on the world map. What steps should be taken to constructively acquaint them with Iran? How do you personally contribute to this enlightenment process?
Griffin: Unfortunately, Americans mostly see fearful images of Iran in our media. The ongoing tension between our countries makes breaking through that fear even more difficult. Fewer than 500 Americans travel to Iran every year, and I met several people who had never met an American before when I was in Iran. Without the interaction happening on the people to people level, Americans don’t have much access to another view of the Iranian people and culture.
I have dedicated a lot of time and energy to mobilizing Americans to support diplomacy with Iran by sharing with them a different vision of the country of Iran and its wonderful people. Our organization has worked to share our video messages so Americans can hear directly from Iranians about their hopes for a better relationship with the United States. I have appeared on television and radio sharing my experiences and what they mean for the future of U.S.-Iran relations. I am also going out into communities and sharing stories, photos and insights from my trip so ordinary Americans can build their understanding of Iran, which will hopefully compel them to take action and pressure our government to pursue a stronger, more peaceful relationship with Iran.