People Have Friends; Governments Have Interests

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 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.

The number of countries that the United States considers dangerous has only increased during the past three decades. Different administrations have made a variety of statements and decisions about who is safe and whether they meet the litmus test of coming to this country.

During the same period of time, our friendships with people from these countries has only increased. In the last 7 years, we have had the privilege of traveling to Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan, We have also formed friendships in Cambridge with people from Iran, Turkey, Palestine, Israel, Syria, Algeria, Somalia, and so many more. Two years ago, we were able to introduce a young Syrian family to a young Israeli family at a Thanksgiving gathering. Watching them talk and connect was incredible. Their former views of each other’s respective countries was through the barrel of a gun, not over tea and pumpkin pie.

“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; by who 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.

From Cambridge, Massachusetts to Tehran, Iran, the last few years have given us uncountable opportunities 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

Note: This post was revised from another written in 2014

10 thoughts on “People Have Friends; Governments Have Interests

  1. This made me think of a conversation I had during dinner with my friend, her husband, and her visiting aunt who had been in the Foreign Service. It was a few years after 9/11. I expressed my interest in visiting Iran and how sad I had been after 9/11 because I’d had a trip planned to visit Iran in the Summer of 2002 with a dear friend from college, her husband, and two children. My dinner companions were incredulous that I would have gone to ‘that place’, and particularly the aunt, had been posted in Iran back in the 1970s.and had been married to an Iranian.

    They tried to convince me that my friend and her husband had evil intent and had just been luring me to Iran and I would never have come home.

    Seriously? By 2001, when they issued the invitation, I had known my Iranian friends for almost 20 years – I helped her choose her husband (she had an arranged marriage), and their son and daughter are my niece and nephew!

    I’m pretty sure a 19 year old refugee doesn’t befriend someone in the dorm plotting to kidnap them 20 years later.

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    1. Wow – what a story! I think what amazes me, is that all over the Middle East people are willing to give Americans the benefit of the doubt, seeing them as separate from their governments. Yet here, in the land where the individual is paramount, Americans can’t do the same. Boggles the mind.

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  2. How does the government affect the way I view people? Well, I have friends from 6 out of the 7 “banned” countries from the latest executive order. I am only not friends with someone from Yemen. I guess it is time to try to meet someone from Yemen so that I can show them God’s love and learn about their culture. As I see the government’s ungodly stance on how it views people, (some are inherently more dangerous than others because of where they are from), it spurs me on to examine my own heart for prejudice and be better.

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  3. I keep telling folks that they don’t have to leave their home now, God is bringing the world to us, we just have to open our doors and not close off our hearts.

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  4. Thank you Marilyn for continuing to help us think straight! I have never been to Iran, but I want to go some day. I have met so many lovely people from there. May we not get distracted by our current governments interests and forget to love our neighbors.

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  5. Like you Marilyn, we have been enriched by our cross-cultural friendships. Governments come and go. Thankfully our friendships have outlasted some of those governments. Building genuine friendships without ulterior motives requires effort. In the end I guess it will be the people to people interactions that help bring about understanding and acceptance of each other.

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