Italy’s former ambassador to Iran to US American audience: No, Iranians don’t hate you

Roberto Toscano - Italy’s ambassador to Iran, 2003-2008

Roberto Toscano – Italy’s ambassador to Iran, 2003-2008

In 2004, when I was Italy’s ambassador to Iran, I had the occasion to tour the country together with a couple of American friends, at the beginning rather hesitant to come and visit, but then overwhelmed by the hospitality and politeness that are so typically Iranian and even more by the “extra” of both hospitality and politeness that came out when people realized that they were American.

One episode has remained marked in their memory (and in mine too): at the end of a visit to the tomb of the poet Saadi in Shiraz a mullah, who had been listening to the English translation of our guide, and had asked him where those tourists were from, went up to my friend, shook his hand, said (in English) “God bless you” and left.

most people who have seen the recent movie Argo … are convinced that what they see is contemporary Iran: still hostile, still radical, still violently and massively anti-American.
The truth is rather different. Certainly the regime finds in anti-Americanism a sort of marker of identity …What is interesting, however, is that anti-American rhetoric is not focused on what America is, but on what America does. … the 1953 Anglo-American coup against Mossadeq or the support given to Saddam in its 1980 aggression against Iran.
The fact is, however, that this regime narrative, and the hostility toward the U.S., is not really shared by the majority of Iranians.

Iran — and this will surprise the average American — is not a closed country, and its citizens can travel abroad, if they get the necessary entry visas, of course. In the second place, educated Iranians (not a narrow minority, differently from other countries in the area) have access to reliable information about the world and also about the U.S., in spite of the attempts of the regime to filter “subversive” material in both TV programs and internet traffic.

Actually, I found that in Iran there is a lot of admiration for America: not necessarily for its policy, but for its economy and for its culture, wildly popular especially among Iranian youth.

A strong proof of the fact that America is not hated by Iranians came with September 11, when thousands of Iranians went spontaneously to the streets for a candlelight vigil in homage and solidarity to the victims of the attack on the Twin Towers.

The lack in Iran of the generalized and often virulent anti-Americanism that characterizes Middle Eastern populations is something that Americans traveling in Iran, even in the present tense political situation, can testify. Not only is there no hostility toward American citizens, but instead we see curiosity and friendship at the same time, though often combined with criticism for specific U.S. policies and behavior.

Definitely crowds chanting ‘marg bar Amrika’ (death to America) are today both very rare and not very much convinced: they tend to be formed by activists bused to the demonstrations.

Many, if not most Iranians, may be fed up with the regime, especially in its present incarnation in President Ahmadinejad, but they are a proud, patriotic people. They have problems with their leaders, but not with their country, especially in the event of an external attack.

The full article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/roberto-toscano/no-iranians-dont-hate-you_b_2972677.html

Iran’s Christians celebrate Christmas (Text & Photos)

The other Iran

As Christians around the world celebrate Christmas, the holiday season is also observed in Iran, a predominantly Muslim nation where Christians make up less than 1% of the country’s approximate population of 77.5 million.

Christmas trees decorated with red, green and gold gift boxes placed behind shop windows or at the entrances of different shopping malls and hotels can be seen, especially in the Christian neighborhoods of Tehran.

Decorated trees, along with Nativity scenes of the Virgin Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, can also be seen in shops along Mirza Shirazi Avenue and Ostaad Nejatollahi (Villa Avenue) and its surrounding neighborhoods in central Tehran, where many Iranian Christians reside.

Shermin, an Iranian Christian, told Al-Monitor, “Like other Christians in the world, we celebrate Christmas at home along with our family and friends, exchange gifts and party.” She added, “There are a lot of good things to eat at this joyful…

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Series American couple in Iran: A Poem to the People

Iranian Hospitality on Train from Iran

Iranian Hospitality on Train from Iran

My heart sank as I watched the news from Iran this morning, scenes of the British Embassy being charged by an angry mob in Tehran. It saddens me – angers me, really – that narrow groups like this who define the world’s perception of Iran and the Iranian people are in reality such a small percentage of the country’s population.

