Baha'i News -- Bombing death drives plea for peace April 5, 2002

Inland Valley

Bombing death drives plea for peace

Pejman Katiraei, a medical student and Claremont resident, issues letter to world asking for the end of religious strife.

By Tipton Blish /

CLAREMONT -- Fooroog Naimi gave her nephew a tour of Israel a few years ago. They visited a Bahai temple and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

And Naimi wanted her nephew to see one particularly magnificent mosque even though, being Jews, they felt a little out of place visiting an Islamic house of worship.

"We shouldn't be here, but it's such a beautiful place," Pejman Katiraei, the nephew, remembers her saying at the mosque. "Let's not get caught up in all of that government stuff." But one of the facts of life in Israel is that it is impossible not to get caught up in the politics of the conflict.

Naimi, who fled Iran four years after Islamic fundamentalists seized power, was killed last week as she sat for a Seder at the Park Hotel in the seaside town of Netanya. A suicide bomber blew himself up and killed 22 other mostly older people as they came together to celebrate the Jewish Passover. Her husband, Nusrat, was injured by the explosion but survived.

It was one of the bloodiest attacks in the 18 months of violence in the Middle East and led the Israelis to move troops into the West Bank town of Ramallah last Friday.

Katiraei wants to do something to help end the cycle of violence.

Out of his grief for a woman who inspired him with her generosity of spirit, he has launched a one-man appeal to the world to end religious strife. In an open letter he sent to CNN, he said he had lost his favorite aunt.

"But she was more than that," he wrote in his appeal. "Some, including myself, would go as far as to even call her an angel."

Katiraei is third-year medical student at the Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona. He lives in Claremont.

Born in Iran, his family moved to Los Angeles, and Pejman grew up in Woodland Hills, graduating from UCLA.

"I grew up in L.A. and was fortunate enough to meet all levels of society and all types of people," he said in an interview in his Claremont apartment.

When he talks he steers clear of the type of loaded vocabulary that can inflame tensions.

Even when talking about the suicide bombing that killed his aunt -- who was his father's sister -- he uses words like "incident" and "accident." He admits being angry.

"Why did she die? Why did this person have to come and kill her when she was doing nothing except celebrating a holiday," he said.

Last Sunday, he took refuge in a coffee shop to think about his aunt and to record his memories. After reflecting on her openness and unwillingness to adhere to ethnic and cultural norms, he asked himself: "Am I really angry at these people? No."

"I started to think about Palestinians," he said, "thinking about their condition, thinking about the propaganda they are subject to, and I thought that if I was there and not as educated, I would be as angry as they are."

His letter is partly a personal remembrance of a woman who linked his California life to his Iranian heritage; a woman, in a family of serious people who hold on to their emotions tightly, who was gregarious and a "positive light."

The letter is also a plea, in his aunt's name, for world leaders to use their might to end a religious war.

"I have come to realize that with all this inbred hatred and bias that is common over there that this is not a new problem. I don't think the two sides can do it on their own," he said. "You need these other countries to put an end to all this chaos and killing."

Katiraei believes his aunt's killing can be a starting point -- that if he can bring the story of an innocent woman who died as a victim of a conflict she transcended, it can make a difference.

"I can come to some closure by believing that there is a reason she passed away," he said.

For now, his letter is being spread via the Internet, to his friends and through his mother's work. He has sent it to members of Congress and to the White House and to major television networks.

"My goal is to have it end up in the hands of someone who can make a difference," he said.

©Copyright 2002, The Los Angles Times

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