A Homecoming for All of Us
Point of View by Sharon McCarter, director, Outreach & Communications, Centerpoint, 2007
On Monday, September 10, the Wilson Center's staff gathered to welcome home our dear friend and colleague Dr. Haleh Esfandiari. As Haleh entered the reception, she was greeted with thunderous applause. As one colleague said, "It was a homecoming celebration for all of us."
During Haleh's incarceration, concerned people from around the world contacted the Center to offer support to the "Free Haleh" campaign. Her former students from Princeton spoke of Haleh as a great teacher of Persian language and literature. Many from the policy community talked about Haleh's strong convictions that the governments of Iran and the United States should talk to one another. Present and former colleagues talked about Haleh as an ideal representative of the Wilson Center's efforts to present opposing sides of an issue to foster dialogue and understanding.
In early December 2006, a few weeks before Haleh went to Iran to visit her mother, I traveled with her to Amman, Jordan, where Haleh was conducting a workshop for women in the MENA (Middle East, Northern Africa) region. It was my first trip to the Middle East, and I could not have asked for a better indoctrination to the culture or a better teacher than Haleh.
I sat in a room with women from such countries as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Morocco, Iraq and Syria, and listened to their stories of women's struggles for equality and empowerment. Initially, I think some of them were a bit guarded with me, an American, but Haleh encouraged me to be open-minded, to listen, and to share my ideas with them as well. She also encouraged me to tour some of the ancient sites to see the beauty of the region.
At the end of the workshop, I'd made some good friends, all because of communication and opennessideals Haleh and the Wilson Center promote. The women from this workshop became some of the many who actively called for Haleh's release.
Despite her recent experiences in Iran, Haleh did not hesitate to say she would continue to work for dialogue among nations. "I continue to believe that dialogue and diplomacy are the means toward international peace and stability," she said. "I will continue to work towards that goal."
And that's why I think Haleh's return to the Center was such an emotional one for all of us. We're attached to her in love, friendship, respect and the common bonds of our work. Her return was a homecoming for all of us. Welcome home Haleh!