Water Before Religion and Oil

The world looks different from the edge of democracy.

I’m revisiting a post I drafted while traveling in Iran. Originally I published it on Facebook (December 22, 2016).  The post begins with an observation about water, about the river that runs through Esfahan (or Isfahan), Iran.  Click on the video link below for a clip about 15 seconds long.  I took the video from our hotel.  The still photo shows the river as well, but it is much more interesting in the video.


Esfahan sits about a mile up on the Iranian plateau. Jews governed here first. Some have stayed, along with Armenian Christians, who have also lived here for centuries. It’s an old city–dates to 3rd c BCE. Naqsh-e Jehan Square (known now as Imam Square) is fabled, enormous–visited by Marco Polo. The square has two mosques, a palace, and a famous tentacled bazaar in which you can easily get lost (some of us did). Jewish, Zoroastrian, Persian, Armenian Christian, Arabic, and Turkic cultures mix in the heritage. It’s a gritty large city with ancient places throughout, mud brick houses amid modern construction. It’s my favorite of the cities we visited. You can easily get to know your way around. People are welcoming even above the high Iranian norm. All you need to do is walk around the square and make friends.

The river that runs through Esfahan is now dry, has been dry for two years. In the video, you can see people walking across the riverbed. Water could be the most precious commodity in this country and region. If Pakistan or Afghanistan turns off water, central and eastern Iran are in trouble. I have to wonder if, in our complex and fraught relations with Iran (as in the Middle East and North Africa—maybe more broadly in Africa), we pay way too much attention to oil and to misunderstandings about Islam (more later about that) and way too little to water.

Connections between climate change, drought, and migration are already obvious, but mostly we aren’t addressing these connections in public discourse in the US.  That’s an understatement, just a week after the inhumane Muslim ban began its sickening excrescence.

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