غرب در آيينه نگاه جوانان ايرانی
TV, radio and newspapers controlled by the Iranian government pump out anti-western propaganda day and night, and one would be forgiven for thinking this barrage of hostile criticism would shape public opinion.
Yet the reality is different, at least among people from better-educated, urban backgrounds. Many Iranians of this kind, and especially the young, actually have access to a diverse range of information sources.
In this age of new technology, alternatives to the state media are growing stronger and more accessible all the time, and there is less and less the government can do to curb the flow. Most members of the urban middle classes in Tehran have access to satellite TV, even though this is technically a criminal offence, and use the internet despite the filters placed on many websites.
With little faith in the official media, young Iranians find out about the West from satellite TV and the internet, as well as from friends, relatives and others such as university lecturers with direct experience of travelling or living abroad.
The media environment in Iran thus consists of two distinct elements - the official outlets, entirely in the hands of the government and churning out hostile rhetoric about the West and its culture; and the unofficial sector, which offers a more direct view of the West and the world as a whole.
Young Iranians fortunate enough to have a diversity of information sources - domestic and international - are now able to compare and contrast them and arrive at a more realistic view of the outside world.
"The existence of two completely different and distinct sources of information can lead us better towards discovering the truth," said Majid, a 24-year-old from Tehran. "By comparing the domestic and foreign news sources, we can find out that the West is not how it is portrayed in Iran".
Majid himself is positive about the West, particularly the technological and other advances there.
Nafiseh, a 23-year-old Tehran mother with a young son, reflects the ability of Iranians to pick and choose what they like - and don't like - about the West.
Back in Tehran after five years studying in the West, she says, "In my opinion, westerners are open, frank and unpretentious - characteristics that are less true of Iranians, who regard straightforwardness as impudence and lack of pretension as a failure to show due consideration for others."
At the same time, she says, "I do not approve of the free sexual relationships and the weakness of families as an institution in the West. The foundation of the family is very important as the bedrock for human growth. But I regard freedom of speech and confession and respect for the human rights of the individual as positive aspects of western culture."
Ali, a 23-year-old student in Tehran, believes the anti-western slogans heard in Iran are mostly for domestic consumption, and many of those who repeat slogans of this kind do not believe in them wholeheartedly.
Many officials send their children to live and study in the West. If things are so bad there, Ali asks, why place one's own children in that kind of environment?
Nor does he believe anyone is really serious about exporting the Islamic revolution these days. Soon after 1979 there were people who pursued this as a project, but the idea has since faded away into obscurity, not least because of a realisation of the high risks such a policy would entail.
Asked how he would run diplomatic relations with countries like America and Britain if he were in a position of power, Ali said, "I would definitely not follow the policies that are currently being pursued. I wouldn't fight with the West. At the same time though, I wouldn't feel passionate about them; I would try to have relations with the West that were based on the interests of my country."
In Ali's opinion, one major reason why Iran could build a positive relationship with the West is that it is the only country in the region whose people are not anti-western.
The head of a non-government organisation in Tehran, who did not want to be named, believes the official Iranian antagonism towards the West has come at a high cost to the people.
One impediment to a better relationship between Iran and the West is the historical memory of colonialism. According to the NGO head, this is a dark stain in the history of the West, and the American attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan are liable to revive negative attitudes of this kind.
Although the United States is clearly a hugely more important player than Britain, Iranians tend to have a more favourable view of the Americans. Because of the history, older people in particular still believe the British are the hidden hand meddling in Iranian politics - even that it is London that gives instructions to Washington rather than the other way round.
Younger people are less suspicious of Britain, but are still keener on America.
Many Iranians have thus got past the propaganda to find a view of the West that differs substantially from what their government would like them to believe. Often it seems that people in the West actually have a less nuanced view of Iran, one that is heavily coloured by the official rhetoric coming out of Tehran.
Maziar Aqazadeh is a journalist and political commentator in Tehran.
This article is an abridged and translated version of the full original text published on the Farsi pages of Mianeh, with editorial adjustments agreed with the writer made to provide clarity for English-language readers.
About Mianeh: Mianeh is a new independent web-based initiative run as a project by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting (iwpr.net) the award-winning non-profit media development organisation that works across the globe to platform local voices and promote international learning and engagement. Mianeh aims to be an open space for ideas, news and debate where writers in Iran can reach out to each other as well as to those outside the country who are interested in learning more about the vibrant and dynamic society that is Iran today.
... Payvand News - 10/22/08 ... --