With my passions, my history, and my hopes for the future is was probably inevitable that I would spend this weekend tied to my television and computer, following the limited amount of information that is coming out of Iran. As a former intelligence analyst, I can trace the political and social patterns that are occurring in the country, and see the miscalculations and misapprehensions that are leading that country into such violence and bloodshed. As a Unitarian Universalist seminarian, I am fascinated by the choice, made by the people, to continue coming into the street knowing what it could (and has) cost them. As a veteran and future military chaplain, I have an almost visceral reaction to those wearing uniforms turning and attacking the people they should be defending.
Two images are burned in my mind. The first is of a crowd of protestors who, upon seeing the plainclothes militia coming upon them, all sat down. My heart skipped a beat. Many of them were women, calling for recognition and equality. They sent word down the line, and they all sat down in the street and sat in silence. The militia did not know what to do, and walked away. My mind went to the Civil Rights Movement here in the United States.
It did not take the militia long to figure out what to do, and the second image burned in my mind is of a woman named “Neda”, who was out protesting with her father when she was shot through the heart by riot police. The footage showed her lying bleeding in the street, with other protestors trying to save her life. In the video, we see her eyes close as she died. Upon seeing that image, my mind and heart went to Tiananmen Square.
“Neda” apparently means, “the Divine Calling”. It is doubtful that there is a more powerful image or symbol for the Iranian people.
Then, my television showed me the image of a series of U.S. politicians calling for the U.S. to insert itself into the situation in Iran. They were condemning the President for not speaking more forcefully, for not threatening the Iranian regime. One politician even admitted that doing so would be counter-productive, but that it was “Important for America” that he do so… that President Obama insert the U.S. even more into this situation.
What struck me about this was how blatant an expression of American Exceptionalism was the reaction of the politicians calling for the U.S. President to insert the United States into the situation in Iran. Even though it would be counter-productive and provide an excuse to the Iranian government, these politicians are so concerned that the U.S. play a central role in all world events that they are willing to give them that excuse in order to affirm their own national self-image.
One of the things I came to realize in my years serving in Latin America and in Europe was that the world really is much bigger than the United States. That is not something the majority of Americans can consciously conceive of. What understandings of the broader world most Americans can understand are either caricatures of foreigners (axis of evil, for example) or of “barbarians being converted by McDonalds”.
What we are seeing is a people (much more sophisticated than the caricature of them we had) standing up for their own rights, for their own equality, against their own government, for their own reasons and motivations, to create a new society based upon their own cultural imperatives… and our American Exceptionalism can’t stand that. Our understanding of the U.S. as a chosen society, as the world’s superpower, as the “city on the hill”… our own image just can’t stand the idea that what is happening in Iran is not about us.
If something is to be done by the international community, it has to be the international community… not an expression of American Exceptionalism (see, we claim two continents in our national name).
The world is growing past us, whether we want it to or not.
Yours in Faith,