It’s a little controversial, but I’ll say it anyway: I’m wishing my Iranian friends a Happy Nowruz. How Nowruz came about, and how I came to know my Iranian friends, are two interesting matters.
Let’s start with the first: Nowruz, the celebration of the Vernal (Spring) Equinox, goes back to pre-Islamic times when Persia ruled the Middle East with such great emperors as Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, Artaxerxes and the like. If they sound familiar to students of the Bible, they should: it was Cyrus who allowed the Babylonian exiled Jews to return to Jerusalem. In Islam these times are called al-jahiliya (the time of ignorance) but at least one of my Iranian friends would move that to another time in Iranian history.
And how did I get these friends? I started my PhD in the Fall of 2011, and found myself “behind the 8-ball” in many ways. It was also the first semester for the group of Iranians in the program. The first class was a challenge for everyone, including the instructor, who gave as sad a half-time (after mid-term exam) speech as Derek Dooley ever gave the Vols. As the final exam approach, desperate for help, I turned to two of them for help, and they did: I probably wouldn’t have gotten through the course without them.
Since those times I have gotten to know them better. To begin with, as witnesses as disparate as David “Spengler” Goldman and CBN News‘ George Thomas have pointed out, they are the most charming and sophisticated people in the Middle East. For a small example, in another class there was one other person from the Sim Centre (where I am studying) but I wasn’t sure who it was. When she arrived with designer glasses and book bag, I said to myself: she must be Iranian. She was. Engineers have a reputation of being nerds, but this reality never got into the Persian culture. In a region where good social skills are really expected, they’ve hit the ground running.
As a Christian, hanging around these people is like walking through the pages of the Word in double precision and parallel processing. The group I’ve been with isn’t terribly Islāmic, not in the sense we normally think about it. I got a better lesson about Jesus’ use of the marriage analogy for his return watching their wedding videos than any place else. Another, frustrated that his research was not moving forward, said that he had to “find the way”, which has been the preoccupation there for a long time:
“We do not know where you are going, Master,” said Thomas; “so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one ever comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:5-6 TCNT)
Some have come to church with us; the observation of one that people left our church happy and the mosque sad is profound.
Their opinion of this country is generally positive. One told me that his father had worked here in the 1970’s (before “the Revolution”, they, born after it, are amazed I remember it) and thought that it was a better country then than now (it was). Their opinion of their leadership in Tehran varies; some don’t talk about it and some are openly hostile.
And they are good friends. When my mother-in-law died last year, it was our Iranian friends who came from UTC. One walked from the Sim Centre to the National Cemetery; we gave him a ride back in the family limo. Another wrote me an email in this way:
I got very sad when I heard about your loss, I remembered that you said she had a sad time because of her sickness, I know she is now in peace and rest and we are here for you as a good friend because you were like that for us always.
When things have gotten frustrating (which in inevitable when you live and die by writing code) they’ve been an encouragement.
And as for our current negotiations re their nuclear program? One of them commented as follows:
Negotiation with any dictator is in vain, they smuggled 1 B $ in bank notes during the past month only , and this is reported to Mr. Kerry, a nuclear terrorist country is not approved even by other semi-terrorists countries like Russia, their religious leader is weeks away from death and his successor is a radical one, any deal might become a disaster for the entire world and mankind, they already started military drills in the Gulf and poured forces to Lebanon to use it as a leverage against Israel if needed.
Personally I think our people in Washington are out of their league negotiating with these people. It’s not a pretty thing to think about, but every four or eight years Americans simply swap one set of provincial boobies for another. Our Lord, right in the centre of the Middle East, exhorted his followers in this way:
Remember, I am sending you out as my Messengers like sheep among wolves. So be as wise as serpents, and as blameless as doves. (Matthew 10:16 TCNT)
But we cannot seem to get past vacillating between rigid neocons and moralistic interventionist liberals, except when a critical mass of people get tired of being cannon fodder. Sometimes conspiracy theories bubble up, to which I say: our foreign policy is so stupid, conspiracy theories are the only rational explanations!
So I say again: Happy Nowruz. May it be a reminder that Persia has been a great nation and will be again, especially if we move a few obstacles out of the way…