My experience tells me they are the outliers, yet circumstances conspire to convince us on the outside to see them as the norm.

I thought back to all the people we met across Iran, from families in small mountain villages to shopkeepers on the busy streets of Tehran, virtually all of them welcoming us Americans – the supposed enemy — almost always with open arms and quite often bearing gifts. I remembered our conversations with Iranian people of all ages who longed for engagement — not only with us, but with the rest of the world.

I felt like yet another door closed on them today.

Continue to read the whole story here:

http://uncorneredmarket.com/iranian-people-poem/

Video: World class US and European Skateboarders skating in Iran

While skateboarding has a firm footing across major cities of the world, Iran certainly isn’t a name you’d associate with skating. Bridging an in-depth skateboarding video with documentary film, Thrasher Magazine and producer Patrik Wallner venture into Iran for an episode of “Visualtraveling.” Here, they meet MJ, skateboard enthusiast and skate deck craftsman who takes the crew through the country. Running into their fair share of challenges, the crew of skaters find out first hand what it’s like to skate in the Persian region. Clocking in at just under 30 minutes, the film is a mind-expanding piece that’s definitely worth your while.

Other USA – Iran related articles:
http://theotheriran.com/tag/usa/

Source:
http://hypebeast.com/2014/3/thrasher-magazine-travels-to-iran-for-visualtraveling-the-persian-version

Harvard Business Review: What It’s Like Being a Business Traveler in Iran

With a sense that a new dialogue may be happening between this remarkable culture and the West, about a dozen CEOs from the U.S., U.K., and Canada with extensive experience in emerging markets persevered to take a closer look.

Throughout our ten days this month in Tehran, the religious center of Qom and historic Kashan, Isfahan, and Shiraz, little of what we experienced was expected.

We almost immediately learned that Iran is an astoundingly lovely place, with very little of the deep poverty one sees intertwined into the societies of most emerging markets. We visited some of the greatest historic and cultural centers we have ever seen. There is an excellent education system – their engineering, in particular, is globally competitive. We didn’t see a fraction of the religious tension we expected. Everywhere we went, people (especially young people) came up to us even on the streets, tourist spots and restaurants to say hello, to thank us for being there, to express affection.

Coke and Pepsi were everywhere.

Today, in a country of roughly 70 million, there is well over 100% mobile penetration – meaning many people have more than one “dumb” phone – but 3G is coming and their over 60% Internet penetration is rising (albeit service speed is slow by western standards.)

And despite the sanctions and difficulty in buying apps, we were told that there are some 6.5 million iPhones in the country. Despite government restrictions for access to social networks, every young person we saw has found works-arounds to access Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more.

The new generations were born after the taking of our Embassy, so it’s not part of their world-view. They have little interest in their parents’ politics or religion, and in being told what to do.

Read the complete post here:

http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/05/what-its-like-being-a-business-traveler-in-iran/

Other must read articles: http://theotheriran.com/tag/usa/

Interview with Thomas Erdbrink a New York Times Journalist working in Iran

Erdbrink, Thomas and van Broekhoven, Roel - Onze Man in Teheran

Thomas Erdbrink and Roel van Broekhoven in Iran

Thomas Erdbrink and Roel van Broekhoven, the director of the series on the Dutch television channel VPRO, answered some of your questions about living and reporting in Iran.

Q. What do you think Americans and Iranians would be most surprised to learn about each other if we could sit down for dinner in each other’s homes?
A. For starters, the Americans would learn that crisp rice from the bottom of the pot in which it is cooked is a delicacy here. In fact, Iranians love it so much that whole families fight over it during lunch, the main meal of the day in Iran.

Around the dinner table it’s all about family in Iran. Relatives come together often, especially these weeks, as Iranians celebrate their new year, which started on March 21. If they were to visit America, they’d expect food courts in shopping malls. These have also sprouted up in Tehran and other cities.

