Since the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis of 1979, Iran has had antagonistic relations with the U.S. and other Western nations, with little official communication between heads of state, fierce rhetoric on opposing sides, and increasing sanctions.
Given this history, it’s not surprising that many Westerners fail to appreciate ways in which Iran is a relatively advanced and even liberal state.
It certainly took me by surprise when I traveled there last year.
A Positive Opinion Of Westerners
Opinion polls show the majority of Iranians hold a favorable opinion of Americans, making Iran second only to Israel as the most supportive country in the Middle East.
To travel as a Westerner in Iran is to be routinely stopped on the street and welcomed by curious and generous strangers. You will be given cool drinks, invited to parties, and offered free tours of anything nearby.
Young Iranians get their hands on iPhones despite the sanctions, use VPN software to hack past their regime’s ban on Facebook, and watch American TV shows and movies online.
As reported in The Atlantic, a clear majority of Iranians want the current Iranian–U.S. nuclear talks to succeed. If talks fail, however, many expect that moderates like the current president would lose power to religious hardliners.
Related articles: http://theotheriran.com/tag/foreigners-in-iran/
Better Gender Equality Than Some Countries
Unlike in Saudi Arabia, a close U.S. ally, women in Iran have the right to vote, drive, and travel alone. Women have served in parliament and in cabinet, though they are banned from running in presidential elections, and they attend universities, though some have restricted them from taking certain courses.
The issue of women’s rights highlights the conflict between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani — who is on the more moderate end of the country’s religious-conservative ruling clique — and the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
On International Women’s Day in April, Rouhani spoke live on television and criticized those who consider women a threat, saying Iran had “a long way to go” and that he “will not accept the culture of sexual discrimination.”
Articles on Iranian women: http://theotheriran.com/tag/women/
After the Iran–Iraq war, when focus shifted from conflict to the economy in 1988, the same Ayatollah who legalized sex-changes issued a ruling making birth control free and widely available. He was convinced a high birth-rate would be bad for the economy.
With family planning sessions provided to all newlyweds, the birth-rate fell more than half, allowing parents to invest more in their children’s education and giving women the chance to gain ground in the workforce. More than 60% of Iranian university students are now women, with numbers even higher in some science and engineering courses, the BBC reported.
An American Ally?
Iran has found itself partially aligned with the West in fighting groups like the Taliban in Afghanistan, and jihadists in Iraq and Syria.
After 9/11, Iran supported overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan and assisted NATO with strategy and the formation of a new government.
Iran also had no great love for Iraq’s regime, having fought a brutal war against Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. Backed by the Reagan Administration at the time, Hussein used sarin gas and other chemical weapons on thousands of Iranian soldiers.
The dynamic changed in 2013, however, when Iranians elected President Rouhani, a reformist who has staked his presidency on mending ties with America.
Iranian policy in Iraq has now also refocused with the rise of Sunni ISIS jihadists. Iran worries that ISIS is destabilizing the region and jeopardizing the current pro-Iranian governments in Iraq and Syria.
Kurds battling ISIS in northern Iraq report that Iran was the first country to respond when they requested support.
Related articles: http://theotheriran.com/tag/usa/