Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hikers Now Free. Huzzah!

It started as an innocent vacation to an exotic location in a remote part of the world. Unfortunately, the location was not as innocent as it appeared, for this selfsame remote region is one of the channels by which the United States has probably slipped spies into its unfriendly enemy, Iran. The three hikers were captured and imprisoned, charged as both trespassers and spies.

To say "charged" is a misnomer because it was not until 18 months later that they actually went to trial and still another seven months later before the verdict and sentencing. In the judgment of the court they were guilty, sentenced last months to an additional eight years.

A lot of heartbreak went on, but if you listened closely you could hear whispers that this was Ramadan, the holy month, and acts of mercy can occur.

Sure enough, yesterday Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer were freed, flown to Onan to be re-united with their families. (Sarah Shourd, Shane's fiance had been released on bail early this year, probably for health reasons.)

National Public Radio interviewed linguistic anthropologist William O. Beeman regarding this situation and U.S.-Iranian relations. Beeman, a University of Minnesota professor is author of The Great Satan vs. the Mad Mullahs: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other. It was Beeman who noted that the hikers were probably unaware that the area they were vacationing in was also an entry point for U.S. spies. To some extent, their two-plus years of incarceration was due to our poor relations with this unfriendly state.

Of Beeman's work, the Muslim World Book Review writes, "Drawing on his experience as a linguistic anthropologist, Beeman parses how political leaders have used historical references, religious associations, and the mythology of evil to inflame their own citizens against the other foreign country and proposes a way out of this dangerous debacle."

We had friends who were living in Iran when the Ayatollah Kohmeini came to power. Our friends had to sell their house and all they owned in one day in order to escape into Turkey during that first night. They used their money to by a gold belt and a couple Persian rugs, which became their total life assets. The Shah himself had to flee as well. He was undoubtedly able to whisk a lot more out of the country than a belt and a couple rugs I'm sure. Two years later I was walking down a street with rich peoples' estates in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and a palatial house there is where the Shah had escaped to, the same block as one of Richard Nixon's winter homes, the same town where conquistador Cortez built his own winter palace.

History is filled with connections. Sometimes innocents get swallowed by events they have little control over. Fortunately for the families of Shane and Josh, this chapter of their lives is behind them. Welcome home, travellers!

See their happy faces here.

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