Visiting The Axis Of Evil. Over the last 6 weeks I have visited 2/3 of the Axis of Evil, Iran and Iraq. And I also traveled to Eritrea, which is sometimes referred to as the North Korea of Africa, which is the third member of the Axis. George W. Bush, opined in his speech after 9/11 of the dangers and evils of these pariah states.
After spending time in these three countries, George W’s words do not square the circle. While these countries are from perfection; the people I met did not meet the stereotypes of terrorists and haters of America.
Iran and the Ayatollah has played the role of America’s boogeyman for nearly four decades. The storming of the US Embassy and hostage taking of 52 Americans is still fresh in many minds despite taking place in 1979. And it is not a challenge to find videos on YouTube of chants of “death to America” and the burning of America’s flag.
Visiting Iran is a paradox. In the most mundane of places in Iran, you will encounter anti-American propaganda. At the airport, a picture of an exploding US warship. At a mosque, a “Down with USA” banner. At a World Heritage UNESCO site, a billboard with the Ayatollah’s image stating that the US is the root of all evil and against all Muslims.
Why would an American want to visit such a hateful place such as this awful land? Because of the people. The people I encountered would invariably ask where I was from. My answer; America. I would be met with a wide smile and an outstretched hand. “Welcome to Iran”. Read more about the paradox of Iran.
Glimpsing the news, Iraq borders on being a failed state. Random bombings and senseless killings. ISIS overrunning cities and towns and overseeing beheadings and burnings. Internecine fighting between the in-power Shiites and the disenfranchised Sunnis. The basic functions of the state barely function.
Despite all of this jarring and scary news, there is a silver lining. The silver lining is the semi-autonomous state of Kurdistan. Kurdistan is located in the northern part of Iraq. Kurdistan is a beacon of hope, being a stable and safe region in Iraq. This is the despite the fact, that ISIS controlled Mosul is only 50 miles from Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan. Spending time in Erbil, one would never realize the front is only an hour’s drive, besides seeing the occasional Peshmerga fighter stroll through the bazaar with an AK-47 casually slung over his back.
In Kurdistan, churches coexist next to mosques. A sizable Christian population lives safely in this region of Iraq. The people I drank tea with in the bazaar seemed to share more in common with an Obama supporter than anything in agreement with ISIS’s goals. They despised ISIS. They wanted peace and stability. They wanted hope. You can read more of my experience in Erbil.
Eritrea has been nicknamed the “North Korea of Africa” for its repressive, one-party regime that has been in place since 1993. While not posing a military/terrorist threat to the West, Eritrea has been able to occasionally “out-North Korea” North Korea. Eritrea is ranked dead last in the press freedom index, besting its nearby rival North Korea who finished 179 out of 180. Eritrea employs a conscription that some equate to slavery. Some citizens are kept indefinitely in service in poverty like conditions.
(And yes, I understand Eritrea was not named as part of the Axis by George W., but I am using this country as an example of misplaced understanding and bias).
Eritrea is very isolated state receiving few tourists. Yet, here again, the people were exceedingly friendly and outgoing. Much time was spent sharing a beer, taking a photo, or waving hello. Check out why you should visit Eritrea.
So despite the fact, that these very repressive regimes do not share in many of the values we cherish so strongly in the US Constitution or the Magna Carta, the people I encountered were extremely friendly and hospitable.
A Note On North Korea
I have also visited North Korea (the third member of the Axis of Evil), but as a tourist, this country does not compare to the above three mentioned countries. As a tourist you are always accompanied by a North Korean guide, there is no independent exploration. In addition, I found very little English being spoken. So between these two factors, as a tourist, you have very few genuine interactions with the locals. You can read a little bit more of the surreal world of North Korea.
Visiting The Axis Of Evil.