Most Americans know little about Iran. Even less is known about the continued brutality of the current Islamic Shiite-centered regime that rules this ancient land with a theocratic iron-fist. And, even less about the suppression of human rights, religious freedom, liberty and democracy since the so-called “Islamic Revolution” came about in 1979. If you’ve seen the film, “Argo”, which, in Hollywood-esque fashion, recounted the November 4, 1979 storming of the United States Embassy in Tehran and the subsequent capture and holding of 52 American diplomats and citizens for 444 days, you are aware of Iran’s recent and disastrous history after the fall of the Shah of Iran (Persia).
As a result of the Iranian student-led revolution, these Americans were held captive from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981. Since that time, diplomatic relations between the US and Iran were severed and the US Embassy was closed and, to this day, has never been reopened (the Embassy is now a museum that the Iranians call “The Den of Spies”).
As American diplomats and members of the US Congress have recently stated frequently (and since 1979 when Ayatollah Khomeini took over the country): “Iran is, by far, the sponsor of State-sponsored terror.” When stated, what they mean by this is that when one deeply examines the Middle East chaos, all roads lead to Iran, whether it is the war in Gaza, Yemen, Syria or Lebanon. The power struggle in the Middle East is continually fomented by the Islamic Republic of Iran, i.e., the official government does this fomenting and killing, with no regard for the value nor dignity of human life. As a frequent traveler to the Middle East from Afghanistan to Sudan, I know of which I speak. The information is not anecdotal.
Most Americans are not aware that Iran played a significant role in the bombing of the US Marine Corps barracks on September 26, 1983 which cost the lives of 241 US military members, including 220 US Marines from the 2nd Marine Division, 18 US sailors and 3 US soldiers. An intercepted diplomatic cable which the US National Security Agency picked up, described how the so-called “father of Hezbollah” who was also the Iranian ambassador to Damascus Syria, Hojj at ol-Eslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashemi-Pur, was directed by the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security (an official organ of the Iranian government) to contact Husayn al-Musawi, leader of the precursor to Hezbollah, Islamic Amal, and instructed Mohtashemi “to take action against the American Marines.” Source: Colonel Timothy J. Geraghty’s book, “Peacekeepers at War.” History tells us what happened next. Complete and utter disregard for human life.
With further indignity against the United States and against all human dignity, twenty years after the death of 241 US military members, in 2004, it was reported that an Iranian group called the Committee for the Commemoration of Martyrs of the Global Islamic Campaign had erected a monument at the Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery in Tehran to commemorate the 1983 bombings and its “martyrs.”
The Christian church in Iran is oppressed and suppressed. Pastors and other Christian leaders are often jailed for practicing “sedition against the Islamic State” or some other made-up criminal accusations. Prior to the establishment of the Islamic Republic (sic), Iran exercised religious freedom. Now, in 2020, the only churches allowed to worship openly are Roman Catholic and Armenian Churches. The Evangelical and other Protestant-oriented denominational churches can only gather underground and in secret. There is no religious freedom in Iran. The US State Department, Office of International Religious Freedom, has designated Iran, since 1999, as a CPC or Country of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) and most recently in December 2018. Yet it is not only the Christian church that is persecuted, it is all other faiths, religious and ideologies with the exception of the Twelver Jaafari School of Shi’a Islam, which is the official religion of the country.(See https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Tier1_IRAN.pdf)
As a pastor and humanitarian, this is not just an academic or theological introspection of Iran. When I learned of the jailing of Iranian-American pastor, Saeed Abedini, in 2012 for operating a Christian orphanage in Iran, I began to pray about what to do and how I could assist in his release. In 2015, through a London-based travel agency, I was granted a 8-day visit to Iran. While the trip was labeled a tourist visit, my intentions were to seek the release of Pastor Saeed by appealing to the Iranian government.
During that journey in 2015, I saw first-hand of the draconian nature of religious oppression in Iran. I spoke with as many people as I could. I was watched 24/7 during my 8 days there by my driver, ‘Abdul’. We were never separated. He spoke of his hatred for the Islamic mullahs who have “our country in a stranglehold.” Prior to my trip to Tehran, I was able to meet with the Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations, Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee. New York City Councilmember Fernando Cabrera accompanied me to the meeting. It was at this meeting that I negotiated for the release of Pastor Saeed. When the Ambassador asked what was my negotiation, I responded that if the Iranian government would be willing to release Pastor Saeed (Saeed was originally given a 7 year prison sentence and had already served two years in Evin Prison), I would serve out the remaining five years of his sentence. The Ambassador responded that that would not be possible.
My motivation was taken from the Gospel of St. John 15:13-“Greater love has no man than a man lay down his life for this brother.” I was willing to exchange myself for Pastor Saeed.