One of the problems of only getting your news from the TV is that you miss so much. For instance, until I started getting, and reading, my local daily newspaper, I thought Iran was still some camel-spit-soaked backwater with scary old men in turbans getting young men to find creative ways to blow us all up. I'm afraid a whole bunch of you out there still think of them this way.
Now, I will preface this by saying I have not actually visited the place. I'm not sure US citizens can, can't remember if they've been interdicted the same way as Cuba used to be (still is?) What I have done is gotten interested in this large, enigmatic country and, as noted below in a previous entry, when I get interested in something I tend to read a lot about it. Not just in newspapers, because I know our news media can be just as ignorant and biased as Al-Jazeera if it suits them, but also travel books and history.
What I have found is that Iran just isn't like this. What called my attention to this first of all was when they elected, and yes I said elected, Mohammed Khatami president. Khatami seems to be a man of the people. His platform was wrapped around economic reforms, reducing corruption, building roads and schools, loosening up on the media, and a bunch of other stuff that makes him sound not all that much different from any other politician anywhere else in the world. It's also important to note that at no time does he seem to ever have included "and blow up Americans" in his agenda. I've never heard anything even close to that attributed to him.
And he got elected not in the way G. Bush got "elected" (stupid people voting with stupid ballots), or even the way B. Clinton got elected (you suck... ok you suck too... ok you suck even more... so, um...), but rather by this monstrous majority, with most of the eligible population voting. And, the most important part was this wasn't the guy the scary dudes with the turbans wanted! But, and I think this is very important, since such a huge number of people voted for him the clerics felt they had no choice but to let him in.
Of course, it's never really that easy. At Mr. Khatami's election, the legislature was filled with the cronies of the scary dudes with the turbans (hereafter: SDWTT, also known as "the clergy"), so he couldn't get anything done. Boom! Next election, adios cronies, hello newbies. This one seemed to have scared the SDWTT, because they started busily "disqualifying" as many of the newbies as they dared, and managed to zorch quite a few. The SDWTT also still seem to control the judiciary (the government appears to be constructed sort of like ours, but only if you squint at it till you're cross-eyed), so the SDWTT are still very powerful and it remains to be seen if Khatami will actually end up getting the reforms he wants. But he sure does seem to be trying hard.
Iran is not some big sandy wasteland with a few nosepicking bedouins that got lucky and inadvertently ended up sitting on the largest oil reserves in the world (*cough*Saudi Arabia*cough*). Iran is old. They more or less invented their own brand of monotheism all by themselves (Zoroastrianism) when most of the rest of the world was still using the "in" technology... stone tipped arrows and your basic heavy rock. They built a government that lasted for hundreds of years, coming down to us through history as the Persian empire. But, and this is something that seems to happen to Iran a lot throughout history, they had the bad luck of stumbling across the second most pigheaded group of people that existed in the ancient world (the Greeks), and lost big wars to them not once but twice. The second time around the conquering general of the Greek army got blind drunk one night and decided it was "party on dood" fun for him and his buds to toss lit torches into the main palace, a building whose origins dated back to legend. They burned it to the ground. You can still see the ruins to this day. Incredibly, the Iranians continue to hold a grudge over this, even though Alexander the Great has been dead for over 2500 years.
Modern history has been no kinder. There's a reason the Iranians, especially the older ones, don't like the USA one
damned bit. And it's not because we grin at everything in the world and try to get farmers on the way to market to stand
still long enough so we can get a picture with them (hawvey!
As always, it came as a complete surprise to the USA when Iran boiled over 26 years later and everyone started chanting "death to America". Khomeni and his friends were a lot of things, but they were not fools. They remembered what happened the last time an uprising started happening in an oil-rich country the US was interested in. So, when a bunch of hothead students overran the embassy of the most powerful nation in the world (and had the good sense not to kill anyone), they saw an opportunity and took it. Waving hostages around like a cape kept the raging bull of our government distracted long enough for them to get their house in order, and they released them only when they were damned sure we wouldn't try anything.
But like I said, Iran still has a long, long way to go. Iran is not the only country in the world that likes Americans but hates the US Government. They may quite rightly point out that our government does bad things for rich white guys that make people so mad they fly airplanes into buildings. However, it must be pointed out in no uncertain terms that Iran has this same problem.
Khatami can't get anything done because their government was set up to give all the power to just a few clerics, aka SDWTT-type folks. The vast majority of people in Iran are just trying to get on with life, raising their kids, making their corner of the world a better place for them, maybe saving enough to buy a timeshare on the Caspian Sea. But because so much power is concentrated in the hands of so few, things can happen behind the scenes that nobody else knows about. The Iranian people were quite sincerely horrified by what happened when the towers fell. But not everyone in their government was.
And Iranians must ask themselves... what happens when just a few people in a government get enough power to start doing things behind their backs?
Does 1953 ring a bell?