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A Letter From Iran

Emily Johns

17 May 2006

I am the sole British representative on the American Fellowship of Reconciliation peacemaking delegation to Iran.

At the moment we are in Isfahan, an important industrial city in the middle of the country. At the heart of the city is a World Heritage site of stunning beauty - ancient Persian mosques and palaces are laid out in a Garden of Paradise.

In fact all over Isfahan are gardens of paradise - the streets are like green corridors of sycamore and mulberry and cypresses and the scent ofthousands of rosesdrift through the warm air.

You can tell that this is an ancient civilization because they have had three thousand odd years to make cities work. The pavements and roads are polished and smooth, clean drinking water is available from public fountains and the city is designed for pleasure. In the day people wander along the park lined river eating ice cream, lovers sit in couples among the honeysuckle arbors, families take swan boats out on the river.

Men and women sit on the steps of the bridge catching the breeze as the cool water rushes through arches just below their feet and swallows dart over their heads. For four hundred years since the bridge was built people have come here to sing to the acoustics of the stonework.

As we walk along the bridge we can hear a song coming through the arches. A young man holding a plastic bag of books, perhaps returning from college, is alone in the shade singing close to the wall to use its resonance.

Passersby stop very quietly to hear him finish his private song - "When my heart is broken I will take my grief from my enemy to my friend, but when my friend is gone to whom will I take my broken heart?" A beautiful voice mixing with the cool shade and the golden syrup sun.

On the far side of the bridge people gather to hear a recital from the Epic of the Kings by the great Persian poet Ferdowsi. The balladiers tell a story of a king who has sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for being king of the world. Two snakes enter the king's ears to eat his brain and the only way he can stop them is to feed the snakes with the brains of young people.

A young blacksmith resists and calls on the young people to act together - so they rise up and dethrone the king.

The Persians have had millennia of practice at dethroning unjust rulers and poetry has been a powerful tool in those revolutions.

At night there is a young woman rollerblading round a statue of Ferdowsi. She is wearing pink.

In the square of mosques under a golden moon families picnic in the warm air. The square is illuminated by low lights among the bushes. Young men are playing cards. The intimate velvet darkness wraps a thousand conversations among the roses.

In the streets and parks and shops people stop us and talk to us about peace and negotiation. This was the message from the priest of the Zoroastrian fire temple, the mullah of the girls' orphanage, the Armenian Christian Orthodox Cathedral of Isfahan, the nomad carpet seller, Ibrahim, the Jewish boy in the bazaar selling an antique pair of scales.

Justice and peace has to come through talking directly between nations as we are.

Near Isfahan there is an underground storage facility for the nuclear programme. If this is bombed by the USA with a nuclear weapon, then Physicians for Social Responsibility have estimated that the singer, the rollerskater, the lovers and grandmothers and three million other people will be killed within 48 hours.

We in Britain must make sure that this armageddon never happens.

We must immediately make our government commit to us that USAF Fairford and Diego Garcia will not be used by United States bombers, and insist that our governement lifts the fear of death from the Iranian people and enters into face to face negotiations with their government now.