A Civilian Path to Iran’s People

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Vexed discussions and heated accusations on nuclear issues tend to overshadow the daily tribulations that Americans and Iranians share--yes, we have more in common than negotiations and sanctions.

As in cities and towns of the U.S., where school closings and parental concerns about their children’s health are an important focus this Fall, Iranians too feel the swine flu’s impact. Take for instance two reports on November 8 in the Tehran Times:

271 schools in cities across Tehran Province have been temporarily closed due to the swine flu epidemic, the Tehran Education Department’s public relations officer for provincial cities said…. So far, many schools in Kashan and Isfahan have been temporarily closed to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus. On October 28, 235 schools at the elementary and secondary levels were closed for eight days in Kashan.

The Health Ministry and the Majlis (Parliament) Health Committee are seriously opposed to allowing Iranians to go on hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) this year due to the swine flu epidemic.... However, the Health Ministry and lawmakers have no jurisdiction over the issue and other officials must decide about whether to cancel Hajj 2009 for Iranians…. But the Health Ministry will not allow people over the age of 60, young children, and pregnant women to go on hajj this year… The health minister has also announced that swine flu has claimed the lives of 28 of the 250,000 people who have become infected with the disease in Iran.

News like this rarely comes to the attention of Americans. It’s usually the threat of death and destruction potentially dispensed by Iran’s leaders that dominates our perception. Yet Iranian citizens and civilian administrators share similar concerns and opinions with us on a wide range of social, scientific, even religious issues. Grappling with the H1N1 virus is just one example.

As the U.S. seeks paths to Iran, the seemingly mundane may prove most productive in re-forging ties between Americans and Iranians.

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