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Bringing Iran and United States closer together

By Jason Rezaian

Recently I've been struggling to imagine how the US military might go about effecting a regime change in Iran. Yet, while it seems highly unlikely that such an attempt would be made, given our current administration's strategy in the region, we can't be sure what aggressive efforts will be made in the name of freedom with US tax dollars.

At the core of the Iran problem is what appears to be a near complete misunderstanding of Iranian society and politics among American decision makers and often underdeveloped opinions about the United States held by dejected Iranians.

What I first came to understand in Tehran this summer is that the economic situation for the average Iranian citizen has become increasingly worse since the formation of the Islamic Republic nearly a quarter century ago. People are so disenchanted with their regime and the financial woes caused by years of corruption that the question most asked of me in the three months I spent there was, "When are the American commandoes coming to liberate us?"

The reality, however, is that the circumstances of Iran under the mullahs cannot be compared to either Taliban's Afghanistan or Iraq under Saddam Hussein. While Iran is still accused of state sponsored repression, censorship and civil rights violations by a variety of international organizations, no one with any exposure to Iran would claim that the situation for Women is akin to that of Afghanistan or other neighbors such as our longtime ally Saudi Arabia. Further, the Iranian government has never used weapons of mass destruction in attempts to slaughter large groups of the people it represents.

On the contrary, Iran is making earnest attempts to promote and improve its image among the international community and reconnect to former allies and business partners the world over. Daily reports in Tehran's English language press that initially I viewed as random acts of diplomacy are actually part of a much grander plan by President Khatami in his quest to promote a "dialogue among nations." Whether it is a an import export deal with a struggling Sub Saharan African state or cultural exchange programs with a Northern European one, Iran is trying to emerge from the self imposed isolation that followed the Islamic Revolution.

So when I ponder a US attack on an ostensibly civilized nation, I cringe. Perhaps, though, if we were to attack Iran the strike would be brief. I have a strong feeling that if any troops landed in the northern half of Tehran, with it's shopping malls and trendy coffee shops, they would turn around immediately, assuming they'd landed in the wrong place. In essence, much Tehran with it's mountainside setting, throbbing traffic and love of plastic surgery, seems more like Los Angeles than what it is, the capital of the world's only Islamic theocracy.

The fashionable northern half of Tehran is the domain of the young female. With an estimated two thirds of Iran's population under the age of thirty, the streets are alive with color and sound. Eminem was everywhere this summer, with bootleg copies of his tape blaring from car radios throughout Tehran. Just a few years ago even playing traditional Iranian music at any audible level was a punishable offense, nevertheless these days young traffic cops can be caught bobbing their heads to passing Western rhythms.

But Tehran is a city divided. There is no clear landmark that draws the line between north and south, yet as one descends the city, towards the side of Mt. Damavand, the realities of "uptown" versus "downtown" become clear.

Southern Tehran is the urban home of Khomeini's revolution. The massive bazaar, the parliament building and Khomeini Square are the monuments that define the area. Much of the architecture is drab and it's there, looking upwards at the mountain that I first felt I was in a mega-polis. The vibrancy of the trendier northern neighborhoods disappears into the brown air and is replaced by the call to prayer.

In this section of the city, commerce, as dictated by the clergy-backing bazaaris, is the focal point of everyday life. Women are rarely seen, because social freedoms concerning dress codes and inter-gender relations, as compared to northern neighborhoods simply don't exist.

In fact it's the north that increasingly dominates this capital's spirit. Until recently Tehran with its amoeba like sprawl, choking pollution, dry setting lacking any semblance of cosmopolitanism could easily have been described as an extremely Islamic Phoenix, Arizona. However, as the layers are chipped away Tehran appears less conservative or even Muslim and gradually more progressive and in many ways secular, attempting to cultivate a modern Persian character calling on its historical and cultural roots and perhaps distancing itself from recent monarchial and clerical control.

The United States would be well served to support Iranians in this process. Eliminating the mullahs from the Iranian political scene cannot happen over night. Rather, it seems that all parties would benefit with a peaceful end to the years of antagonistic name calling by both sides and return to a relationship of exchange of trade and culture, a mutually held goal by Khatami and supporters of reform, the Iranian people, and many Americans interested in expanding markets to product thirsty Iran.

About the author:
Jason Rezaian is an Iranian American freelance journalist whose work has appeared in publications and web-sites such as the San Francisco Chronicle, the Pacific News Service, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

... Payvand News - 2/14/03 ... --

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