One Country, Two Nations – Iran and Modernity.

I believe that like an individual, an entire nation can have a low self-regard or low self-esteem. But, like so many personalities, the complexities reach its peak, when talking about a nation. The nation I would like to discuss here is the nation of Iran.

To attempt to talk about Iran, even of one particular aspect of this ancient land and culture may be inevitably futile. The reason is simple, the Iranian people are inheritors of a rich and pluralistic history with many thousands of years in profile. It is highly difficult to categorize, characterize, and to define. But in the absence of such wishful thinking, and the knowledge of the aforementioned challenge, I would like to discuss the downfall of Iranian culture, at the hands of Iranian culture, if I may. Note, I am not a scholar and this is merely my opinion.

So, what is the root of the downfall of Iranian culture? For many years, during the reign of Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi, there seemed to be a glorification of nostalgia, and a remembrance of great Persian kingdoms and dynasties. This was engineered predominantly by the regime itself, but it was indicative of something inherently Persian – the passion for storytelling and glorious occasions with elements of mythological fantasy.

As one studies Persian culture and history, they will find the most powerful works of art and mesmerizing literature, from the likes of grand poets such as Ferdowsi, Rumi, and Hafez, to name a few. The beautiful Persian creativity in art and agriculture to music and dance is world renown. However, the medium to showcase this culture came to decline, during the 17th and 18th centuries,

With the gradual decline in political and economic power, particularly during the Qajar dynasty, more and more of Persian aristocracy found solace in other cultures. As this exposition to European culture increasingly grew stronger, it became more prestigious for the Persian aristocracy to say they spoke a foreign language. And, at the time, it was particularly prestigious to study abroad, and/or master the English or French language. Thus, through time, and with the consolidation of worldwide power by European cultures, the Persian culture gradually went under a veil of insecurity.

What then later came to be known as Iranian culture, as we know it today, was a culture left in fantasy, mystics, legends, and nostalgia. Today, one of the elements that has kept Iranian culture, and the nation from moving forward is predominantly its affinity for the past, and its dialogue and language, through metaphors, analogies, symbols, and all things imaginative. Contrarily, we can see quite evidently that in countries that have had political and economic superiority, a strong emphasis is put on the material world, and rationality – and thus, on realism.

These concepts are culturally foreign to Iranian society, and thus have kept the nation well-rooted, with the ability to use memories of a distant past to safeguard  against those who attempt to uproot its language and culture. The means to remember and maintain this identity is visceral – through Persian poetry, music, art, and a glorified history and taking solace in nostalgia defines the modern Persian identity.

Yet, ironically, the very same psychology of the Iranian nation that has helped preserve its Persian identity, has also entrapped it from seeking modernity in an Iranian sense and form. The society in Iran today is still longing for modernity for the wrong reasons, whether it is to return to the economic glory during the Pahlavi dynasty, or the glory days of the Persian Empire of Cyrus the Great. The Iranian psyche is centred on being accepted by foreigners, hence explaining why Iranians are more welcoming to foreigners coming to Iran, than to each other.

The Iranian nation is now more than ever losing its cultural perspective for the future. One can set blame on Islamic ideology, foreign political interference, and imperialism for the decline in Iran’s cultural influence in the world, and its ability to re-innovate itself and propel itself into the future. Although, the aforementioned reasons did arguably have some influence on Persian culture, one cannot lose sight of the fact that Persian culture has in it a value system based on the past, used to preserve the present, with little to offer for the future. The religious and national values and belief system have left Iranians simply to mourn of legends, be grateful for the present, and but disregarding of the future.

In the end, with this mentality, Iranians may believe all they have is history, and all they are to be are survivors, and the rest is up to God. However, to construct a great modern nation that references past achievements is still possible, but requires a renaissance in Iranian society. It should realistically look at its current state of affairs and use Persian history and culture as a minimal source of reference for reconstructing Iran for the future.

It should be acceptable to believe that modernism is not a “Western idea” and is not contrary to Iranian cultural values and beliefs. A mentality centred more on the future of Iran is beneficial, and will not diminish the cultural legacy of Persian history, but will rather strengthen it and bring it back to prominence. If this cultural change does not occur, Iran will always remain stalled within its cultural fantasies, walking backwards into the future.

