America's role is peacemaker, BV prof says
It is a complicated situation looking at the Mideast, even for a man whose is a native of Iran.
Dr. Nasser Dastrange can see both sides of the Middle East coin, since he is both an American and an Iranian. Dastrange is a professor of mathematics at Buena Vista University, and has been teaching at BVU for 16 years.
He has seen both the aftermath of an Iraqi chemical weapon attack to the beginning of clergymen becoming political leaders. And in a land in need of stability, military action now could spell trouble down the road.
"History is not one year or two years, it's very long," he said. "In 100 years we'll look at today and what America has done."
Dastrange graduated from the University of Tehran, and taught at the high school level in Iran before first coming to the U.S., where he studied mathematics at Michigan State at Lansing and Oregon State University for his PhD.
He then returned to Iran and taught at the University of Pahlavi. The shah was affiliated with that university.
"He was a good friend of America, America was a good friend of him," he said.
He became the chairman of the math department, which had 28 PhDs and 3,000 students in the school of science.
"It was an international university in a sense," he said, with professionals from America, Germany, Great Britain and all around the world working and studying there.
The U.S. maintained relations with the shah, and this country had its largest embassy in Iran and five consulate offices.
But dissatisfaction was growing among the general public. For close to 40 years the shah was in power, Iran was both a wealthy country and a poor one.
"One kid would drive a Mercedes Benz and there would be one in the class without shoes," Dastrange said.
During that time, change was being called for by the Ayatollah Khomeini. In 1979 the Iranian Revolution began.
That would be a turning point for the world after, and Dastrange believes the starting point of what would be Sept. 11.
That was the first time clergy and religious leaders became political leaders.
"They did not have this type of government before in history," he said.
The U.S. always thought the shah's fall would come via a military coup or an assassination.
"They never thought about a revolution," he said.
And as Khomeini spoke out against the shah, he also denounced the U.S. Khomeini called the shah a puppet of the U.S., and said America was the first enemy of the Iranian people.
The Iran-Iraq war grew out of the Iranian Revolution. Khomeini wanted to "export" the revolution to Iraq, where there was a large population of Shi'ite Muslims.
And as that conflict grew, Dastrange could see firsthand the actions the U.S. is now accusing Iraq and Saddam Hussein of.
Dastrange feels Saddam is worse than Slobodan Milosevic.
"Milosevic is out of power and is being tried for war crimes, but Saddam is still working," he said.
Dastrange's wife worked at a hospital in Iran where soldiers were treated for chemical weapon exposure. "Patients were dying in corridors," he said.
As the U.S. calls for the destruction of all chemical and biological weapons in Iraq as well as weapons of mass destruction, Dastrange said the right course.
"America is famous for peace making, not war making," he said.
He feels an attempt at normalization must first be made. "I don't support a war on Iraq at this time, (because) of the impact in the Islamic world," he said.
However, he'll also be the first one to say he'd more than happy to see Saddam out of power. First, Dastrange feels weapons inspectors must be given time to do their job. In the meantime, he would like to see the U.S. send a delegation of Americans - from doctors to ordinary citizens - to Iraq to open a dialogue with that country's citizens.
"An effort like that could do more to open Iraqi's citizens' eyes," he said.
There are vast markets available for U.S. exports, such as agriculture products, technology, cars and airplanes, Dastrange said.
Dastrange said the key to making change starts with a social agenda, with efforts like the Peace Corps and Fulbright programs.
"We must show why America is there - to provide security, not supporting a government the people did not elect," he said.
To the Middle Eastern mind, it is difficult to understand why Iraq cannot have nuclear weapons,while Pakistan or North Korea can, Dastrange said.
Dastrange said the U.S. must concentrate on rebuilding Afghanistan and making that into a model country for the region. Like the fall of the Berlin Wall, Dastrange feels it will take time, but change can happen peacefully in the Middle East.
"In 20 years what happened in East Germany will happen in the Middle East," he said. "Saddam will collapse by himself."
The threat of Saddam must still be taken seriously, but the U.S. need not be the aggressor.
"Ideas are the weapon, he said.
"We survived against the former Soviet Union because of our ideas," he said.
Having become a U.S. citizen in 1995, Dastrange feels it is his duty to share his thoughts.
"America for more than 200 years has been the champion as a land of opportunity, a land of freedom - a land that you talk freely, talk region freely," he said. "I'm so passionate because I love this country."