It's A Gray Area: Finding a common ground with Iran

I have tentatively been invited to speak at a "New Horizons" worldwide conference in Tehran, Iran, at the beginning of September. From what a friend of mine who attended the conference last year said, this is an amazing opportunity to meet and share thoughts with the people of Iran, and see a part of that beautiful country. But the participants are requested first to submit an article about what they will discuss. A draft of mine is below, so let's see together if, after I submit it, I continue to be invited.

I am an American and a retired trial court judge who is proud of my country. We have a history of being ruled by a Constitution since it was created by our forefathers in 1787. The Constitution is, in my opinion, the most brilliant political document ever written. I do not always agree with my government, but — as a free man — I am entitled to voice my objections if and when they arise. I am here in your country as a kind of people to people ambassador bringing you greetings from many of my fellow Americans.

You are Iranians, and rightfully proud of your country as well. You have a history that goes back well before Cyrus the Great, who employed many of the same principles of respect for the rights of the individual that are found in our Constitution. Your history with Cyrus the Great alone goes back about 2,600 years, so you certainly have us beaten on longevity.

We Americans and Iranians have many things in common, and some things that are not. Let's focus upon and celebrate those things that we share in common, and be mindful and respectful of each other when we differ.

What are some of the things we have in common? We both believe in education. The people of Iran are among the most educated in the world, with an abundance of engineers, doctors, attorneys and scientists. Let's be vocal together in celebrating education for all.

We believe in family, as well as family values, and the beauty and blessings that flow from such strong and loving relationships. Let's be vocal together in celebrating the family and those family values.

We abhor random violence that strikes, injures and kills innocent people. Let's be vocal in our opposition against any and all people, groups and governments that inflict such random violence. And, yes, that includes being vocal about America's government as it is now using unmanned airplanes or drones to shoot missiles from the sky that kill people on the ground in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen.

And, of course, we also have some differences. One of the largest is the concept of the amount of influence that religious organizations should have upon governments and, equally importantly, how much influence governments should have upon religious organizations.

As I am sure you are aware, the United States is a country of many religions. The most represented is Christianity, which is my faith, but we also have increasingly large numbers of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Jews, Buddhists, Baha'is and more, and also some people with no religious faith at all. Our government is meant equally to represent everybody regardless of what their religious faith or beliefs might be.

Of course, that approach leaves all of the people in our country free to express and live their particular faith — and to endeavor peacefully to convince others that their faith is the best, most true and most righteous. But the persuasion occurs by using moral convincing, not physical or governmental force. Gandhi said, "Truth resides in every human heart, and one has to search for it there. ... But no one has a right to cause another to act according to his own views of truth." I think Gandhi is right.

At times during the world's history a merging of the church and the government has caused much needless heartache, violence and death — the Inquisition in Spain, the Crusades from Europe into the Holy Land, and even the witch trials in my country. More recently some divisions of Christianity, namely the Catholics and the Protestants, fought, injured and killed each other in Northern Ireland. And now similarly there are divisions of the Muslim faith in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq where Muslims are bombing, injuring and killing each other. Together we should try to help stop these acts of violence.

As people of America, Iran and the world who believe in education, family and peace, let us do everything in our power to stop random violence, wherever it is found. It is wrong; it is against the teachings of all of the world's great religions — yours and mine — and it is abhorrent to the human values of men and women of good will everywhere.

So let us tell all who will listen that our two great countries should be at peace; that America and Iran will not bomb or attack anyone unless they first bomb or attack us or our allies; and that our two countries will engage in trade and open exchanges of culture, students and tourists. Along those lines, I believe that history shows that people usually do not shoot their customers or trading partners.

We have two great countries, and great people within those countries. Let us join hands and work together as men and women of good will, and help to bring peace to our world.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired Orange County Superior Court judge. He lives in Newport Beach. He can be contacted at

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