A Farcical Story: The Bizarre Relationship between the USA and Iran.

The bitter relationship between the United States and Iran has been agonizing to watch and live through, especially if you are suffering under economic sanctions due to this mutual animosity. During the better part of 35 years, with no official diplomatic relations, the Iranian and American governments have miraculously worked around the idea of a possibility of rekindled relations, at least in the near future.

The outrage against American foreign policy arguably began in the midst of revolutionary fervour in 1979, when a group of Iranian hardline students stormed the US embassy, and took Americans hostage. Ever since, during annual commemorations marking the takeover of the US embassy in Tehran (Nov. 4th 1979) groups of supporters of the regime, chant symbolic slogans such as “Death to America”. The United States for its part always responded with geopolitical manoeuvre along with political and economic sanctions in order to pressure the Iranian regime. 

However, the story only became interesting when a grieving and fiery United States of America, led by George W. Bush, gave Iran a taste of its own medicine, by calling it part of an “Axis of Evil”. The Iranian regime took offence, apparently since they believed that “Death to America” clearly doesn’t mean anything, since countries cannot die, and are not living things and do not have parents. But, labeling a country at once part of an “Axis of Evil”, after years and years of “Death to America” were deemed uncalled for, unjustified, and unforgivable.

So, Iran decided to ramp up it’s nuclear program, with more tenacity and research in order to protect itself from a possibility of an imminent strike by the United States. It was not a time to feel secure in Iran, because if there was one President who could by chance mistake an ‘N’ for a ‘Q’  due to a lack of ‘IQ’, not knowing the difference between Iran and Iraq, it would have been ‘W’. But, of course, in all seriousness, there were well trained, men and women with expertise, who could well advise the President, which country is Iraq on a map, which country has a nuclear weapons program, etc. And, of course, they did a great job.

The Iranian nuclear program evidently went under the radar, quite literally, after 2003. Seeing the result of Saddam Hussein’s fate, Iran slowed down its ambitions and proclaimed even more strenuously that its nuclear program was merely for ‘peaceful purposes’. The Iranian government has played an almost purposely ambiguous role in trying to extend ‘talks’ and meanwhile use this latest ‘argument’ (like a divorced couple) to settle some issues, and maybe see their mutual interests and quite faintly but possibly rekindle a relationship.

The US government for its part, does not mind ‘negotiating’ to settle past disputes with Iran, so long as the Iranian government does not say one thing and do another. Now, you see why it looks like marriage counselling? Iran’s government wants financial security, and stability, while the US wants Iran to stop talking behind its back and acting all tough. They also have relatives, called senators and congressmen (USA), and Members of Parliament (Iran), who are still bitter about every little thing the other party has ever done! So, even if the relationship is rekindled, it would be rocky and at best spiteful.

Then, what is Iran doing in the meantime? The Iranian leaders are trying to figure out a way to sell a novel idea to their most hardline supporters, which is, to cooperate with the USA in some matters of foreign policy and other issues in a conservative and pragmatic manner, may not be a bad thing. It is difficult to do that, hence the reason why there has been ‘no deal’ struck, and it is yet again postponed to July 2015.

It is quite clear what the dilemma is for Iran: The government is well aware that it thrives on political tension and economic disarray in order to survive since the people would constantly live in fear and need. But that is not the problem. Iran’s regime has implemented and maintained this status, and managed quite magnificently since its inception. The issue is that Iran now wants to alter this strategy, and wants to become a more economically friendly and politically cooperative country with especially Western states. These relations may certainly not occur immediately with the United States for example, but Iran has shown interest in ameliorating its relations with Western countries. Iranian President Hassan Rowhani actually met with British Prime Minister David Cameron in September 2014, the first of any official meetings between the two countries after 1979.

Thus, Iran is buying time, not necessarily to build a nuclear bomb as is the propagated rhetoric these days, but to warm up the hearts of those hardline elements within the Iranian regime that are still cold and bitter about anything and everything. It is the current Rowhani administration’s mission to ease the tensions by continuously extending the talks, in order to prove that cooperation and peaceful dialogue is possible. But, Rowhani also needs President Barack Obama’s help. This would lead to more necessary cooperation. 

