Dozens of Cornell students had the opportunity to speak directly with Iranian citizens via long-distance phone calls yesterday afternoon. The students of Prof. John Weiss’s seminar, History 2161: Iran and the World, together with the assistance of volunteer translators (an assortment of Cornell students and professors fluent in Farsi), worked to bring the “Enough Fear” campaign’s phone event to Ho Plaza, where Cornellians waited in line for the opportunity to speak with volunteers in Iran over the single landline connected outside of Willard Straight.
The national “Enough Fear” campaign seeks to promote dialogue between Americans and Iranians who share a common commitment to the prevention of nuclear war by establishing direct phone calls between citizens in the two countries. Since its launch in 2006, the campaign has hosted three major phone events in Boston, Washington D.C. and New York City.
“This is a campaign to bring the voices of Iranians and Americans into a discussion that is being dominated by extremists on both sides and bringing us closer to the unthinkable: nuclear war … The goals of our campaign are to bring Americans and Iranians together to speak to each other, and to speak out together against war,” states the organization’s website.
Yesterday’s event was unprecedented in that it marked the first such event to occur on a college campus without representatives from “Enough Fear” present. Michael McCormack ‘09, a student in Weiss’s class, believes that Cornell may have paved the way for other college campuses to host similar events.
“By all accounts [the event] was incredibly successful — there was a constant flow of people engaging in substantive conversations throughout the session. I personally think the [campaign] will see the success at Cornell as a precedent to conduct this event at other campuses and continue their efforts generally,” McCormack stated in an e-mail.
[img_assist|nid=36888|title=Hello?|desc=Sam Levine ‘09 chats with Iranian students as Prof. Iago Gocheleishvili translates yesterday.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
McCormack stated that his class brought the phone event to the Cornell campus because the program embodies the mission of History 2161.
“This event was a great fit for part of our group’s mission. We think, integral to the prevention of war between the United States and Iran is diplomacy conducted on a fine-grained, person-to-person level. Strengthening links and understanding between U.S. and Iranian citizens begins with opening the doors to conversation. This event begins that process,” McCormack stated.
Students in History 2161 review available scholarship on U.S.-Iranian relations, monitor daily current events and interview leading experts in the field of international relations. Recent interviewees include Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, Ambassador Dennis Ross, a current policy advisor to President Barack Obama, and Renee Redman of the Iranian Human Rights Documentation Center. Additionally, most class members have established and maintained personal contacts in Iran over the course of the past year.
The class is working towards the eventual publication of a book entitled Talking with Iran, according to McCormack. The book will include the students’ letters to their Iranian contacts, interviews with policy makers and a discussion of the future direction of U.S.-Iranian policy. The class is also in the process of launching an interactive website.
Raihan Faroqui ’10 heard about the event through the Cornell Iranian Students Organization and was interested in speaking with a resident living in Iran. Faroqui spoke over the phone with a university student who was also interested in applying to medical school and the two shared their experiences.
“I think it’s a great avenue for dialogue. We’re talking to students who are the same age as us. … He doesn’t think his government is an accurate reflection of what he believes … and I can relate to that,” Faroqui said.
Faroqui believes that the phone event provided a great forum for resolving common cultural misconceptions. For instance, before the phone dialogue, Faroqui was under the impression that men and women were strictly segregated in all public venues in Iran. After speaking with the Iranian student, however, he learned that while this is generally true, public university classes in Iran are one of the only venues that are not separated by gender.
Sam Levine ’09 recently wrote a history thesis on Iran and wanted to speak to someone living in the country he studied about.
“I’m fascinated with the topic. … I’m interested in the way in which the U.S. is perceived in the Muslim world. … I find youth-to-youth exchange very compelling,” Levine said.
The question remains as to whether these initial exchanges will have any impact on policy decisions in the U.S. and Iran. Although McCormack acknowledges that there is much work to be done before the two countries begin to engage in full diplomacy, he believes that events such as yesterday’s have the potential to exponentially increase conversation on a more personal level, which could have an indirect effect on policy in Washington.
“If this type of discourse building spreads, it could potentially inform policy through the popular vote. But, this cannot be a short-term result or goal,” McCormack stated.