Opinion: Most commented: Those dumb Americans who went hiking in Iran


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For her Thursday column, Meghan Daum writes about the American hikers who were imprisoned in 2009 when they accidentally found themselves on the wrong side of the Iran-Iraq border. More to the point, Daum talks about the contempt for these three hikers, who’re perceived by some as careless, entitled and arrogant liberals. One hiker, Sarah Shourd, was released in September, but her companions Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal are still detained in Tehran, with no end in sight. To revive interest in their release, Shourd is promoting a ‘rolling hunger strike,’ which has drummed up attention but also has agitated what Daum calls the ‘hiker haters.’

Here’s Daum, in defense of the hikers:


As locals have explained to reporters, venturing beyond the waterfall was nearly unheard of. The trio’s decision to do it anyway represents not just a spirit of adventure but what seems like a particularly American form of hubris, one that, ironically enough, is common to those with an interest in defying the ‘ugly American’ stereotype. They’re the types who learn the native language and never take organized tours, the types who smile politely at photos from your Princess cruise and then whip out a snapshot they took of child soldiers in Sierra Leone. So is hiker hate about blue versus red politics? About America-right-or-wrong patriotism? Or maybe the annoying earnestness of UC Berkeley graduates (Cat Stevens doesn’t help).To some extent, sure, but I think deep down it’s it’s about justifying the American reluctance to travel outside our comfort zones.

And here are the ‘hiker haters.’ From our discussion board:

My grandfather had a saying: ‘If you decide to lay down on railroad tracks, don’t act surprised if you get hit by a train.’ Bauer, Fattal and Shourd behaved irresponsibly and stupidly, and then acted surprised when something bad happened. What’s next on their agenda... fly fishing in North Korea? --tomdavis You missed the point. The issue is self-responsibility. Someone who goes hiking in a war zone where they are in close proximity to a police state runs the risk and bears the responsibility for their actions. Don’t come crying to us if you get thrown in prison and used as pawns by zealots. As you raised the red-blue issue, we’ll note that conservatives believe in self-responsibility while liberals tend to look for others to blame. It is what it is. -- TimBowman Hunkered down, and afraid of losing their jobs to outsourcing to exotic locales in Thailand or India, some Americans may see these hikers as ‘elitists’ who should be pursuing jobs and careers and families, buying American-made cars, and eating at McDonalds. Love of conspiracy theories also seems to be part of this picture. -- stephesthe While I don’t think they were CIA operatives sneaking into Iran as part of some big conspiracy. I do think they were a little irresponsible being in the area in the first place. There is a war going on in Iraq and the Iranians hate us and they state that fact on a daily basis. You would think, taking a hike along a trail between the previously listed would not be such a good idea. It would be like me packing up the family and heading down to Juarez for a weeklong vacation. I am sure that I could go if I really wanted to, but it wouldn’t be a very smart idea. -- abo42000 Three American Jews vacationing in Iraq? And then klutzing their way over the Iranian border? I’m sorry, but the word ‘morons’ forces its way to the surface. Talk about needlessly sticking one’s head into the lion’s mouth. And they thought they were immune because they are Americans? Such mindless arrogance, these people need their heads examined. --789012 ‘The trio’s decision to do it anyway represents...a spirit of adventure...defying the ‘ugly American’ stereotype. They’re the types who learn the native language and never take organized tours...’ I don’t hate the hikers, but I do find it irritating that Daum cannot seem to resist the temptation to romanticize their reckless stupidity. It is patently absurd to refer to the $500,000 payment to the Iranian government on behalf of Shourd as ‘bail’, because everybody KNOWS what it really was: a ransom, which means the remaining two hikers are hostages. Had she returned for trial, thus forcing the Iranian government to return the ‘bail’, what do you suppose the likelihood of an acquittal would have been? The Iranian government has, in the past, captured British sailors in Iraqi waters and held THEM as hostages. This is the same theocracy that held 52 members of the American embassy in Tehran hostage for 444 days. What made these three misguided souls think they would be treated any differently? Iran is one of only a few self-described enemies of the United States. If you are an American bent on indulging in nature hikes near the Iranian border, you’d better make damned sure you know where the border is and not cross it. THAT is the lesson that needs to be instilled into the minds of the bewildered here, nothing more. -- GregMaragos

*Spelling errors in the above comments were corrected.


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Sarah Shourd speaks to the media in Oakland on Oct. 9, 2010. Shourd and Bauer, on right behind her, are engaged. Credit: Dino Vournas / AP Photo, File