As tens of thousands of demonstrators in Iran rally to mark the anniversary of the 1979 takeover of the American embassy, a popular online campaign is bringing Iranians and Americans together to "move on" from 34 years of hostility and "kiss out all the enmity."
The "Kiss for Peace" project, initiated by two Iranian graduate students in the United States, asks ordinary people in both countries to post photos of themselves blowing kisses, accompanied by personal messages of friendship, to demonstrate their willingness to move beyond the troubled history that still plagues US-Iran relations.
With a Facebook page and a website launched this past Sunday, the virtual campaign has been enthusiastically received, as Nima Dehghani and Behzad Tabibian, the artists behind the project, quickly found Iranians and Americans eagerly posting photos and messages expressing mutual affection.
According to Dehghani, tens of thousands of Internet users from across the world have come across the campaign since its launch yesterday. While one objective of the project is to present an image of Iranian society in contrast to the anti-American street displays marking the anniversary of the US embassy takeover, Dehghani says this is only the first phase of a project that is set to continue and expand with the aim of enhancing people-to-people understanding.
The mission of Kiss for Peace is to attract public participation and empower individuals who in Dehghani's view are often more forward looking than their representatives. "Many politicians find their interests in conflict and hostility," he says.
Like the 'Israel loves Iran' Facebook initiative that preceded it, Kiss for Peace sees social media as a potentially powerful tool for change. Its Facebook page maintains that with enough public participation, the campaign can receive wide media coverage, and help create a more positive political atmosphere for the two countries to resolve their differences and move towards a warming of relations.
The Kiss for Peace initiative is part of a broader project by Dehghani and Tabibian called Netformance, in which political issues are taken out of their conventional context and infused with a fresh perspective dependent entirely on user participation. In their previous initiative, the Iranian duo launched 'Jean Party', a response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's remarks to BBC Persian suggesting that Iranians are prohibited from wearing jeans. With the launch of Jean Party, a large number of young Iranians from inside the country poured onto the site to post pictures of themselves wearing jeans.
Partly assisted by contributors from Dehghani's creative writing workshop in Tehran, the project promises to step up its activities by using creative ideas as a means to reduce misunderstanding and bring people in Iran and the United States closer together. Since the politics of perception, and indeed the politics of mood, exert a soft influence all their own, Kiss for Peace is well-timed to blow its light-hearted message all the way to Geneva, where negotiators will sit down later this week to discuss Iran's nuclear program.