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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

After Iran, The Courage To Speak

*Originally posted on LinkedIn.

"If I have found favor in your eyes, O King, and if it please the King, let my life be granted me by my plea, and the life of my people by my request. For my people and I have been sold to be annihilated, killed and destroyed!" - The Persian (today, Iranian) Queen Esther, Megillat Esther, Chapter 7, via Chabad
When something is wrong, do you tell your boss?
Queen Esther was "married" to the Persian (today, Iranian) king Achashverosh but the truth is that the union was really her job, and an involuntary one at that. Opening her mouth, or even speaking out of turn, could have quickly resulted in her death.
Esther did speak up, despite the risk, because it was the right thing to do. I am named for her, and am doing the same. I'll try to tie it to a work theme to make it appropriate for LinkedIn, but obviously my concern is for the Jewish people.
So if you don't think this is the right place to be posting this stuff, please feel free to stop here.
* * * 
Which are you more afraid of, losing your job or dying?
I ask because there are people who kill themselves when they get fired. Every now and then I read about a New Yorker (why is it always someone from New York?), usually from the financial district, literally jumping out the window over the loss of their job.
In the government, firing doesn't usually happen. But it when it does, it's normally painful and slow. You can get into trouble for a lot of reasons. Whatever the background noise, I know of a few people who've been marginalized into leaving. The trauma is real and it is lifelong.
So I definitely don't want to get fired. I am a Jew working for the U.S. government, so it is risky to criticize anything that the government does. But as you're probably reading in today's paper, the new nuclear pact with Iran has just been announced.
In a world where anti-Semitism is becoming an ordinary fact of life - where more than 1 billion people have negative stereotypes about Jews to begin with - I am worried that this deal will result in great harm to my people. A terrible loss of life.
This is a country that has called for the annihilation of the State of Israel and a "referendum" on the life of all Jews in the region. (This is as opposed to a "massacre.")
I am going to trust that G-d will protect me because I am trying to do the right thing, respectfully. I will exercise my civil right to speak as a private citizen, only for myself and not as an employee of the government.
Having said that, even if I weren't Jewish I would not understand what is going on since Iran seems fairly hostile toward the United States. For example, just five months ago, while the nuclear negotiations were going on, Iran held a public demonstration commemorating the 1979 Revolution in Tehran.
As reported by Mehdi Boulurian for the Fars News Agency, tweeted by Sobhan Hassanvand from Iran, and reported by the Gateway Pundit, Iran openly hung ("lynched") our President in effigy. Here's the tweet and accompanying photo.
Are these photos just posturing? Are they staged as a kind of cultural machismo, to make a public show? "I can be more anti-American than you are?"
Maybe so. Let's look at the basic terms of the deal, as reported by NBC News. On its face this looks pretty good:
  • Nuclear Technology: Yes for peaceful purposes like electricity and medical treatments. No to a nuclear weapon.
  • R&D: Limits on research and development of nuclear technology. Nearly 100 percent reduction of stockpile of low-enriched uranium (below weapons-grade) for 15 years. 
  • Sanctions: All economic sanctions lifted. Weapons embargo lifted after five years. Missile technology, eight years.
  • Verification: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to "monitor and verify" that Iran is sticking to the deal. If it breaks the deal, the sanctions return. (Refusing entry to inspectors is breaking the deal.
The problem with all of this, of course, is that what you get to read in the newspaper is only one representation. It may or may not be true, or even make sense.
For example, there is a stereotype that Muslims are anti-American, anti-Semitic and generally "extreme."
This stereotype is a lie.
The only time I've ever encountered a Muslim that seemed hateful was at my daughter's graduation speech. I've encountered Jews who also seemed hateful in the same way.
There is a stereotype that Muslim women are oppressed slaves. Again, in my experience - maybe because I'm encountering Muslim women in America - this is also not true.
For example, one time I encountered a Muslim couple in Union Station. The woman had on a niqab, the traditional black face-covering that looks to outsiders like it's extreme.
I was really curious whether she was an oppressed slave. So I did what may seem strange to you, and stopped the couple and asked him if I could ask her about it. (This was out of respect for what I supposed was their cultural traditions, as I knew literally nothing about the faith.)
The woman surprised me by speaking immediately and forthrightly, as if to say, "You didn't have to ask him." She said, "What do you want to know?"
I believe what a Muslim colleague once told me, that "people of faith never have a problem with one another." I don't see this as a religious issue at all.
In fact right here on LinkedIn the vast majority of people who like and comment on my posts, unless I am reading the names incorrectly, appear to be of the Muslim faith.
And if you go back to the original story of Purim, the Iranian king was a neutral guy. It was a single person in the kingdom, a sadistic dictator wannabe, who sought to disrupt the peace and target a certain people, namely the Jews.
There is another stereotype that says that Jews are out to take the United States for all it's worth, to exploit the government for our benefit.
Again, in my experience this is largely not true, although it disturbs me when I see examples of the opposite.
What I do see is that Jews are very passionate about doing what they think is the right thing. Even when the "right thing" seems absolutely crazy to the vast majority of people, like last night on the train...when my husband, my daughter and I were treated to a lengthy diatribe from a Jewish man who insisted that the Holocaust was G-d's "punishment" of the Jews and that we somehow "deserved" it.
My daughter was so upset by this guy, and so was I. But I said to her, "Guess what, you're going to college soon. Get ready to hear an earful."
The reality is that Jews, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, people from so many backgrounds and countries have worked together for hundreds of years to make this nation the great democracy that it is. I love my country. Every week in synagogue we pray that G-d protect this nation and its leaders.
In the story of Queen Esther, it was a Jew, her uncle Mordechai, who disrupted a plot to take the king's life.
So you cannot always believe what you read in the paper, or what you see on TV. But I do believe in looking at body language.
In that light, here is a very interesting photo. It's one of the Iranian negotiators (not named in the photo caption), rejoicing at the Iranian nuclear deal.
His picture is on the cover of today's Washington Post. 




