Abstract of an article by Afshin Molavi, originally published in the March
2005 issue of Smithsonian
The regime may inflame Washington, but young Iranians say
they admire, of all places, America
cometimes flout restrictions on dress and contact
unmarriedmen and women. Two-thirds of Iranians are under
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
admiration for the United States. Indeed, most citizens
Maryam) are too young to remember the 1979 revolution, or
hostage crisis that destroyed the two nations' once-close
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
Mossadegh (on placard), who advocated
democracy but criticized U.S. meddling
before his death in 1967.
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
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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