Google A. W. Ketelbey’s exotic, lilting creation, “In a Persian Market.” Play it while you read this. That English composer’s work is lovely.

A performance, by the Taipei Orchestra, is special:

But, there are many others; that by Conductor Shmuel Elbaz is quite enjoyable. Now, add authentic Persian/Iranian music, if you like. 

Let’s send over to modern Persia (Iran) a major U.S. orchestra. Or, it could be a fine town/gown company, such as the (Rio Grande) Valley Symphony Orchestra. Let them go—as a goodwill gesture – to Iran, to play that piece and others over there. Why? It’s time to make peace with Iran, site of ancient Persia, where civilization began. Persian scientists invented the first wind machine. Persians first distilled alcohol; Gracias! Salud! Viva Persia! Persia, now Iran, is home of my ancestors (“Mounce,” a derivative of the Persian word for “moon”). Time to make nice.

The capital, Tehran, is a lovely city, yes, with “Persian markets,” and a clean city (Iranians take off their shoes inside their homes, before stepping on their Persian rugs). It is also a modern city with gleaming skyscrapers, bustling crowds of shoppers, and almost nine million people (fifteen million in the Greater Tehran area.) A close, trusted friend, a businessman, spent a month there in 2015. He was warmly welcomed and toured the city safely, despite touchy U.S.-Iranian relations (and no diplomatic recognition).

The entire population of Iran is eighty million. They speak Farsi and are mostly Persians—they are irritated when confused with Arabs. They are largely Muslim (Shi’ite) but many long for more social and political freedom. The Persian-American comedian, Marz Jorbani (seen on Stephen Colbert, “Showtime,” November 3rd), joins the fight for more freedom of expression. He laments Iranian-Americans who supported Trump, supposing he would depose the theocracy and the “mullahs.”

Even Trump now admits “I plan no regime change.” In reality, we serve ourselves best by allowing Iranians to work out their own problems, without our interference. Many secular Iranians hope for peace with the West. And, yes, many want release from their theocratic rulers. But until that time comes, it makes more sense to search for better connections.  Are there irreconcilable differences?

No. Is there a difficult, tense history? Yes. Now, however, assuming a new U.S. president, let’s try for a renewed outlook after January 20, 2021. Neo-liberals in the past (Hillary, et. al.) were (almost) as bad as Trump in his intransigent posture toward Iran (or Bush, before him—remember the “Axis of Evil” silliness)? Let’s not regress to that hostile attitude again. 

Why not? Because there is too much potential—for the benefit of both societies, and to other societies—to waste time. Mexico is open to better relations, sharing of information, cultures, trade, why not the U.S.? Iran and Mexico enjoy “increasingly closer relations,” cooperating in science and technology, especially as related to their oil industries (Todd Bensman, Agence France-Presse, 16 Jan 18). And “Mexico has no untoward dealings with Iran” (Editorial, Wall Street Journal, 3 Jan 20). Equally important, historically, Iran has been the most Western oriented, most Westernized, and most democratic country in the Middle East, (excepting Israel). 

Obstacles? Yes, a bitter history (especially since Reagan years). Remember, the U.S. (Trump administration) killed Qusem Soleimani, beloved Commandant of the Iranian military. And, yes, Russia currently has close relations with Iran. Does any of that mean cordial, correct (even if, at first, perhaps cold?) relations can’t, shouldn’t be restarted

No. The U.S. (Trump) pulled out of nuclear agreement with Iran, even though the U.S.’s own inspectors on the ground confirmed Iran was abiding by the nuclear agreement. Negotiations for mutual security can and should be restarted under a new U.S. administration. Of course, Iran’s theocrats need to be persuaded to re-think their own policies, by the more practical, secular government of President Hassan Rouhani—not at all a given. 

Who, how, to lead that renewal? Certainly not (inshallah!) members of Trump’s family (no need to emulate other dictatorships in their nepotism). The best, new diplomats must be well-trained, culturally-aware, younger, open-minded, new thinkers in the Biden administration. Perhaps utilize the research and training of knowledgeable professors of Persian/Iranian Studies at Yale, Stanford, the University of Michigan, or other universities. We professors are ready and willing to help!  

Iranians are moderately wealthy (although suffering from U.S. sanctions) and hungry for increasing imports (technology) and exports (oil, chemicals). Still, they have the “second largest economy (after Saudi Arabia) in the Middle East. Their consumer base is younger than Turkey and Egypt and very well educated (98% literacy). They are ready to buy computers and related technology for their STEM graduates, fifth largest cohort in the world, after China, India, the U.S., and Russia. Iran possesses the world’s “fastest growing science production.” Let’s take them seriously, not as enemies, but as possible friends.

In short, potential for increased peace and economic advancement is great. Scenarios are available for more “agreements satisfying to both sides” (Seyed Hossein Mousavian, Princeton University, for Aljazeera, 2 Jan 20). This includes not only economically beneficial trade agreements (regarding oil, chemicals, even luxury fashion items and precious stones) but coordination of security concerns. They work with WHO; we must re-join, and fight COVID together.

Iran “worked in concert” with the U.S to fight ISIL (Islamic State terrorists) and helped the U.S. defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan. Thorny issues remain (status of Israel, future of Syria) but “the two States have much more in common than is acknowledged” (Allison Graham, Kennedy School, Harvard, “U.S. and Iranian Interests,” March 2016). 

So, has “In a Persian Market” finished playing? Did the music help? They say “music hath charms to sooth the savage beast.” Perhaps those low key, informal, musical diplomatic forays are the right ways to start? Let’s pressure our new administration to be wise, to change the tone, to reach for better relations between the U.S. and ancient Persia—the land and society that is now Iran.     

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Dr. Gary Mounce. It appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the author’s permission. Mounce can be reached via email at: [email protected]