O let me count the reasons!
Modern Iran is in a geo-political and historical pickle, but still one of the first initiatives taken by the Obama administration was to send the Iranian Muslim Council (which really runs the Iranian government, by the way) a message which essentially said: ‘We hold out our hands in friendship, let’s talk out our differences.” It took Iranians about ten minutes to come back with, “ You speak with forked tongues. When you are ready to apologize and make up for all of what you have taken from us, then we might have something to talk about. Actions speak louder than words. Oh, and bite me.”
As someone who lived in Iran in the past, I can tell you that nothing important is commonly said directly because when you say something directly, you are committed to whatever comes out of your mouth. Iranians are bargainers. If you say a price, that’s the price at this moment. You cannot unsay what you have said anymore than you can unring a bell. The Persians have become adept bargainers over their 10,000 year history.
How did our relationship with Iran get so sour and complicated? Well, here are a few pointers for Americans to remember:
The Coup of 1953: Iranians have not forgotten the American support for the 1953 coup, which placed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi on the Peacock Throne in Tehran. This came about when the Iranians, believing that the oil coming from their sovereign earth actually belonged to them, nationalized their petroleum industry. This enraged the British, who occupied Iran during WW 2 and later cast a wary eye on the USSR at the opening of the Cold War.
The Brits and their pals the ‘Mericans backed the coup that toppled the old government and installed the Shah en Shah ( he King of Kings ).
This may be one of the few times in modern history that a proto-democracy, Iran’s, was forced out of power in order to install monarchy back in power – all by another democracy. As loony as that may sound, I’m not making this up. Greece was the first victim of this kind of arrogant thinking in1948 by guess who? That’s right. The U.S.A., which called it’s political intervention ‘The Marshall Plan.’
The Islamic Revolution: After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the unpopular Shah was overthrown by Islamic clerics and their many friends and the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini put in charge of the new theocracy. There was considerable discombobulation in Iran in the early days of the Islamic Revolution. The U.S.A., naturally was made into the Revolution’s piñata.
The U.S. Embassy in Tehran was overrun by pro-Khomeini students and members of the Revolutionary Guard. 52 American hostages were taken and held for 444 days.
The Iraqis under Saddam Hussein, Iran’s western neighbor, thought that maybe now was a great time to swipe some territory from Iran and invaded. However, trying to steal your neighbor’s land and actually doing so are two different things, and the Iranian Army fought the Iraqis to a draw at great loss of life until in the mid-1980’s in World War I-like conditions (trenches, machine guns, hopeless charges at the enemy’s guns, the dead stretched out on roads) when Iraq decided to use chemical weapons over broad areas of the front in order to tip the balance their way.
Neither America nor Europe raised a peep at this obvious and egregious indifference to the Geneva Convention, which Iraq had signed years before. In fact, if anything, the Americans and British shared their intelligence with Saddam Hussein. Publicly, an American State Department official was quoted as saying, “Too bad they both can’t lose.”
Third, in 1988, a U.S. missile cruiser on patrol in the Persian Gulf shot down an Iran Air flight with 265 passengers on board. The captain of the American ship said he thought then that the Iranian plane was going to attack his ship. He said he was sorry. Washington said it was sorry, too.
A few weeks later, the Iranian government called for a truce which entailed giving up a few acres of territory to Iraq. We’ll never know if shooting down a civilian airplane forced the Ayatollah to sue for peace, but we can’t discount that the confluence of these two events was probably not accidental.
Fourth, a group of Iranian dissidents in exile calling themselves the People’s Mujahadeen, long-based in Baghdad, gave the West in general and the U.S.A. in particular, information on the Iranian nuclear development program. Were it not for these traitors, Iran still thinks, it would have already covertly developed a deliverable nuclear weapon. Or, conversely, a dozen peaceful nuclear power plants, depending on how much you know. Occasional bombs went off in Terhan, and certain assassinations were carried out.
Fifth, modern Iran rests upon the holy ground Persia, and is the product of one of the world’s oldest and noblest of civilizations. Persia is at least ten thousand years old, according to records kept since the Great Agricultural Revolution. With good reason, Persians are fussy about being acknowledged as such.
