Saturday, December 13, 2008

“Pithy Aphorisms”

At right is a picture of Ayatollah Bojnourdi giving us the benefit of his insights. He is one of the most liberal Ayatollahs in Iran. His black turban indicates he is a direct descendant of Mohammed. It was interesting to hear from somebody who disagrees with the current Supreme leader.

One Sunday when I was in Iran we went to Jamaran (Iman Khomeini’s house--the first Supreme Leader of the Revolution) It was a very humble place: it was two rooms, with a few thread bare carpets, some low furniture and nothing much else. Here the ayatollah received visitors, and did his studying. Along a covered walk we entered the side door of the small auditorium where he would give his talks and receive larger groups of people. Our guide was very emotional about him, the founder of the country. She spoke movingly of his care for the poor and his basic sense of fairness vis-à-vis the right to food, housing, health care. This image of a loving paterfamilias jarred with my prejudiced conception of him as some kind of scary maniac.

After our tour we were taken to a basement museum where there were many photos chronicling in his career. We were also given several books and DVD’s. One of the books was called “Pithy Aphorisms: Wise sayings and counsels.” By Imam Khomeini. For some reason this tickled my funny bone; it is not a title I would choose. Thumbing through the book, I read some encouraging words:

“The prophets came to call people out of darkness into light.”

“Islam is for the welfare of the society.”

“All corruption of the world is due to self-conceit.”

Pithy aphorisms indeed.

But he reserved some of his pithiest comments for America:

“We believe that the Muslims should unite and together slap America, and know that they can do it!”

“America cannot act as a swaggerer before the Muslims.”

“America cannot do a damn thing!”

Reflecting on these different sayings I wonder if it is possible to put them into context, especially the anti-American ones. He was engaged in a polemic with our President; America had engineered the over throw of Iran’s first democratically elected government of Mossadeq in the 1950’s. There were very hurt feelings on both sides of the argument. We noticed one of these aphorisms painted on a wall, but it was faint. Our guide pointed out it had not been re-painted, an indication that the fervor was draining from the rhetoric. Certainly the people expressed tremendous friendliness and interest in us as Americans.

Another guide during our trip had a few pithy aphorisms of his own; actually he posed some pithy questions:

“If nuclear power is a good thing, why can’t we have it? And if it is a bad thing why do you have it?”

“One million Iraqis have been killed by the Americans in the invasion of Iraq. Four million have been wounded. That makes five million Iraqi families who hate America: we really need peace delegations like yours.”

Listening to our guide I was reminded me of the Eldridge Cleaver’s aphorism: “You are part of the solution or you are part of the problem.”

Jesus: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.”

And Bill Wilson: “Live and let live.”

Civilian diplomacy is necessary to changing the hearts and consciousness of people everywhere; we are a divided world, but we don’t need to be. Wisdom resides in the hearts of all: Muslim Ayatollahs, American Blank Panthers, Jesus Christ, alcoholics. (That is my pithy aphorism for today.)

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