Contrast that photo with this one, of Vice-President Joe Biden, as he stands next to the President during the deal's announcement. This is not the smiling "Uncle Joe" I've become used to seeing in the headlines.




Of course, I could just be reading into things. My concern about the deal does not mean that the deal is necessarily bad.
In fact, multiple surveys show that the vast majority of Americans favor it, as the Washington Post notes.The Atlantic summarizes why: It's a pragmatic decision; the alternative is really only war, a war that few have the appetite for because what are we going to do, all kill each other? (I shoot you, you shoot me, and in the end we're both dead.) 
But the conventional wisdom does not always resonate, and to me I look at this reasoning and I see history repeating itself.
On this day in 1938, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, French Premier Edouard Daladier, and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain sign the Munich Pact, which seals the fate of Czechoslovakia, virtually handing it over to Germany in the name of peace. Upon return to Britain, Chamberlain would declare that the meeting had achieved “peace in our time.” - The History Channel, September 30, 1938
Appeasement as a strategy did not work then. It did not prevent Hitler from killing 11 million people, Jews and non-Jews alike, in the name of his lunatic vision of an "Aryan master race." It will not prevent Iran from doing the same thing for the purpose of creating a radical, state-sponsored army of terrorists spouting another lunatic vision, a crazy version of Islam that has absolutely nothing to do with what the Prophet ever intended.
For the Prophet Muhammad was a bearer of the message of peace. I can't do anything other than tell you what actual Muslims have to say for themselves.
Islam is a peaceful religion that advocates for tolerance, compassion, and respect. Islam is also a religion of equality as we are all God’s creations and as such are all deserving of respect. Islam taught respect among all races, between female and male, and between adult and child. Islam also preached compassion and tolerance for people of different beliefs and especially for people who worshipped the on true God.
The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, understood that Christians, Jews, and Muslims all worshipped the same God, and in-fact were striving to follow the one word of God....Islam has historically been the most tolerant of the three major religions worshipping the one true God.
The Prophet Muhammad believed in leading by example and was known for being patient and even tempered....Muhammad would also pray for those who harmed, or wanted to harm him. Even when faced with evil, the Prophet would return peace and preach for the glory of God instead of hatred. 
And Muhammad did not believe in forced conversion. A person must openly and willingly embrace the word of God, otherwise it was meaningless....Muhammad did call for Jihad, but the original sense of the term Jihad means “struggle” and a Jihad can be both a personal struggle and a political struggle. Muhammad also allowed for martyrdom, but believed that physical violence should always be used as a method of last resort and when a follower of Islam was basically trapped or forced into violence to protect his own life.
Throughout his life Muhammad, peace be upon him, did engage in war and battles but only when it was absolutely necessary to ensure the continuance of Islam. - "What Was The Prophet Muhammad's Message Of Peace?"
If you ask me what I believe is the truth of the matter here, I personally believe what I learned when I worked at USAID, the U.S. Agency for International Development. That regular people in developing nations regularly suffer, while a few corrupt people try to take more than their fare share, diverting what rightfully belongs to the masses so as to enrich and take power for themselves.
Here is a belief I have that does not come from the government, but rather from studying, reading, and seeing popular representations on film. Dictators of ALL faiths, not only Muslim, use religion just as Marx said oppressors do, as a literal "opiate of the people." They turn people's natural desire to connect with something greater and more meaningful against them. They abuse our natural feeling for G-d. And they take all of our guilt, and shame, and promise absolution if only we will follow them and take up weapons against an imagined and manufactured "enemy."
I do not believe that Iran's corrupt sponsors of terorrism will let international inspectors disrupt any program of nuclear arms in any meaningful way. This is not meant at all as a means of disparagement: just the opposite, I have too much respect for their intelligence.
They know that people in all the world want peace. They trust that we are willing to be fooled, that we are foolish.
May G-d grant us the wisdom and the courage to fight back against these haters before it is too late. And to establish a world for our children, and our children's children, that is green and lush and covered, really covered, in words and deeds of peace.
__________
Photo by Abe Novy via Flickr (Creative Commons). All opinions are my own and not those of my agency or the Federal government as a whole. Screenshot of Iranian negotiator and Vice President Biden via, pool photo, Joe Klamar, Associated Press, from today's coverage of the Iran pact in the Washington Post. Screenshot of effigy/flag burning via Fox News.