After successfully defending itself against the Romans and Byzantines, the two Western powerhouses of the ancient world and the early- Medieval Age, the Persian Empire was just too exhausted, easily bowled over by invading Arabs with their Islamic banner in 642.
The Persians responded positively to Islam’s tenets on equality and unity, two things they hadn’t seen up close for a thousand years. Their brand of Islam is known as Shi’ite – based on Imam Ali, Mohammad’s son-in-law. The differences between the majority of Sunni Muslims and Shi’ites are profound, but that’s for another time. For now, its enough to know that Islam doesn’t preach turning the other cheek. Islam fights back.
Sixth, Iran doesn’t like the American military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan which traps Iran in the middle. Imagine a map open to the Middle East. There’s Iran, to Iran’s north is the Caspian Sea where the really good caviar comes from. To Iran’s east are Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the south lies the Persian Gulf and to its right is Iraq.
American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistanis with nukes, Israel over there being tough and Jewish and menacing, American air bases in southern Turkey. For an Iranian, that’s one bad neighborhood. An Iranian politician, Ali-Akbar Javanfekr, commented sourly recently, “(America) is the only source of instability in the region.” Also, there are women in the American army who go about with their arms and hair uncovered. Scandalous.
Seventh, America’s support for Israel is “not a friendly gesture” Mr. Javanfekr said and went on to comment that American support of UN sanctions against Iran were “wrong and need to be reviewed.”
Iran, remembering, perhaps, the British attitude toward Iran’s own oil in the 1950s, believe their nuclear development is their own business, not Europe’s, not America’s, certainly not the Israelis’, and it’s not the rest of the world’s business, either. This is a very post-modern idea.
Iran’s leaders have relentlessly opposed anything positive coming out of “the Zionist entity” and have said over and over again that Israel should instantly disappear from the Middle East and its land revert to Palestinian control as a sovereign nation. This the so-called ‘one state solution.’ “From the river [of Jordan] to the sea,” according to both Hamas and Hezbollah activists. .
Finally, for the most embarrassing and distasteful American thievery from Iran, there’s the ancient Persian postal service which the American’s ripped off from ancient Persia circa 500 B.C. The reign of Darius the Great marked the zenith of the Persian Empire. Among other feats, Darius built the Royal Road, the world’s longest for a thousand years. The road was 1500 miles (about 1800 KM) long, connecting Tehran to the Persian Gulf.
The ancient Persian postal service could ride this road from end to end in six to nine days, whereas normal travel time was three or more weeks. The U.S. Postal Service, using Darius’s service as a model, introduced the Pony Express that served America’s West so well in the 19th century.
Americans even filched the ancient Persian service’s motto as their own: “Stopped by neither snow, rain, heat or gloom of night…” and so on.
Is it any wonder why Iran despises the West? All joking aside, there are serious wounds that can’t simply be forgiven. Here’s a verse from Sa’di:
The children of Adam are limbs of each other
Having been created of one essence.
When calamity of time afflicts one limb
The other limbs cannot remain at rest
If thou hast no sympathy for the troubles of others
Thou art unworthy to be called by the name of man.
Elections are scheduled for June in Iran. They are very important for the future of the country. As important, says one conservative cleric, as the one last November in America which brought Barak Obama to the U.S. Presidency. That may be a stretch, but at stake is rule by conservative mullahs with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as their Prime Minister, or maybe someone more tolerant of the West.
While the old order theocrats, the mullahs, are currently in power in Iran, the reformist parties are much more open to dialogue. Muhammad Qalibaf and Mir Hosein Mousavi are often mentioned as possible replacements for the mullahs’ darling, Ahmadinrjad.
At this point, we need to remember that there has been a generational shift challenging for national power. Iran is a young country to the extent that young people are now in a majority voting position. If change is to come for Persia, it will from these young people.
Of course, in the pre-election argy-bargy among the hopefuls, the mullahs are dragging their heels and have disenfranchised thousands of younger voters for one reason for another. Stay tuned.