People Have Friends; Governments Have Interests

Tehran University

When I first began dating my husband, I would joke that I dated him and 30 Iranians. Cliff had hundreds of friends. And most of them were International Students at the university he was attending.

During those initial dates we would go to underground Marxist events, Nowruz parties, or sumptuous Wednesday night dinners of kebabs, pilau, torshi, and tea served in special glasses with sugar cubes — all with Iranians. He counted them as among his best friends. Through our courtship and then marriage, they became my friends as well, some of them young men; others whole families. I became convinced that God created Iranian women first and used up so much beauty that there wasn’t much left for the rest of us. Bad theology? Maybe. Truth about their beauty? Absolutely.

It was during the Iran Hostage Crisis that my husband befriended these students and families. In a recent conversation one of his friends admitted that several of them thought he may be with the CIA. Who else asks that many questions?

Iran was not popular with the United States at the time. Three decades have gone by and not much has changed.

I was fortunate to have been able to travel to Iran when I was younger and remember walking busy streets and navigating Tehran traffic followed by delicious meals with friends. I would relay stories of these trips to Cliff and for as long as I’ve known him, he has wanted to go to Iran.

On Saturday this 30+ year dream came true as he left for Iran via Frankfurt for a week visit to this country. He arrived in the wee hours of Monday morning in Tehran with a group called U.S. Academics for Peace. While there the group will be going to Tehran University and Shahid Beheshti (the Iranian National) University for talks and a conference.

“People have friends; Governments have interests” is a quote that I’ve heard many times. Living in the United States affords many of us unique opportunities to form friendships with people who are from countries considered dangerous, countries that are not counted as ‘friends of the United States’. Because we are not our governments. Our decisions on who to love, who to trust, and who to befriend are not dictated by who or what our government does or does not deem ‘safe’. 

Too many times we confuse the two. Subconsciously our attitude becomes: If the United States Government and the mainstream media sources do not trust a country, then we can’t trust people from that same country. If they are on bad terms we must be on bad terms. 

My husband and I are not unique in having Muslims as some of our best friends. We know many Christians who claim the same. And we are among many who believe friendship and dialogue trump government interests and activity every time. As I’ve seen articles and been in conversations there are times when I fear some Christians in the west allow government policies and opinions to dictate their friendships; other times when media sources control their hearts and minds. I would suggest that this is misplaced loyalty creating a poverty of thought and spirit preventing us from befriending and reaching out to those who God has placed around us.

Meanwhile my husband is in Iran, and I am here slightly envious of his opportunity; praying and hoping for meaningful interactions, because people are not governments.

“If we leave it to the mainstream, corporate media to form our conception and understanding of the surrounding world, the entire universe will be a gloomy, failing and disappointing entity in which no sign of hope and dynamism can be found.”
*

There’s more to say on this topic, but I want to open it up to you. Wherever you live, how does the government and media affect how you view people? Who you will or won’t let into your life? Do you agree with the quote “People have friends; governments have interests?” Why or why not?

*Quote from Kourosh Ziabari — an award-winning Iranian journalist, media correspondent and activist.

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Stacy brings us Caesar Mini Muffins this week that look creative and satisfying. She says this “We love Caesar dressing with its sharp fresh lemon juice, salty anchovies, spicy garlic and, of course, the Parmesan cheese that gets heaped on top of the salad. So, I give you: Caesar Mini Muffins.”

13 thoughts on “People Have Friends; Governments Have Interests

  1. I went to high school with a ‘Persian’ student in the American Midwest – during the hostage crisis. Fortunately, 99.9% of the students were globally illiterate. She was a very sweet girl.

    Then in college I met an Iranian student (VERY cute), and ended up friends with his sister. We are still friends 30 years later, and she was my maid of honor. When I go to her family events I’m treated as her sister. I was supposed to accompany them on their annual summer trip home, but then some jerk flew a plane into a tall building. She sends me Christmas cards, and I send her New Year’s cardd for Eid Norousz. We respect each other’s cultures and belief systems – why is that so difficult for others to do?

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  2. Loved this post and all the lovely comments here so warm the heart. Great to know all you guys out there who have commented on this post.
    re bayta nothing pains and shakes me more than what people do in the name of Islam. I have no idea where they get their twisted ideas from, certainly not the book I read.
    Its not just fox news look at serials like Homeland, how did they get it so wrong?
    Looking forward to Cliffs perspectives and experiences :)

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  3. Interesting thinking about this as a German. For 40 years, most of us had family “behind the Iron Curtain”, so distinguishing between the political system and the people was second nature. Sadly I’m not sure we’re always very good at applying that to things other than political system, eg not seeing our Muslim neighbours and colleagues through the lense of things done in the name of Islam.

    Loved your comment about Iranian women :-) I had the privilege of working alongside a bunch of Iranians for a few years and it is so true!!!

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  4. I could not agree more with this post. I have been blessed to live in and travel much of the world that many Americans would consider dangerous and full of people that would mean us harm or ill will. Many of my best friends come from and live in these places that have been “branded” by media and by politics. The only way to experience the humanity of another or “the other” is to open your heart, your home and the opportunity for friendship and wait to be amazed.

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    1. Love your last sentence – Can I quote it? And the word ‘branded’ is a good one. It inhibits any sort of communication, let alone friendship. Thanks for what you do on a daily basis.

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  5. Some of our best friends live “behind the wall” the giant fence that separates the USA from Mexico along the border. It is hard to listen to some talk of keeping the Mexicans out and protecting US interest when we know love does not have a border and there is so much more to the story. Because each person has a story and it is amazing to actually live that story together with people in love and not fear. Not easy to do but amazing. Thanks for the great thoughts on friendship and a reminder to look beyond government and be open to people.

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    1. Love this Jill – we faced some of this in Arizona and the strong views expressed against any sort of comprehensive immigration policies. It’s so hard when you agree with someone on core Biblical truths but are aghast at the way those are lived out. Thanks for reading. So jealous of you as we head into our next huge storm!!

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  6. The one thing I would disagree with is the term “mainstream media” since it is the term all my conservative friends and family use for any news source other than FOX news and I have found that they have the same negative, prejudice attitudes towards foreigners that I have found in folks who watch more liberal news sources. I don’t necessarily blame them, since their beliefs are shaped by what they see on TV, rather than personal experiences. I find it fascinating and encouraging, though, to see their attitudes change when I tell them stories about my friends from Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan and even more so when I introduce them to those friends. I constantly hear, “I’ve never heard that before. Why don’t we know about this side of the story.” Rather than getting mad at the media, whose job it is to sell fear and commercials, I just see it as my job to spread the stories of my friends and hopefully it will help people see these creations of God as potential friends, rather than automatic enemies.

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    1. We’re in a different area of the country for sure as Fox is considered a network that people would never watch. And you’re right, as bridge-builders that is our job. I’m not sure people realize how much they are affected by the media – and that’s the concern. It’s not anger at the media so much as concern at the inability of consumers to critically think through what they hear.

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