With some in Congress openly advocating for the punishment of innocent Iranians and the drumbeat of war growing louder, it was especially refreshing to see the American sense of humanity still alive in a recent rescue operation by the US Navy.
On August 20, the US Navy rescued eight Iranian fishermen from a burning boat in the Arabian Sea.  The Iranians, who had abandoned their boat and were floating on a life raft in the middle of the sea, were picked up by two SH-60 helicopters from the Antisubmarine Squadron of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group. They were then attended to by doctors and given food, water, fresh clothing, and temporary sleeping quarters until the Iranian authorities picked them up.
The New York Times article which reported on the US Navy rescue didn’t fail to note that “The United States and Iran have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1980.” As if diplomatic relations mattered to the fishermen who were floating on a life raft in the middle of the sea.
Fortunately our lack of diplomatic relations with Iran did not prevent the Navy from rescuing the stranded fishermen.  But for one reason or another, many Americans often do forget about the Iranian people or associate them with a government they do not have control over.
This can be seen almost everywhere.  In response to news of the Iranian Kish Airliner air crash in the UAE in February 2004, MSNBC Don Imus remarked, “When I hear stories like that, I think who cares.” In November 2009, Fox sportscasters made racially discriminatory remarks against Iranian NBA player Hamed Haddadi. Reuel Marc Gerecht, Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, claimed that Iranians “have terrorism in their DNA.” Even YouTube, usually a nonpolitical world community, got involved in politics and excluded Iranians from its recent experimental documentary Life in a Day.
This attitude is extremely disconcerting. Just as I would not want to be judged by US foreign policy, such as our handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, neither should Americans, and in particular policymakers, be so quick to associate the Iranian people with their government’s foreign policies. It is as if the 2009 post-election protests and crackdown, and the continuing government repression in Iran have already been forgotten.
As Sandy Tolan wrote, “If national interest comes before our common humanity, then there is no hope for redemption, there is no hope for healing, there is no hope for transformation, there is no hope for anything.” I hope Americans who have forgotten about this common humanity take cue from the US Navy rescue, and keep Tolan’s words in mind.

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