Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Earthquake Aftershocks

On December 26, the city of Bam, Iran was hit with a horrible earthquake. The number of dead is staggering, somewhere between thirty and forty thousand people, not to mention all the injured and those affected by the ruined infrastructure, disease, etc. Ninety percent of the city's buildings were either destroyed or damaged.

Among those who rushed in to help were several US aid agencies. I don't want this to come off as simply a jingoistic rant, but, good for us! I take my hat off to the doctors, nurses, and relief workers who volunteered their time and risked their lives to go.

Iran is a nation with which America has had a bad relationship for at least a generation. President Bush named them as part of the Axis Of Evil, along with Iraq and North Korea. There's tension over their nuclear weapons program (funny, they admit having one and we haven't invaded!). November will mark the 25th anniversary of the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran by Iranian students, which resulted in 52 US citizens being held hostage for 444 days.

And yet, Americans were among the first to offer aid and comfort to the quake victims.

Sure, the US has propped up evil men who did irreparable harm to that region, like The Shah and Saddam Hussein, just as it has done repeatedly elsewhere (Haiti or Panama, anyone?), only to see those moves backfire.

Still, it would be nice to know that this story has been told throughout the Arab world.

It would be nice to know that Al Jazeera was playing up the role of Americans who rallied to help the helpless in this tragedy.

It would be nice to know that Muslim children in Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, who are taught from a young age by religious zealots that all Americans are evil, were told instead about our altruistic side in circumstances such as this.

It would be nice to know that many Iranians have discovered that, on a personal level, not all Americans are The Great Satan we have been portrayed as by their leaders.

It would be nice to know that they understand that help is a more powerful word than hate.

Virulent, emotional attitudes are hardly ever changed overnight, but it would be nice to know that some progress has been made. Best of all, it's nice to know that there are people who can reach out a helping hand beyond politics, beyond policy, beyond borders.