A Time for Literary Diplomacy
Now that recent Senate votes have guaranteed that the agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program will go into effect, what more can America do, beyond the strictest vigilance, to build on this historic breakthrough for peace?
Perhaps it is time for the citizens of the United States to experience a breakthrough of their own, to go beyond past prejudices against their enemy and use the occasion to gently plunge into the deepest wells of Persian identity that originate in a civilization preceding ours by many centuries. We can do so by connecting with Rumi, a Sufi master born in 1207, whose luminous, salacious, mystical verses written in Farsi are carried by all Iranians in their hearts, as we do the words of Shakespeare. To read even a small selection of Rumi’s witty poems to his beloved can help shatter the blinding stereotypes that separate us from ordinary men and women in Tehran today, the very clichés of mistrust that the negotiators in Geneva had to overcome in order to reach a solution to what seemed an intractable problem.
Indeed, those negotiators may have been listening to Rumi when their positions seemed most conflicting and conflictive. Maybe that great mystic was guiding them secretly with his millenary words: “The wine God loves / is human honesty.”
Exploring the world of Rumi, however, is not merely a matter of what I would hesitantly call literary diplomacy, the need for people-to-people diplomacy through poetry. Rumi was one of the wisest, most generous men to have wandered the earth, and besides exulting in his quest for love and God and the milk of reconciliation, we might also turn to him for guidance as to how Iranians and Americans, as well as Israelis and others, should react to this nuclear deal, especially those who might be skeptical.
“Give up wanting what other people have,” Rumi says.
That way you’re safe.
Where, where can I be safe? you ask.
This is not a day for asking questions.
And he adds, to those who must now verify whether the terms are unassailably airtight: “Don’t let your throat tighten / with fear.”
As to breakthroughs, the breaking through that always means to fracture some part of oneself to become someone else, someone better, better countries and a better world, Rumi tells us:
“Dance, when you’re broken open. / Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. / Dance, in the middle of the fighting.”
So many centuries ago, and those verses continue to speak to us, to all the lovers in the world and all the people who should love one another: “We have fallen into the place,” Rumi promises, “where everything is music.”
Will this nuclear deal bring concord to our troubled planet?
Let us hope, with the dead and oh so alive Rumi, that it will be so. Meanwhile, if we dance to Rumi’s eternal words, we’ll at least have brought some peace to the troubled souls of our vast and divided humanity. It’s a matter of attending to the great Persian master when he says: “Gamble everything you have for love / gamble everything / if you are really a human being.”
And attend as well, as Iranians should along with us all, to this phrase that Rumi could have written, which comes from the splendor and radiance of the Zohar, the mystical Kabballah of the Jews:
“Words do not fall in the void.”
Perhaps it is indeed time for tikkun olam, the time, always and always now, when we need to repair the world.