Last week the president spoke out on behalf of the three American hikers who have been held in Iran for nearly a year. During that time, they have been able to make only one telephone call — to their families back in the U.S. — and write no letter at all. Sarah, Shane, and Josh are in Tehran’s infamous Evin prison, and Sarah is locked in solitary confinement save for once a day when she goes to the prison yard and sees the others.
“I want to be perfectly clear,” the president said. And then he lapsed into incoherence. “Sarah, Shane and Josh have never worked for the United States government. They are simply open-minded and adventurous young people who represent the best of America, and of the human spirit. …They have never had any quarrel with the government of Iran, and have great respect for the Iranian people.”
I suppose that first gambit was meant to say “these kids are not spies,” which is what it means in Washingtonspeak. He was trying to reassure the Iranians that they were not dealing with espionage agents (of which they are no doubt already convinced, not that it has anything to do with the current situation). The line about “open-minded and adventurous young people” will certainly not win any points in Tehran, since the Iranian regime is currently under siege from people just like that, and is arresting, torturing, and executing them with record speed.
Finally, the Iranian tyrants don’t give a damn about real or imagined “respect for the Iranian people,” since they detest the Iranian people.
It’s hard for the family and friends of the poor kids — and, apparently, for the president as well — to acknowledge that the Iranian regime is at war with the United States, and hostages serve a useful purpose. The parents, whose pain and anguish can best be compared to those of parents of soldiers on the battlefield, say much the same thing as the president:
We do not know why Shane, Sarah and Josh are still being held without charge, why their human rights are being violated, why they are not allowed regular consular visits or to make calls and write letters home and why they have had no access to their lawyer. Most mystifyingly and cruelly of all, we do not know why Sarah remains in solitary confinement, denied any human contact other than brief periods each day when she is allowed to meet Shane and Josh in the prison yard.
Which I find a bit baffling, since the three Americans are getting the same sort of treatment as anyone else who falls into the clutches of the evil regime. There are six American hostages in Iranian hands right now, and there are thousands of Iranian hostages, many of them treated much worse than the three hikers, who are undergoing psychological torture, but not the ghastly physical ordeals that we know all too well.
They are entitled to be angry — and of late, they’ve expressed some anger — but they are not entitled to be perplexed, any more than the president is. Doesn’t anyone understand what the Iranian regime is all about?
Their bafflement is easier to understand if we look more closely at the kids themselves, who were not merely vacationers out for adventure, but political “activists” of a well known sort. There were supposed to be four hikers that day, and the fourth, Shon Meckfessel, stayed behind. He says he was amazed when he heard the news of his friends’ arrest: “It was the last thing I expected. … The breath went out of my chest I was so shocked. We had no interest in Iran. We did not even know we were that close.”
If this is to be believed — and I believe it — they were so geographically challenged that they did not realize they were in grave danger of drifting into enemy territory (or even not; the Nation has produced a pretty convincing report showing that Iranian Revolutionary Guards crossed into Iraq to snatch the three).
But then, they were apparently incapable of comprehending the meaning of “enemy territory,” since they really didn’t think of themselves as “Americans,” in the usual sense of that term. They thought of themselves as independent fighters for peace and justice, and in fact their sympathies lay with people who were more likely to kill Americans than befriend them. “We have a deep involvement in the region. The irony is we were even doing work on some of the issues that Iran speaks about.” One of them, according to Meckfessel, was almost finished with an expose article on the Israeli military’s actions against protesters in Gaza. “He would have published it long ago if he had not been arrested…”
Such Americans just won’t accept the fact that the Iranian regime hates us, and they constantly try to explain to the Iranian regime that it is a mistake to hate “progressive” Americans, whether it is a group of foolish children or a foolish American president.
There was a similar case in 1994, when a young woman from Southern California went to a township outside Cape Town, South Africa, to work with the poor residents there. All went well for a while, and then one day they killed her. Like the hikers, she had done nothing wrong, and was executed for the crime of being an American. Her killers were pardoned, and, in an example of the Stockholm Syndrome worthy of clinical study, her parents approved the pardons.
The Americans in the Iranian hostage matter would love to be able to forgive the Iranian regime for its many sins, and I rather suspect that if the hikers were released, their friends and family would probably blame the whole thing on the United States. Like the president, they are burdened by a sense of guilt and a desire for repentance and forgiveness that makes them easy targets for those who wish to dominate or destroy us.
It breaks my heart. We are very lucky to have children who recognize evil and have gone to the battlefield to defeat our enemies. But then, unlike the hikers and the woman killed outside Cape Town, all of whom went abroad to help the natives, they didn’t learn about the world at the University of California at Berkeley.
UPDATE I: The regime says the hikers will be prosecuted. We’ve heard that one several times already;
UPDATE II: Welcome Instapunditeers! Laugh and cry with us.