The news coming out of southeastern Iran is horrifying. Estimates now range from 22,000 to more than 30,000 dead. Thousands more have lost everything and are without shelter in the winter cold.
I was pleased and encouraged to see this report from the BBC, "US aids 'axis of evil' Iran."
The United States has put aside political differences to send help to the earthquake-hit area of Iran.
It joins a list of nations from Britain to China who are contributing teams or resources to help victims.
President Mohammad Khatami appealed for assistance, saying the devastation was too great for Iran to handle by itself.
Some rescue teams have reached the south-eastern city of Bam, but hopes are fading that they will be able to find many more survivors in the rubble.
In Washington, the Bush administration made a rare direct contact with Iranian officials to offer assistance.
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Iran's permanent representative to the United Nations, Mohammad Javad Zarif, held telephone talks about humanitarian aid.
"Given the urgency of the situation we deemed direct contact to be the most appropriate channel," state department spokesman Lou Fintor said.
The White House said teams of 200 civilian experts would be sent to Iran, once described as part of an "axis of evil" by US President George W Bush.
Two US planes carrying food and other aid landed in Kerman, the provincial capital, early on Sunday — the first US aircraft to land in Iran for a decade.
A tragedy like this underscores the clumsy limits of a categorical phrase like "axis of evil." What do words like "good" and "evil" mean in the face of calamity and suffering?
When the earth beneath us shakes and cities fall, good and evil cease to be merely convenient, abstract political categories.
America, God bless it, really does want to be good — and quite often it succeeds. I'm proud and pleased to see that our leaders are able to set aside other considerations to take part in the heartening international outpouring of aid.
The BBC also notes — although not in so many words — that while the world's wealthiest nation and only superpower is responding commendably, it is not taking a clear leadership role in this effort:
… a disaster response team heading out from Los Angeles was earlier put back on standby after a request from Tehran.
A plane carrying emergency workers from Virginia had to turn back after mechanical problems, the Associated Press news agency reported.
Aid teams from Europe were among the first to arrive in Iran in the crucial first hours after the earthquake.
The world has changed since Sept. 11, 2001. This new context requires not only increased vigilance (a task we've scarcely begun), but also increased magnanimity (a task we haven't even begun to think about). The latter is just as important as the former, and may be just as important as any military effort in America's vaguely defined global "war on terrorism."
I discussed the importance of magnanimity in two earlier posts:
Both of which draw heavily on Jack Hitt's article "A Bully's Pulpit," from Mother Jones.
Anyway, please try to find room in your prayers and in your wallet this week for the people of Bam, Iran.