A friend introduced me to an unbelievably attractive woman (who my friend knew was looking for a boyfriend). She is an Iranian mathematician and was contracted to do some work for a financial department. She was looking for a tutorial in finance concerning how the stock markets work. A glimpse into the sad nature of my pickup lines: I told her I would tell her anything she wants to know if she told me how to say, “You’re beautiful”, in Persian.
Somehow that worked.
I spent the next two years of my life learning their language, Farsi (Persian). I got involved with the Iranian community, celebrating their festivals, Yalda and Nowruz, discussing their various takes on theology, doing business with them, and learning about their history and politics. I also had the opportunity to hear first-hand about what was happening during the Revolution and war stories of the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s.
When I introduced her to my mother I decided to play a prank. My mother made a feast for the occasion, and part of it was a ham.
Ever the opportunist, I told my mother, “Mom, I’m so sorry, I should have said something, Iranians are deeply offended by pig’s meat”.
My mother was horrified, “That’s right, Oh no! I can’t believe this, I’m so sorry! I should have thought…”
The Iranian’s English isn’t stellar, thus she had no idea what was going on. My mother was frantic, she stored the ham away, apologizing profusely. It took my girlfriend a few minutes to clue in, and once she did she explained the reality to my mother: Very few Iranians care. I laughed devilishly.
“Vhat is wrong wit you?” my girlfriend asked.
“I oughta smack you upside the head,” my mother was angry.
I had fun and learned a valuable lesson. I realized that most people have misconceptions about Iranians. I should take a moment to clear up some key ones, that are driving our view of the mystical country.
1. Their Views on America Are Complex
Saying Iranians want death to America or death to Israel is the equivalent of saying Americans want gun control or Americans love abortion or that Americans want death to Iran.
The party in power, the Revolutionary Guard, blames America for creating al-Qaeda, aligning with Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, and propping up the Taliban. They’re not wrong about any of this, and all three have caused problems for Iran, especially Hussein.
However, the Revolutionary Guard is opposed by the majority of the people and universally despised among the youth. Of the Iranians that I spoke to, 100% of them hated their government. However, the majority that I spoke to hated Iran’s geopolitical foe — Saudi Arabia — even more, and were likely to fight on Iran’s side if a war broke out between Iran and one of their political enemies.
If more peaceful relations can be maintained with Iran, a counter-revolution is likely to happen within the next decade. The people are breaking the law with their curses on the Supreme Leader, Khamenei, meaning protestors are reaching a point of no return. If a war breaks out, this will cause patriotic sentiments, and the Revolutionary Guard will stay in power for another generation.
2. They Aren’t Religious Extremists
At least half of the Iranians I spoke to were atheists but wouldn’t admit it publicly if they were still living in Iran, and the majority of the remainder were deist or some form of Zoroastrian. Very few had theology in line with the Qu’ran. Hijabs at a Yalda festival outside of Iran were rare, and tight, short skirts were common.
However, many of them had a deep respect for Islam, Imams, the Adhaan, the mosque, and the Qu’ran. There was a shooting not too far from us in a mosque by a Quebec white nationalist, and the Iranians turned to the Imam for wisdom and counsel.
In terms of public support, the current President of Iran promised a referendum on the issue of mandatory Hijabs. This never came to fruition, largely because the government was likely to lose the vote.
3. There Are Human Rights Abuses
Stories coming out of the Revolutionary Guard engaging in human rights abuses are common. I’ve heard stories of abuses first-hand and can verify their treatment of women is brutal. They aren’t nearly as extreme as Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, but Iran is not an ideal country for women.
Beyond legal restrictions on women’s rights, the day-to-day treatment of women is also poor. All of the women I spoke to reported that groping from strangers is exceedingly common if they aren’t with a man.
That being said, many of the Iranian women I spoke to in Canada felt that Quebec’s secular charter, demanding the removal of the hijab, was just as misogynistic. To some Islamic women, government mandates demanding they remove the hijab is equivalent to a law forcing Western women to remove their shirts.
4. Hospitality and Hatred: War With Iran Is More Likely Than Not
Iranians are among the most hospitable in the world. If you do one good deed for an Iranian they do two for you. Conversely, if you do one bad thing to an Iranian, they will do two to you.
This is very much like Donald Trump’s ethics. He’s spoken publicly about his ethical code. He repays acts of kindness twofold, and acts of aggression twofold. The acts of aggression appear childish when they play out in some Twitter war, but even the acts of kindness are problematic. If a member of the KKK gives him praise, he has difficulty repaying that with condemnation, even though it would be politically advantageous for him to do so. It’s much more Nietzschean rather than Trump’s professed Christianity.
This characterizes the history of warfare in the Middle East. If a member of one tribe is killed by another, the victimized tribe will go kill two members of the other as revenge, seeing this as a sign of strength. This escalates and the results are centuries and centuries of pointless conflicts.
The West operates very differently.
The West tolerates minimal acts of aggression from problematic opponents. This escalates until some cataclysmic event at which point the West responds with aggression and insanity. This was the case during the crusades, Pearl Harbour, and 9/11.
The current events are escalation rather than de-escalation for Iran. A person with Trump’s ethics being the executive of US foreign policy is successful for North Korea, but it’s not likely to normalize relations with Iran.
5. Iran’s Military Is More Powerful Than People Realize
If there is another war, it won’t be like Iraq. It will be far worse.
Even in a simple matter of the US fighting Iran, the outcome looks bleak. The US Air Force could quickly overwhelm Iran’s air force, however, their navy won’t have as much success. An Iranian wartime navy could tank the global economy, much of which depends on trade from the Arabian and Red Sea.
Iran’s only hope of defeating the US in a war for Iran would be to cause economic chaos, diminishing support for the war in America. On that point, their navy is more than capable.
Also, if the US wants to ensure the Revolutionary Guard is removed from power and ensure there are no nuclear weapons, they need to have a ground game. Iran’s terrain is rougher and more vast than Iraq’s, they have far more troops and far more military-age personnel. If the US fails, the result won’t be ISIS as it was in Iraq, it will be an eschatological, nuclear-armed, tyrant.
A war with Iran won’t involve just Iran and the US; Israel is likely to assist the US, as is a Saudi coalition. However, Iran has proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. How Putin, Erdogan, and Xi respond is unclear, but they have strong economic ties to Iran.
Lastly, it’s not pronounced “Eye-ran”, it’s pronounced, “Ear-ron”. Iranians themselves pronounce it EE-rON. It’s an odd frustration to talk with people who know none of the above, mispronounce it, and still call for bombing the country.