The Fowler Avenue Peace Talks

An Iranian, an Iraqi, a Palestinian and a Jew walk into a USF poli-sci class ...

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The [only] problem with me and her, she considers [Iraq's Shiite Ayatollah] Sistani her marja [a cleric who is a reference for emulation for a Shiite, whose legal rulings she follows] and for me ... I don't support him. I think he is a hypocrite and he doesn't stand for what he should stand for. He doesn't stand for himself [strictly as a non-political] religious leader.

Uri: That's present in the Arab World a lot, isn't it? Because my parents look at him in the same way, as an American puppet. I guess he went to England for surgery or something, and all of sudden he comes back and tells everyone to vote [in Iraq's first free elections].

Barrak: In Iraq, he's more of an Iranian puppet than an American puppet. He is actually considered as being against the Americans. When the elections happened and people were trying to vote there, they put on their walls, on their flyers, that says vote for this party or that. Well, one party that had all the religious factions in it, all the clerics like [Abdul Aziz] al-Hakim, that one party they said when they printed the flyers they put the picture of Sistani on top of it. Everyone said this is the group that is voted by Sistani to be in the elections, so this group won by 70 percent of the votes.

Dayerizadeh: Yeah, but there must be a reason people voted for him. Why would all those people vote for him if he's not a good guy?

Barrak: Because they considered him as a religious figure. One of the people who work for him, not him, in one of the speeches in Friday prayer [a very important method of political and social communication in the Arab world], if you do not vote, you go to hell. Now people say, "You know what, if all my religious figures ... let's say half of them are in this [ballot] list, and if they are telling me that I am going to go to hell if I don't vote, I am going to vote."

Dayerizadeh: It could be that.

Uri: How much is the percentage of people who have mixed marriages in Iraq?

Barrak: Mixed marriages, you mean Shia and Sunnis?

Uri: Yeah.

Barrak: Well, before the war there were like 55 to 60 percent. Now, after the war it went down to like 45, 40.

Dayerizadeh: I know there's a lot. Where we're from, it's not a Sunni-Shia mix, but it's Iranians marry Iraqis. My whole mom's side of the family were on the border, so all of our cousins married Iraqis. When the [Iran-Iraq] War happened, they didn't have contact at all.

Uri: Look what politics do to people, man.

Dayerizadeh: I remember hearing stories of Iraqis coming into our city and massacring everyone, and they're evil and they have this evil thought. But then over here [in the U.S.], I think my parents' friends during the war, my parents' friends here on this side of the world, were Arab, Iraqis, anybody in Muslim that they could find they were friends with. But over there, no, no.

Uri: It's the same thing between us and [Israel]. It's like growing up Palestinian, all you learn about is different massacres. The massacre here, the massacre there. The massacre here, the massacre there. You grow up reading the books, and massacre to a Palestinian is 10 people.

Dayerizadeh: But this is worse because this is Muslims killing Muslims, cousins, people married to each other.

CL: Three of you are American citizens, but America is playing a direct role in your homelands, or future homes. What role should America have in the Middle East? Raheleh, do you worry about the U.S. attacking Iran over its nuclear program?

Dayerizadeh: I do worry about it, but I don't think it can happen because of what is going on in Iraq. I think it would be an economic strain and a military strain for America. It would become possibly another Vietnam.

Uri: Another Iraq, OK.

Dayerizadeh: Another Iraq, yeah.

The only way that I would have thought would have been a good way [to spread] democracy is economically. Arabs love Cadillacs (laughs), I mean, I'm sorry, it's just an example. Saudi Arabia and Cadillacs, c'mon ... American goods, Levis and Lee [jeans], these are things that are just huge in Iran. You go to Iran and tell them you are coming from America, and they call you and tell you to bring them this, this, this and this.

If you can economically influence people, it's a lot better than with the military.

Barrak: It's like this. There is a level of educated people who look at America as being the place where you can improve your life in certain ways. They look up to it in that way because they are educated enough to know that what is happening there [in the Middle East] is not the end of life, there is more to it, there is more progress in the world, there is more technology, you can actually use it. You can go to America and study and get a better education.

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