Obama’s Nowruz message to Iran: “appeasement” or Trojan horse?

President Barack Obama broadcast a speech to the people and leaders of Iran early March 20, offering greetings for a Persian new year holiday of Nowruz, stressing the potential for peaceful cooperation. A video of the speech was distributed to news outlets in the region, subtitled in Farsi:

So in this season of new beginnings I would like to speak clearly to Iran’s leaders. We have serious differences that have grown over time. My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community. This process will not be advanced by threats. We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.

You, too, have a choice. The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right — but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create.

So on the occasion of your New Year, I want you, the people and leaders of Iran, to understand the future that we seek. It’s a future with renewed exchanges among our people, and greater opportunities for partnership and commerce. It’s a future where the old divisions are overcome, where you and all of your neighbors and the wider world can live in greater security and greater peace.

I know that this won’t be reached easily. There are those who insist that we be defined by our differences. But let us remember the words that were written by the poet Saadi, so many years ago: “The children of Adam are limbs to each other, having been created of one essence.”

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency writes that this move fits into the “appeasement meme” promulgated endlessly by neoconservative bloggers. But JTA isn’t worried, recalling:

Obama just renewed existing Iranian sanctions for a year and Dennis Ross, his top Iran mandarin…is meeting with Israel’s chief of staff to coordinate the noose-tightening. None of this is inconsistent with the bigger carrots, bigger sticks policy he campaigned on.

We noted Dennis Ross‘ ascendance as a bad sign following Ahmadinejad’s initially hopeful reaction to Obama’s election. Is this a game of good-cop/bad-cop? Obama’s choice of Nowruz is also very politic—it is authentically Persian, but definitely not Islamic. The Chicago Tribune notes:

Nowruz (pronounced No-rooz) is a 12-day Zoroastrian holiday that begins Friday. It translates literally as “New Day” and marks the beginning of spring and the Zoroastrian New Year.

After Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, the ruling ayatollahs tried but failed to stamp out the holiday, which they considered pagan because it predates Islam. The holiday continues to be widely celebrated in Iran.

Prior to the beginning of Nowruz, Iranians typically prepare with a spring cleaning of their home and the purchase of new clothes and flowers. The holiday begins with a ritual meal, in which families gather around a table set with seven symbolic foods, each beginning with the Persian letter “S.” The holiday typically ends with an outdoor picnic to celebrate the arrival of spring.

So while he can’t be accused of insensitivity to Iran’s culture, Obama’s choice of the non-Islamic Nowruz holiday (which the Taliban are still trying to suppress in Afghanistan) also slightly undercuts the predictable charge of pandering to Islamo-fascism. The guy has definitely got brains.

By the way, the Islamo-fascists (an imprecise term) in Pakistan are also trying to suppress the ancient Punjabi spring festival of Basant.

See our last post on Iran.

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