As Daum pointed out in her column, there are -- as with any international story involving jail terms and Iran and Americans -- mysterious aspects to this case. Questions swirl about Shourd's $500,000 bail. Where was it posted, and who by? Were they sold out by their Kurdish guide? And, of course, the question most regularly asked on the internet and in person, something that likely haunts Bauer and Fattal every day: why choose to hike along an unmarked border with one of the world's most anti-American countries?
Having followed this case from its early days, and after extensive reporting of it, it's my belief -- one shared by everyone I've met who observes it with more than a passing glance -- that the much-maligned hikers were three well-traveled, incredibly curious individuals intent on bettering the world in the ways they saw fit: Fattal through environmental and sustainability work, Shourd through teaching English, Bauer through journalism.
One of the most prevalent anti-hikers memes is the idea of excessive hubris -- that they're do-gooders whose pig-headed idealism got them in trouble. Yes, they were do-gooders. They did a lot of good. May we all help rural areas in India and Africa, learn Arabic, take up residence in Damascus, educate and be educated by people from every culture whether in Kurdistan or Cape Town. According to Daum's column, only 30 percent of Americans own passports. I asked three of the hikers' American detractors to identify Iran on a map, something none were able to do.
There are several theories for the hate. People might be resentful about our Secretary of State having to focus attention on what many feel was the hikers' lark gone awry. Or they're angry over having to express sympathy towards people who lived, worked, and are now incarcerated in a world that, to the bulk of the population, seem as far away as Mars. Some might feel it's embarrassing to America. Iranians might resent the hikers because their case is sometimes portrayed as an embarrassment to Iran.
But the root of the hate seems to come from the hikers' -- and their families' -- inability to convince the American public that they were hiking in a remote and dangerous place with the intent to learn and explore, and not, as many think, with smug invincibility or the intent to rabble rouse or even spy. Instead of a remote Iranian border, they should have hiked in one of the thousands of safer areas on this planet, the argument goes, and not been stunned when Iran dealt "what they deserve."
Said one skeptic, on one of my previous posts on the hikers, "They were just out getting some exercise... really... they didn't realize they crossed the border into a sworn anemy of the US since 1979... I'm having a really hard time having any sympathy for these fools." Unless the hikers' supporters can overcome that sizable hurdle, the backlash is, unfortunately, likely to continue.
Even in the wake of the boys' sentencing, as the families wait to see if a last-ditch appeal works a miracle, message boards are flooded with hiker hate. If past dispatches are anything to go by, this story will also see its share. To anyone about to hit 'publish' on a similar missive, remember this: Shane and Josh won't see it. Their already-distraught families will. Put your effort into writing something that helps get these men home so you can scold them yourselves -- for whatever reason.