I guess what they’d learn is that, across the world, families are really not that different. They all like to sit down together, eat and talk. — Thomas Erdbrink

Q. Is there a Sunni population there or other minorities? How are they treated?
A. My mother-in-law, who taught me to speak Persian, is an Iranian Kurd. She is a proud and strong woman, loves Iranian Kurdistan just as much as she loves Iran. Kurds are Sunni, but not like Arab Sunnis. Her husband is Shia. They have been happily married for almost 38 years.

Now while there are issues for religious minorities, such as Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews, they are in much better positions compared with minorities in other countries in the region.

In Iran, those minorities have their own members of Parliament and are granted their places of worship. There are dozens of synagogues in Tehran, and thousands of Jews here — the most in the region after Israel. — T.E.

Q. How does an average Iranian feel about Jews and Israel?
A. Iran’s leaders often call for the end of Israel, calling the country a “tumor” that needs to be removed. They are against Zionism, the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in Israel. But Iran’s leaders almost never speak out against Jews.

Why would they, as Iran is home to the largest population of Jews in the Middle East after Israel? Where Jews have left most other countries, thousands have remained in Iran, where they are not persecuted. Ordinary Iranians have no specific ideas about Jews, though some Iranians might have the same prejudice you would hear elsewhere in the world.
Continue reading the main story

The policies of Israel are, however, widely despised here. Many Iranians might not feel drawn to Arab issues, but last summer’s war in Gaza turned many moderate Iranians against Israel. The speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Congress also made many Iranians angry, as they heard him trying to undermine the nuclear deal that so many people here are hoping will happen. — T.E.

Q. You try to bring perspective in our view about Iran. How do Iranians look at our Western society? Is there any perspective, despite the government-controlled media?
A. Over the past decade, riding a wave of technological changes such as the wider availability of the Internet and satellite television, and inexpensive travel, Iranians have become more in tune with the world. Many Iranians in the cities are up-to-date on the news, the latest music and trends. Generally, Iranians know that in the West, contrary to what many here believed in the past, the streets are not paved with gold. Still, state television is the largest medium in the country and has the widest reach. Its broadcasts are often anti-Western and highly ideological. — T.E.

Q. Have these reports been vetted/censored in any way by the Iranian authorities?
A. No, there was no censorship, nor were the films vetted or seen before they were first broadcast on Dutch television.

We worked with a local production company. They organized permission for us to visit the places and people we were interested in. Sometimes they told us some locations or people they didn’t want us to come and film, or it was impossible to visit.

On the whole, we were pretty free to film whatever we wanted. There was no demand to see what we did film, or to show them the edited material in advance. Of course, Thomas has been living there long enough to judge what stories we could tell. — Roel van Broekhoven

Q. Are you free to discuss anything you want with friends and acquaintances? Do they share their views on politics, government, society, religion freely with you, or is there a culture of fear?
A. Step into a shared taxi here in Tehran and your fellow passengers will start talking about everything, from the weather to the effect of the sanctions to their opinion of the president. People talk very freely here, in small groups. There is no culture of fear. But that definitely doesn’t mean that everything can be said, all the time, not only politically, also culturally. — T.E.

Q. Is there a start-up or tech community in Tehran? What are entrepreneurs like?
A. Yes. There is the Tehran start-up weekend, which brings together tech entrepreneurs. Iran has a large number of highly educated engineers, some of whom are doing quite well in tech. Iran’s Amazon is called Digikala. There is Fidelio, a restaurant guide, and many more. — T.E.

Q. Can Iranians have Gmail accounts? Can artists do business w/Americans?
A. Google still blocks its business email accounts in Iran, as part of American-imposed sanctions. The answer to this question is written on such an account, which I can only access using software that makes it look as if I — an employee of an American news organization — am actually online in San Jose, Calif. For artists, there are no restrictions, but credit cards are blocked under U.S. sanctions, as are international bank transfers. — T.E.

Sources: New York Times, Nrc.nl, Image: VPRO | Programmas | Onze Man in Teheran