Monday, November 12, 2007

U.S. City Takes Stand Against War With Iran


"U.S. City Takes Stand Against War With Iran"

By Omid Memarian*

IPS-Inter Press Service (IPS; Rome. Italy)

Article on the Web at:

BERKELEY, United States, Mar 16, 2007 (IPS) -

As thousands of Iranians in northern California celebrated the Persian tradition of "Chaharshanbeh Souri" on Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council adopted a resolution opposing the use of military force against Iran and urging that Congress attach an amendment barring such action to the Pentagon's 93-billion-dollar supplemental funding request.

During a short break in the council meeting, Mayor Tom Bates attended the Persian Centre's gathering of Iranian-Americans, who comprise a large community in California. In a short speech, he relayed his opposition to war with Iran, while Council Member Max Anderson strongly criticised the George W. Bush administration for ratcheting up its rhetoric against Tehran.

"The city was very much against the invasion of Iraq before the U.S. attack," Mayor Bates told IPS.

"Berkeley is a pioneer. Liberal and educated people from all around the world live here peacefully," he said. "When Berkeley makes a decision like this, it makes it easier for other people to come behind (a cause)."

Other cities appear to be following suit. Next Wednesday, the Portland, Oregon City Council will consider a resolution in support of friendship between Iran and the United States and in opposition of an escalation of the Iraq war into Iran.

"When you are in a situation like we are in Iraq, you have to win the hearts and minds of people," Bates said. "We're strong militarily, but weak when it comes to getting people on our side. Occupying countries just does not work in the long term."

Chaharshanbeh Souri is an ancient Persian tradition celebrated by Iranians on the eve of the last Wednesday of winter every year. Rows of bonfires are set alight and young and old jump over them chanting "zardee tou az man, sorkhee man az tou" [your paleness from me, my rosy cheeks from you] in hopes of bidding the ills and cold of winter adieu and welcoming health and new growth in spring.

The Persian Centre, a major cultural organisation in California, has been hosting the event since 2000. The Islamic Republic discourages people from participating in these celebrations in Iran because they highlight a non-Islamic aspect of the culture -- as well as providing an opportunity for thousands of people to assemble simultaneously.

Niloofar Mohtasham-Nouri, founder and board member of the Persian Centre, told IPS that, "The importance of celebrating our rich cultural heritage outside Iran is twofold: not only does allow for a sense of identity and integrity among Iranian-Americans and younger generations, but also it is an opportunity to share our beautiful culture with the rest of the world."

Given the current political climate and anti-Iranian rhetoric in Washington, she said, "It is of utmost significance to have the politicians and people of the U.S. show solidarity with Iranian-Americans, and join in the celebrations, and show a united and universal front for peace -- which can only be achieved through education and understanding."

The Berkeley city council resolution commended California Congresswoman Barbara Lee for sponsoring House Resolution 770: "To prohibit the use of funds to carry out any covert action for the purpose of causing regime change in Iran or to carry out any military action against Iran in the absence of an imminent threat, in accordance with international law and constitutional and statutory requirements for congressional authorisation."

"I hope many other jurisdictions around the country will support H.R. 770 and will encourage the federal government to abide by international law for the sake of a sane and viable future," said Berkeley Councilperson Dona Spring.

While acknowledging that inflammatory rhetoric may discourage diplomacy, yet not constitute a security threat, the resolution also applauded the U.N. General Assembly for denouncing Holocaust denial and encouraged Iran to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency. However, it added that Iran poses no imminent nuclear threat and refers to the dangers of an attack on Iran backfiring.

The council also drafted a letter to Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, requesting that Congress restrict funding for any attack against Iran.

"U.S. intelligence officers, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (Financial Times 2/19/07), and the chief of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad (Haaretz 12/20/06) all agree that Iran is not on the verge of building nuclear weapons," the letter said. "Given that Henry Kissinger (Herald Tribune 1/18/07) and the Iraq Study Group agree that the U.S. needs to engage in diplomatic negotiations with Iran rather than rushing into war, please do whatever you can to cool tensions."

Berkeley is well known in the United States for its free speech movement in the 1960s and early 1970s, when the issues of racial justice and the Vietnam War absorbed the nation. It was also an era of social and cultural rebellion against conformity and "the establishment". No place was more affected by the politics and rebellions of these years than Berkeley. The city's image as "the People's Republic of Berzerkeley" derives from this period.

During the last few months, many anti-war meetings have been held in this city, including "the Emergency Summit to Prevent War with Iran" on Mar. 10 and which was organised by 36 political and social groups in the University of California, Berkeley. UC Berkeley has over 35,000 students and was founded in 1868.

*Omid Memarian is an Iranian journalist and civil society activist. He has won several awards, including Human Rights Watch's highest honour in 2005, the Human Rights Defender Award.

His blog can be found at