It is easy to help those who we are friendly with, but it requires a great deal more strength to help our so-called ‘enemies’.
Yet the US government’s recent decision to allow US NGOs to transfer money to Iran to help with Iranian earthquake aid is just that: a show of altruism that says a lot about charity and the power that a helping hand contains.
Many charities try to remain non-political because that way there is more chance of them reaching the people they intend to help.
By viewing all people and all lives as equal, charities have set new standards of human decency that politicians tend to ignore.
The current Iranian sanctions and the work that NGOs do in Iran shows that if politicians took note from our charity leaders perhaps overtures towards peace would not be so difficult.
Why Iranian sanctions hurt the wrong people
Iran has been subject to varying amounts of sanctions since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, but the effect of them has ramped up in recent years due to their increase in severity in response to the Iranian nuclear programme.
Although sanctions placed on Iran are aimed at twisting their arm away from nuclear power, it is often the poor ordinary people that are worst hit. While the sanctions are designed to choke the Iranian economy into submission, all they have done so far is to harden the resolve of radical politicians while driving up the price of basic foodstuffs for ordinary Iranians. This is especially problematic from a foreign policy point of view as it makes Iranians more dependent on their government subsidies and therefore more likely to support the actions of their leaders.
Why the Iranian earthquake changed the game
The earthquakes that struck north-western Iran are not the worst earthquake to strike Iran, but it is the most recent example of ‘earthquake politics’ to thaw relations between the US and Iran.
The 2003 Bam Earthquake in Iran lead to the US giving direct assistance to Iran in return for Iran abiding by guidelines set the by International Atomic Agency.
Although the gesture of allowing NGOs to transfer $300,000 to Iran is much smaller in scale, it came with no strings and no expectations. This marks a difference attitude in that perhaps by abandoning rhetoric and extending a helping hand more good can be done than by hurting people with sanctions.
Why charity should rise above political rhetoric
People who have lost their homes and children who find themselves without parents are not our ‘enemy’.
They are human beings, and perhaps altruism and rising above our political differences is the best way to actually pave a way towards peace.
The US has a terrible public image in the Middle East and especially Iran, where memories still run strong of the help the US gave to topple their democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and install the Shah as an authoritarian leader in the 1952 coup d’etat.
Children helped by US NGOs arriving to provide food and shelter will not forget their kindness if it truly meant and followed by meaningful political steps.
All in all, the US wants Iran to abandon their nuclear programme but perhaps charity work shows that punishing them isn’t the best way to achieve their goals.
Charity encourages people to think beyond politics, and perhaps that is the way to sooth Iranian-American relations.