Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Persian Perceptions Part I

I’ve just returned from Iran. To say Iran is a country of contrasts is a gross understatement. One simply cannot speak of Iran in absolutes; it is a complex country of layers upon layers. We saw everything from conservatism and tradition to especially young people pushing the envelope. It was an extremely interesting, nonstop, exhausting trip. We had the opportunity to meet with many clerics, current and former government officials, artists, musicians, etc. Lonely Planet Iran was an excellent companion that offered great tips for getting out at night when we weren’t in meetings in order to interact with people on the street. While most of our time was spent in Tehran, we also were able to see a bit of the country in Persepolis, Shiraz, Esfahan and Qom. I’ll be posting more in-depth observations of the different aspects of the trip over the coming days. (Pictured above: With my husband at the "Gateway of All Nations in Persepolis)

One of the highlights of the trip for me was meeting with former reformist President Khatami (pictured together here), who expressed optimism for finding a solution to problems facing U.S.-Iran relations, as well as optimism for reform in the political system and the upcoming parliamentary elections, despite the myriad difficulties facing the movement to change the political system from within.

We happened to be in Iran at the time of an international conference sponsored by the Institute for Political and International Studies on “Iran’s Peaceful Nuclear Program and Activities: Modality of Cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.” I was invited to speak on the Plenary Panel about a week before the event, but then my name didn’t appear on the agenda with no explanation. I attended nonetheless and was interviewed by several media outlets (mostly Iranian, but also Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Christian Science Monitor), which was an opportunity to present an alternative view to the party line that dominated the conference. It was also a good opportunity to see colleagues including Barbara Slavin, Andreas Persbo and Paul Ingram.

More than anything, my overall Iran experience only reaffirmed the points I was making prior to the trip. Everyone I met – from people on the street who strongly oppose the regime, to human and women's rights activists, to reformist and hard-line Ayatollahs – reiterated that threats of regime change, isolation, sanctions and military action will only have a negative effect and further harden Iran’s stance. Referring to the regime change slush fund, activists and dissidents in Iran told me over and over again that “democracy in Iran doesn’t need money” and that the fund has only undermined their work for reform.

I can not underscore enough that the worst thing that could happen for Iran’s movement towards reform and democracy is U.S. intervention. I also feel reaffirmed in the belief that, although it will be difficult, any steps we can make towards normalization of relations between the U.S. and Iran will be worth the effort.

More soon.


Plutonium Page said...

What an extraordinary experience! Thanks for sharing your adventures with us.

Being a regular reader, I'm looking forward to your upcoming posts in general, but especially on your Iran trip.

Plutonium Page from

African neocon said...

Yeah! I've been checking in everyday!

Many thanks!