Last February and March I was fortunate enough to join a group of ordinary American citizens on a delegation to Iran to explore the causes and effects of the U.S. demonizing Iran as our “enemy.” Despite President Trump having unilaterally pulled out of the internationally negotiated nuclear agreement with Iran and reimposing crippling economic sanctions that affected all parts of life for ordinary Iranians, our delegation traveled to Iran in peace to speak to any and all Iranians who would meet with us.

Over the course of three weeks, we visited schools, universities, cultural sites, a nuclear reactor, Parliament, and we even had a private 90-minute meeting with Foreign Minister Zayad who fondly began by noting that all his diplomas, from high school through graduate school, were earned while living in the United States. In flawless English he described his lifelong pursuit of Iran’s peaceful engagement with the West despite his often being outnumbered by Iranians who, due to historical experience, believe isolationism to be in their national interest. Working steadfastly for years with Secretary of State John Kerry, the two achieved the internationally acclaimed nuclear agreement which was Mr. Zayad’s proof of the value of cooperative respectful engagement with the United States. With Trump’s election, the nuclear agreement has been torn up and Foreign Minister Zayad declared a persona non grata in the U.S.

The Iran which emerged during our visit was very different from the Iran that is promoted here in the U.S. The proud 6,000-year history and culture of Iran is a critical context for understanding its historical place in the world, and the history of U.S. relations with Iran is crucial to understanding Iran’s complex perception of the United States and the West. It is a history that is carefully silenced in our schools, press and governing circles. How many of us Americans have learned, for example, that our own government overthrew the democratically elected prime minister of Iran in 1953 and imposed a brutal regime, which continued to suppress and exploit the Iranian people and resources until the Iranian revolution in 1979? How many of us Americans know of the economic sanctions that our country has imposed on Iran since 1979? How many of us ever learned that our government backed Iraq in its invasion of Iran in the 1980s, or that our government supplied Iraq with chemical weapons that were used on Iranian civilians, many of whom still suffer from those horrendous attacks to this day? How many of us know that the U.S. military shot down an Iranian passenger plane, killing more than 230 civilians, and has never even apologized? How many of us know that Iran is surrounded by dozens of U.S. military bases in a way the United States would never tolerate? Most recently, Iran allied with the U.S. in its fights with the Taliban in Afghanistan and ISIS in Iraq. Iranians see this history as full of betrayal, interference, and failure to respect the sovereignty of an independent nation. Is there any wonder that the Iranian leadership might have difficulty trusting the U.S.? And yet, we remind ourselves that through the perseverance of peace-minded Iranians, Americans and internationals, a nuclear agreement was reached and deemed a success by all monitors.

By pulling out of the nuclear agreement, escalating military action, intensifying economic sanctions, and, most recently, assassinating a top Iranian general, our government is discrediting the very Iranians who had been the most persuasive voices for peace and engagement with the United States. The U.S. leadership, including both the executive and congressional branches, apparently remains determined to continue and intensify its merciless path towards endless war. Is there no one in Washington who will look at the world and our policies from any point of view other than those that promote continued global destruction? Each day I become more convinced that our only hope for planetary survival will be the ordinary Americans who consistently, loudly and lovingly demand an end to these wars. The question is whether we are up to this task.

Ridgely Fuller, Belfast