People-to-people efforts should help Americans gain a better understanding of Iran.
By broadening people’s experience of the other society, efforts like Network 20/20’s can gradually build critical thinking in both the U.S. and Iran, which can, in turn, be used to generate new forums for resolving disagreements. Beyond simply enacting good will between Iranians and Americans, people-to-people exchanges need to try out ways of raising the level of the debate between our two countries. To that end, Network 20/20 proposes to expand its network by means of a conference on Iran to which Iranians, leaders from the large Iranian-American communities overseas, and prominent scholars and other professionals with experience in Iran will be invited. The agenda would include reports on Iran’s leadership in the areas of health, the environment, and culture.
Nongovernmental organizations must take their cues from their Iranian counterparts if they are to be helpful to them.
In the current atmosphere of suspicion of American NGOs resulting from fear of U.S. regime-change funds flowing through them, it is imperative that efforts to address women’s rights, the persecution of journalists, and other human rights issues in Iran be autonomous of the U.S. government. In addition, Iranian civil society organizations should lead in setting the agenda and in defining the nature and scope of these relationships.
Collaborations between unofficial Iranian and U.S. institutions should be preserved and extended.
In various fields, collaborations built largely by individuals working in academic or research institutions have persisted, sometimes for many years. These contacts should be defended against restrictions in the event that U.S.-Iranian official relations become even more estranged. New collaborations in noncontroversial areas such as health, the environment, and culture would best be nurtured now by funding from organizations that are independent of the U.S. government.
Academic expertise on Iran should be supported.
Teaching about Iran and of the Farsi language should be expanded in American universities and be directed not only at area studies specialists but also at those in other disciplines who propose to work in Iran. Linkages with Iranian universities need to be set up and the viability of joint degree programs and student-faculty exchanges explored. Priorities for joint programming would be the enforcement of human rights, international law, public health, and environmental regulations at the regional and local levels. Federal area studies funding may be drawn on to support such an expansion, but support from foundations and the Iranian-American community should also be pursued. The independence of academic programs from government policy should be defended.
Western media, including from the U.S., should report on events and opinion within Iran even while the strategic standoff between the U.S. and Iran moves to the top of the news. Reporting on how American rhetoric and actions influence Iranian opinion is vital if Americans are to accurately gauge the effects of their government’s policies. The media should strive to cover Iranian politics and society more broadly, rather than focusing primarily on the histrionics of a single politician, and should seek to move beyond simplistic assumptions about and representations of Iranian society and politics. Consumers of media could help achieve better coverage by pointing out errors and by providing context in letters to the editor, op-ed columns, and other feedback media.