An Hour With Rick Steves

More than three decades have gone by, and yet the sounds of fury are strong. Not a day goes by without someone mentioning the name of Iran with disrespect, if not disgust. Poor Iran with its unique people, a strong heart, and all her hopes being taken away by an oppressive regime that seems to care less.

Last week, my husband and I were invited to a gathering in San Diego to meet Rick Steves and hear his talk on European waterways. I have carried the memory of his 2008 documentary on Iran as if it had been a gift, if not a presentation in my own honor! According to his travel companion, Abdi Sami, “Rick’s intention was to put a human face on the people of Iran as opposed to the sensational news clips that tend to demonize people of other countries whose governments we don’t agree with.”

Richard “Rick” Steves is an author as well as television personality whose focus is on European travel. He is also the host of a travel series on American Public Television and his travel series are among the most popular programs nationwide. However, as deserving of praise as Mr. Steves’ achievements are, that is not the intention of this article. It is rather the impression of his fairness on one Iranian among many.

Mr. Steves began his presentation with projecting slides from his trips around the world and talked about some of the most interesting places he has visited. There were over a hundred people in the audience, but after glancing around, I realized that my husband and I were the only two with Iranian roots. So when he began to talk about Iran, I expected to hear a different tone. Somehow I had prepared for the possibility that in view of recent riots in Tehran, he might have changed his mind. After all, it would seem inappropriate to praise the people who had just invaded the Embassy of a close US ally.

He began with explaining how prior to his recent trip, his knowledge of Iran was limited to Ted Koppel’s reports! He went on to admit that those distorted images had made him so apprehensive that he almost did not take his big camera for fear he would raise suspicion. To my amazement and delight, he continued to elaborate on the good-natured people of Iran who had treated him with courtesy as well as the general benevolence of the Iranian nation.

Some of the slides showed young schoolgirls whose beautiful faces were framed in a black scarf and yet their smiles brightened the image. The images took me back to the last time I had visited. The place had changed and women appeared different in Islamic shroud, but they had maintained their pure essence. When he mentioned their genuine hospitality, it was as if he was thanking every one of us. With each word he uttered, I sat a little straighter, and raised my chin a little higher.

He concluded that people are just people, living uncomplicated lives and raising their families and he emphasized the fact that wars are never about people. “It’s the big corporations that need wars.” He explained the financial benefits of devastating wars and how a war is only possible when we distort a nation’s image. “It is easier to accept an attack on a nation if its people are dehumanized because then no one will object if we go in and kill thousands of them.” He spoke against an attack on Iran and explained how invading an embassy was a desperate act to find exposure on international media. “How else would they get on our TV screen?” he asked.

Rick Steves is right in believing that none of the commercial channels would have bought his program! How can anyone in this country sell ads during a program that empathizes with a nation they are supposed to fear? People’s voices are seldom heard and even when they are, Iranian’s recent “green movement” showed us how quickly their voices can be forgotten.

For, as long as there are those who want war, there will also be excuses. One day it is the Iran-Iraq relationship, another day it’s the nuclear threat, and even after a nuclear disarmament, other excuses will be found, no doubt. Poor Iran, with the remnant of oil still flowing in its old veins, has seen plenty, heard plenty, and endured it all. The nation has lost too many of its heroes and now people keep their eyes to the skies in anticipation of an angelic savior. The angels may never come, but under the circumstances it seems as if the fairness of observers such as Mr. Steves is as angelic as we can hope for.

Zohreh Ghahremani is the author of Sky of Red Poppies, winner of One Book, One San Diego 2012.

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