Since the Islamic revolution and capture of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979 most Americans think of Iran as an enemy. Iran is the ever constant stirrer of trouble in the Middle East, and a petulant child on the world stage. We see news clips of Iranians shouting, “Death to America,” and take it for granted “they” want us dead.
But, who exactly are “they”? And who are “we” to “them”?
It’s amazing so many Americans who vehemently deny that President Obama speaks for them find it easy to believe Iran’s Supreme Leader speaks for every Iranian.
The run-up to the just concluded Iran nuclear talks provided yet another opportunity for some in the West to express their displeasure, disgust and suspicion of Iran. And, for many, the leader of their own country. (I say country because of the six other signature countries only Americans seem opposed. Then there’s this guy.)
Without some kind of treaty it seems an attack by Israel (which would be the worst of all decisions) or an attack by a very small US coalition (the first runner-up in the bad decision pageant) would have been inevitable.
Western media is so pervasive and overwhelming we in the West can lose perspective of the people affected internationally by their government’s decisions, and ours. Followers of Jesus should regard government doings with an air of caution, not allowing a president, prime minister, general, admiral or sheriff to determine our enemies for us.
If Christianity is true, and there is an eternity to consider, and a God before which all must give account, followers of Christ cannot allow hatred to be planted in our hearts. Perhaps we should reckon government saber-rattling as our very own “call to prayer.”
Last week I asked my friend Mo who lives in Tehran if he could gather a friend or two for an email interview of two ordinary Iranians. He and his friend Hamidreze were able to respond. For this, I am very grateful. This brief exchange helps remind us the media rarely reveals all.
[NOTE: The interview was sent and answered over a period of days. The nuclear talks concluded during the time the interview was taking place. Some of the questions reflect that lag. Minor edits for clarity have been made.]
Kingdom in the Midst: What are your thoughts on the nuclear negotiations?
KITM: Do you feel Iran should be a nuclear power, militarily speaking?
KITM: What to you think of Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud’s recent hold on power in Israel?
HS: I don’t follow the political issues of Isreal so closely but from my understanding, it seems that Israelies are not willing to let an independent Palestinian country form, and they want increased pressure over Iran. In a nutshell, they prefer to solve the political issues in a strict way.
MS: I really don’t have any idea about his party. I hope he tries his best to find a solution for bringing peace to that region.
KITM: In the United States we often hear the destruction of Israel is part of Iran’s constitution. Is this accurate? If so, what does this mean to the average Iranian?
HS: No, it’s not accurate at all. I can say that a big part of the Iranian government does not want this, and most of ordinary Iranians don’t want this at all. But it’s true about the extremist politicians in Iran some of whom have political and economic power.
MS: There are a group of people who have that fantasy. In their small minds there is always something or someone else to blame the problems on. Israel is just a scapegoat for their irresponsibility.
KITM: Is there true religious freedom in Iran, or are minorities persecuted?
HS: No, unfortunately there is not any freedom of choice about religion in Iran. Not all the minorities (specially born Armenians, born Zartushtians and born Jews) are persecuted but some of them are definitely under pressure ( e.g. Bahaii people).
MS: Absolutely not. But what is important here is political alignment rather than religious views. There are more Shia Muslims in prison for political reasons than any other minorities.
KITM: Do any Jewish people live in Iran?
HS: Yes. It’s official. [An officially protected religion.]
MS: There are approximately 10,000 Jewish people currently living in Iran.
KITM: Western newspapers recently reported that Supreme Leader of Iran chanted “Death to America” while the talks were going on. Is that accurate?
KITM: Do you think Iran is fighting ISIS to ally itself with US-led coalition or it has its own purposes and interests? How could that affect the talks?
HS: For religous, historical and geographical reasons, ISIS is a far more dangerous enemy for Iranians than it is for US, so we definitly fight them for our security, not for allying with U.S.
MS: I think Iran is trying to expand its influence in the region and should not expect to be awarded for fighting ISIS.
KITM: Nobody around the world wants a bad deal with Iran. What do you think a bad deal is?
