Thirty-four years after a revolution that toppled one of the longest standing monarchies in history, Iran stands emblematic of lost potential. From the delightful to the devious, Iran has been that country everyone loves or loves to hate. In almost the same breath, political leaders warn of the imminent threat Iran poses while wishing the exiled (self and imposed) members of the Iranian diaspora a Happy New Year ("Eid Mubarak") in their best Farsi accent.
What is certain is that Iran and Iranians remain an enigma to much of the rest of the world, which is paradoxical given the vast body of scientific, political, and artistic contributions flowing out of Iran for nearly 3,000 years.
A few weeks ago the President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, and President Barack Obama shared a short, but profoundly historic, telephone call that marked the first time the leaders of each country had spoken in nearly 35 years. Like two estranged friends who reconnected at camp, they pensively exchanged ambiguous compliments and wished the other well, while secretly harboring the dream that they would once again relive the "good old days." Since that call, many members of the Iranian diaspora have speculated on its meaning, what the post Sept. 27 world will hold, and the likelihood that there will finally be a détente between the U.S. and Iran.
The time for dinner party political judo and satellite TV drama is done. It is time for the Iranian diaspora to stand up, put aside the differences that have fragmented the community, and step forward in a very deliberate way to bring an end to the estrangement that has isolated Iran and, in many ways, punished the Iranian people. It's not only time for the Iranians to stand up, but also for them to call on their friends to stand up with them; the friends they've exposed to a culture spanning millenniums; the friends they've introduced to delicious Iranian cuisine; the friends they've laughed with; the friends they've taught to love Iran because of the affection they feel for those that were born there.
We have given a lifetime of thought to the ways that this decades-long political grudge match can be brought to a close. Our vision is to foster dialog and deeper understanding between Iran and the United States. We recognize that more than three decades of distrust and miscommunication have separated these two great and proud nations and their people, but that through multiple initiatives, the seeds for a rapprochement and ultimately warmer relations may be planted.
The initiatives we have carefully considered include:
Use entrepreneurs as cultural ambassadors. Send entrepreneurs from the United States to Iran and bring entrepreneurs from Iran here so that through their unique and multifaceted skills we can explore the possibilities a peace between Iran and the United States might offer. Entrepreneurship can overcome many obstacles to create, or at least lay the foundation for, economic prosperity and jobs for within Iran, particularly amongst its youth, which we believe will lead to better understanding and relations with the West. The world was built by entrepreneurs, so maybe it can be healed by them.
For the most part, the United States is the global epicenter of medical research and care. The hospitals and medical schools are filled with Iranian-Americans. Why not create programs to encourage the exchange of physicians similar to a study-abroad program. The American trained physicians can go into Iranian hospitals and help them upgrade their techniques and technologies, while the Iranian physicians could come here to work on fellowships and other continuing education programs. Nothing is more fundamental than health and medical care to those that are in need. Helping those we see as our enemy is the best way to make them our friend.
Showcase Iranian artists in the major art markets (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington D.C., San Francisco, etc.) of the United States and send American artists to Iran. What better way to inspire a sense of possibility than to see a Shepard Fairey (or Banksy and/or JR) mural painted on the walls of the vacant former US Embassy in Tehran or to see classical Iranian musicians and dancers from within Iran perform at the Kennedy Center. Art is powerful and leaves an indelible mark on the soul of the observer.
Iran and the United States both have such rich histories and picturesque landscapes so tourism in both directions should be encouraged. When we engage with the other we realize how similar they are to us.
Work with major universities in the United States and Iran to open those institutions for student and professorial exchange programs. Pave the way for scholarships in the United States for Iranian students from B.A. to Ph.D. An educated population prefers the language of diplomacy to the muteness of force.
In addition to the five initiatives above, we humbly propose that when, and if, sanctions are scaled back, that Iranian diaspora should support social and economic initiatives within Iran. It is undeniable that China and India both benefited from the contributions (monetary and otherwise) of their respective diaspora populations and Iran should do the same. The Iranian diaspora is approximately five million people strong and represents nearly $1.5 trillion dollars in net worth. Their ability to invest, support, and develop for profit and non-profit opportunities alike offers a unique and well placed occasion to rebuild a country and culture that has been so misunderstood and abused in recent years.
There are, undoubtedly, other ideas that should be added to this list. However, there is no better diplomacy than this -- an exchange of ideas and people that will lead to more tolerance and understanding that will ultimately lead to better relations, health care and gross domestic product. To encourage a meaningful discourse will begin to wash away decades of complaining, scheming, and finger-pointing.
We hope that the Iranian diaspora and its friends support initiatives like these and accepts the responsibility that it is up to us to carry the torch forward. The Iranian story is long and the chapters are rich. Who knows what the last page will look like. For now, let us concentrate on the page we're on. Let us write with such magnificent flair that history will mark this as era as the start of a golden age of friendship and prosperity for Iran and the rest of the world.