The regime may inflame Washington, but young Iranians say they admire, of all places, America
Tehran's teens cometimes flout restrictions on dress and contact between
unmarriedmen and women. Two-thirds of Iranians are under 30.
Photo: Eric Gregorian
Perhaps the most striking thing about anti-Americanism in Iran today is how little of it actually exists. Nearly three-fourths of the Iranians polled in a 2002 survey said they would like their government to restore dialogue with the United States. Though hard-line officials urge "Death to America" during Friday prayers, most Iranians seem to ignore the propaganda. "The paradox of Iran is that it just might be the most pro-American-or, perhaps, least anti-American-populace in the Muslim world," says Karim Sadjadpour, an analyst in Tehran for the International Crisis Group, an advocacy organization for conflict resolution based in Brussels.
Despite decades of anti-American propaganda, many Iranians express
admiration for the United States. Indeed, most citizens (like 24-year-old
Maryam) are too young to remember the 1979 revolution, or the 444-day
hostage crisis that destroyed the two nations' once-close relationship.
Photo: Newsha Tavakol
Traveling across Iran over the past five years, I've met many Iranians who said they welcomed the ouster of the American-backed Shah 26 years ago but who were now frustrated by the revolutionary regime's failure to make good on promised political freedoms and economic prosperity. More recently, I've seen Iranians who supported a newer reform movement grow disillusioned after its defeat by hard-liners. Government mismanagement, chronic inflation and unemployment have also contributed to mistrust of the regime and, with it, its anti-Americanism. "I struggle to make a living," a Tehran engineer told me. "The government stifles us, and they want us to believe it is America's fault. I'm not a fool."
Iranian reformers draw inspiration from the legacy of Iranian
patriot Mohammad Mossadegh (on placard), who advocated
democracy but criticized U.S. meddling before his death in 1967.
Photo: Ali Khaligh
It's increasingly apparent that Iran's young are tuning out a preachy government for an alternative world of personal Web logs (Persian is the third most commonly used language on the Internet, after English and Chinese), private parties, movies, study, and dreams of emigrating to the West. These disenchanted "children of the revolution" make up the bulk of Iran's population, 70 percent of which is under 30. Too young to remember the anti-American sentiment of the '70s, they share little of their parents' ideology. While young Iranians of an earlier generation once revered Che Guevara and romanticized guerrilla movements, students on today's college campuses tend to shun politics and embrace practical goals such as getting a job or admission into a foreign graduate school. Some 150,000 Iranian professionals leave the country each year-one of the highest rates of brain drain in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Iranian intellectuals are quietly rediscovering American authors and embracing values familiar to any American civics student-separation of church and state, an independent judiciary and a strong presidency.
Political philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo, who believes in the
separation of church and state, says secular thinkers are in great
demand on college capuses.
Photo: Newsha Tavakol
But intellectuals are not running the show, and the government continues to clash with the United States. Either the Islamic revolution must mellow and embrace political change, or face a reckoning down the road when hard-line clerics come into conflict with the secular, democratic ideals of the younger generation.
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