With the terror of ISIS in Iraqi and Syrian land, Iran is showing its power and military might be joining in airstrikes against ISIS targets. This, in effect, has helped Iran show its ‘stance to fight against extremism’ and to cooperate, however unofficial and isolated it may be, along with other Western states who have joined in the same fight. This display of Iranian military power has allowed Iran to present itself once again as a force, but a force that fights ‘evil’. It cannot thus, be part of any axis of evil, but part of a coalition that fights extremism, opts for dialogue and cooperation, with all countries.

At least, that’s the image Iran wants to sell. We just have to see who’s buying it… 

The Fateful Triangle – Iran, Israel and the United States.

The title of this blog is borrowed from a book written by Noam Chomsky, with the same title. In Noam Chomsky’s book “A Fateful Triangle”, the subject was the relationship between the Israelis, Palestinians, and the United States. I, however, in this short blog would like to discuss the “fateful triangle” involving Iran, Israel and the United States.

My aim is to underline the fact that behind all the animosity, distrust and sometimes hatred that the respective governments express for each other, they do equally benefit politically via these same antagonistic policies.

First and foremost, a bit of background and history is needed. You see, after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and the return of Ayatollah Khomeini to Iran, a new anti-US and anti-Israeli foreign policy was immediately adopted. In so doing, the very fundamental political policies were drawn to give Iran an “independence” from imperial powers. The other main point of the foreign policy was Iran’s firm allegiance to the Palestinian cause.

This political stance established by the newborn Islamic Republic of Iran, seemingly did threaten Israeli and American interests, just by its mere existence. And of course, after radical Islamist students overtook the US embassy in Tehran, the theoretical threat had become a matter of fact.

The strained relations between the US and Iran is well documented and volatile, while the war of words between Israel and Iran does not lack any less fervour. It is however interesting to note that although it may not be on purpose, both the Israelis and the Iranians are benefiting politically from their sideshow war with one another.

The Iranians clearly use the “Zionist threat”, mainly to unite Muslims, but more importantly, to maintain a rallying cry and simultaneously crush internal political descent. To understand the Iranian regime, one must understand how an oppressive theocracy remains in power for roughly thirty-five years. It would not be possible if it did not have any foreign enemies. The Islamic regime has two metaphorical oxygen tanks. One is labelled Israel, and the other is labelled “Death to America”. Without a rallying cry, and enemies to blame for economic and social injustices at home and abroad, it would be difficult to maintain unity and convince your people that “they’re out to get us”.

Israel, on the other hand, seems to be doing the same thing but in a different way. The Israelis after all do gain from the “Iranian threat”, consistently labeling Iran’s government as “the greatest threat to world peace” and to the peace process. But what is not admitted is that Iran’s existence does allow for the Israelis to push forward with controversial policies in the occupied lands. It is also a fact that labeling a country like Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism would allow Israel to defy several UN condemnations, construct new properties on occupied territories, and continue implementing policies to the detriment of the Palestinians.

Without Iran’s Islamic regime in power, and all of its propaganda (ex. former Pres. Ahmadinejad’s claim that Israel must be “wiped off the map”), it would be difficult for Israel, from a public relations stand point to claim its mantra that it ” has a right to defend itself”. If theoretically there was no group named Hezbollah, and no Islamist government in Iran, one could argue that Israel would be in a tough position (meaning, they would likely have to concede land) in peace talks with the Palestinians.

Whether or not the Iranian and Israeli foreign policies are purposely designed to deceive and ironically benefit each other and put the wool over our eyes (including the Palestinians), is up for debate. But the existence of Iran for the Israelis is certainly a political gift and plenty for them to work with. Israel’s goal is to maintain an image of not as an aggressor but of an small Jewish state mainly concerned with defending itself. Iran’s foreign policy is surprisingly similar, insofar as it claims to have merely “defensive” military policies. The only difference is that Iran has much more political gain with the existence of Israel than it would like to admit.

Nearly all political opposition parties and notable individuals who were later deemed “threats to national security” have nearly all been charged as spies for Mossad, the Israeli spy agency, and of course the CIA. The fascinating part about this story is how the United States of America fits into this equation. The USA actually plays an intricate role in maintaining things in order so that the two countries don’t go “off script” so to speak.