HS: I think a bad deal is a deal that continues the economic pressures over Iran, and doesn’t guarantee the peaceful purposes of Iran.
MS: A bad deal is what that causes war, which is impossible to avoid if talks collapse.
KITM: If Iran hadn’t threatened Israel, do you think that would have made any difference to the talks?
HS: Yes. Absolutely.
MS: I think it would have. What Iran did was very irresponsible. Many people have paid for a minute of mindless speech.
KITM: What are some of the best characteristics you know about the United States? What do you want an American to know about Iran?
HS: In my opinion the best characteristics of your country is your dominance in the fields of science and technology. I want some Americans (I mean right-wingers) to know that regular Iranians are not terrorists.
MS: I like the way that America has shown us the new path to humanity and finding our capabilities. That’s what everyone should be appreciative of.
I also want to say that in Iran it’s not possible to describe everyone with one sentence or character. People are complicated and have mixed ideas. That’s also true about the entire Mideast.
KITM: What are your thoughts on the future of the Middle East? Is war an essential part of this region? Can followers of all religions finally live happily next to each other?
HS: I think it deponds on the choice that people of Middle East will make. But personally I don’t think they’ll choose peace in any near future.
MS: People have the potential to be friends and live peacefully, but there needs to be a great change of minds and views. People need to be educated and forget about the past to avoid conflict and misunderstanding. In general, I’m optimistic about the future.
I also asked Mo to address the issue of sanctions.
MS: There are three types of sanctions imposed on Iran: UN, EU, and US.
First kind of sanctions was started by US after the hostage crisis short after Islamic revolution in 1979. Those sanctions increased every year. Since Iran was one of the strongest ally of the U.S. before the revolution, the country was very dependent on U.S. and it was very hard for people to get used to it.
However, those sanctions were unilateral and Iran started to replace US with EU and Japan for its needs. Those sanctions prohibited investment in some sections (if a company violated the rules, it was banned from US markets) but US would overlook the violation of sanctions and many international companies were investing and working in Iran.
Until the nuclear crisis and involving the security council, UN sanctions imposed and things started to get different. Also, some EU sanctions were applied. Not all sanctions were nuclear related, they are also because of human rights, cyber space, ballistic missiles, etc. European sanctions had more effects because the country was dependent on the oil income and European companies were crucial to the maintenance and support in the industry. International and unilateral sanctions piled up and increased so quickly after 2011. It was so quick that only experts could anticipate the effects.
Final step was sanction of central bank in 2013 that prevented Iran from accessing its money. The value of dollar increased by ~300% and people started to feel the difference. Only after that all people could feel the sanctions in their life.
Sanctions and isolation helped extremist to gain power here. Before sanctions, people and private corporations had most of the power and money because they had access to normal market and banking system. After a while, forces like IRGC came to power because they had access to black market and managed to bypass sanctions. Better economy means stronger middle class, stronger middle class means democracy. A better economy means a stronger middle class, and a stronger middle class means democracy.
Sanctions brought Iran to the negotiation but harmed nation’s power and caused an state of emergency in which the ruling system could justify most of its actions.
Mo Soleyami was born and raised in Isfahan, Iran to a relatively religious family. He is 27 years old, with an older sister. He started his study of the Qur’an and other important books about Islam when he was a teenager. He has tried to increase his knowledge of Islam and history and culture of Iran and the Mideast. He studied engineering science at two popular universities in Isfahan and Tehran. That gave me the chance to be familiar with other experts’ opinions and thoughts about these issues. Working at a part time job, I look forward to continuing my education at doctorate level abroad.
Hamidreza Shahmiri is 24 years old and a MSc student at Sharif University of Technology, Tehran, Iran. His field of study is welding engineering. Politically I am a reformist (former president Khatami is the leader of reformist movement in Iran). His family are all involved in politics in some way. Hamidreza used to write essays for student magazines at both Sharif University and Tehran University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering.
Speigel’s recent article, “The Persian Paradox: Iran is much more modern than you think.”