The American governments through the years have tried to use very extreme elements of radical ideologies in Marxism and Islamism, to keep the Middle Eastern countries from becoming ideologically united. A moderate government in Iran does not favour the US, along with any other country in the Muslim world. You see, moderate governments bring pragmatism, and try to hold aside ideology for the sake of “national interest”, just like we see in most democratic governments around the world. But in a region where the world’s most primary and valued resource is buried, pragmatic governments would only use that resource (oil), to modernize their countries and that doesn’t bode well for the West.

So, for those of you who are always asking: “why is their always war in the Middle East?” and “why are we there?”, the reason is simple: the Middle Eastern countries naturally hold sway over Western countries and can use the oil prices as leverage, but can only bow down to Western pressure, if there is consistent conflict, war, war drumming, and threats.

How does that relate Iran, Israel and the US together? Well, between these respective governments there is a mutual understanding that their lack of relations and threats of war serve to benefit them more than any relations at all (at least formally).

To reiterate, Iran benefits by rallying the Muslim world (mainly Shia) with populist policies, quashing descent and keeping its people in a constant state of fear. Israel, on the other hand benefits from Iran’s policies, with its continued occupation, and increasing construction of new settlements and occasional bombardments of occupied lands under the pretext that it “has right to defend itself”. And finally, the US benefits with both Iran and Israel threatening each other and putting fear into the eyes of their neighbours, particularly Iran, making the small Arab “sheikhdoms” ask for more US military aid, and simultaneously letting the chaos and war dispel any chance of unity among Middle Eastern countries to challenge Western economic policies.

It happened once in 1973, the US vowed it would not happen again, and it hasn’t.

In short, Iran will not be bombed, Israel will not be wiped off the map, and the US needs both countries’ regimes to exist to achieve its immediate goals in the Middle East.

Inaccuracies in the New CBS show “Madam Secretary”

The new political drama titled “Madam Secretary” starring Tea Leoni in its title role has generally received positive reviews from critics. In the latest episode titled “Blame Canada”, the story line cleverly navigates been two separate diplomatic tussles that inter-relate in the end. One deals with relations between Canada and the United States, while the other deals with the highly contentious nuclear program of Iran, and a broad commentary on current US-Iran “talks” regarding the nuclear issue.

Although the show does have a good cast and a fairly decent weekly drama on foreign relations, there are some inaccuracies that if corrected, would make for a great show. For example, in the latest episode, an Iranian “diplomat” to the U.N., Mr. Javani, whom we see later in the episode, does not sound Iranian at all. The show seems to cast Iranians to play “Arabs”, and Arabs to play “Iranians”. In the “Pilot” episode of this show, (those who speak Arabic or Farsi would have noticed) one of the prisoners in a Syrian prison was pleading in FARSI when dragged on the floor about to be tortured in a Syrian prison while his captures spoke Arabic.

Now, unless you are American and do not speak any other language, and you speak either Arabic or Farsi, you would have thought that an Iranian had been captured by the Syrians, to be tortured. But of course, that was not part of the story line because, to an American audience, it is not easy to distinguish, especially when they’re usually depicted as angry and incoherent!

One other inaccuracy, that might need to be looked at is the secret deal made the Iranian “diplomat” with the Canadian Ambassador to meet with Madam Secretary. I do not know if the writers of the show are aware that Canada broke off official diplomatic ties with Iran in September of 2012. Thus, Canada-Iran relations are virtually non-existent. So, if in the show, the Canadian Ambassador allows an Iranian “diplomat” into the Canadian Embassy in the USA, one would again question such an act.

If the show “Madam Secretary” bases its plot and weekly episodes on actual world events, then there should be a bit more research conducted. The fact is, the Iranians would have no reason to use the Canadians as the “mediator” between them and the Americans, since in today’s political scene, one could argue that the current state of relations between the US and Iran, although still bitterly contentious, is better than the virtually non-existent relations between Canada and Iran.


Also, a show’s success depends on good casting, not “stereotype-casting”. The “Mr.Javani” character was not even close to sounding Iranian, let alone looking like one. But, having said all that, the show does seem to be picking up with each episode and there are signs of developing conflicts and issues stretching beyond news reel soundbites of current news and world diplomacy.

I look forward to better episodes to come.