The Islamic Republic of Iran isn’t a top tourist destination for most Americans.
Iran is portrayed in the Western media as a country run by fanatical, bloodthirsty Mullahs, ruling in concert with the often outrageous President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As for the Iranian people, angry mobs are often shown in the streets, burning American flags and shouting “Death to America!”
No wonder it is easy to convince Americans that Iranians are consumed by hatred and eager to reduce American cities to rubble. Yet Americans brave enough to visit Iran quickly discover Iranians are a friendly, gracious people. They love Americans, and they are not bashful about sharing their affection. Tourists from California said they were amazed by their experience:
“We were besieged, mobbed almost, by whole classrooms of up to 50 or 60 individuals who would come up to us and smother us with hugs and kisses,” reports Caroleen Williams, of Coronado. “‘Are you Americans?’ they asked. ‘We love Americans.’ Women walking down the sidewalks in full black burqas would wave to us and tap their hearts.”
In fact, Williams says they were repeatedly urged to take home a message: “Tell all Americans we love them.”
The experience is not unusual. An American Rabbi who visited Iran described a similar experience in his blog. He concluded that Iran is misunderstood by Americans, and especially by American Jews, many of whom are convinced the Iranians harbor a special hatred for them:
The most essential thing I’ve learned is in some ways the most basic: Iran is a beautiful country with a venerable history and wonderful, gracious people. It is also a powerfully complicated country, marked by a myriad of cultural/political/religious/historical layers. I am now more convinced than ever that we in the West harbor egregiously stereotypical assumptions about this country – and that we harbor them at our mutual peril. ~ Rabbi Shalom Rav
A journalist from the Christian Science Monitor confirmed that the affection Iranians have for Americans is not confined to secular liberals:
After speaking with numerous Iranians from all walks of life – lower and upper class, religious and secular, Westernized and traditional, government- affiliated and civilian – I became convinced that this vilified member of the ‘Axis of Evil‘ is actually one of the most welcoming places for Americans to travel in the Middle East. Indeed, all Iranians with whom I spoke shared a positive opinion of Ameri-cans.
Iranian admiration for America is not a new phenomenon. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks more than a decade ago, Iranians held spontaneous candlelight vigils, mourning, praying for the victims, and expressing solidarity with the American people.
The New York Times reported that an opinion poll showed 74% of Iranians want to renew relations and start a dialogue with the US. Iranian authorities were so incensed by the results, they arrested the pollster. The regime has always capitalized on legitimate grievances against Western foreign policy to rally Iranians against America, but many Iranians are no longer listening.
Refusing anti-Americanism is one way to swipe at the hated regime. Iran has an overwhelmingly young, vibrant population fed up with the oppressive theocracy that began more than three decades ago when the late Ayatollah Khomeini and his allies established the system of Vilayat-i-Faqih, “Rule of the Jurist”.
In some ways Iranians are more American than Americans themselves, because Iranians truly cherish liberty and have struggled for over 100 years to be free. ~ Iranians love America – But – Americans Hate Iran
Paradoxically, the US is largely responsible for setting back Iranian democracy and self-rule by decades. In 1953, the US and Britain overthrew Iran’s democracy, imposed the tyrannical Shah of Iran as the new leader, and divided up the country’s oil wealth among themselves. The operation was not a secret, and is chronicled in mainstream sources here, here, and here.
In 1979, the Iranian people deposed the Shah. Later that same year, rumors circulated that the US was poised to retake the Iranian government, and the infamous Iranian Hostage Crisis ensued.
In the wake of the crisis, the late Ayatollah Khomeini dubbed America the Great Satan, a term that has been co-opted ever since by Islamophobes determined to portray Iranian leaders as hateful and irrational. The Iranian Hostage Crisis enraged Americans, and spawned Iranophobia, a special strain of fear and hatred that has never entirely faded from public memory.
Apparently emboldened by the dispute, Saddam Hussein subsequently waged war on Iran. The US supported and armed Saddam Hussein, who was an ally at the time. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians were killed during the Iran-Iraq War.
In the years since, US policy has remained aggressive and hypocritical in the eyes of many Iranians, and for good reason. Sanctions hurt the people of Iran and do little to weaken the regime, and frequent saber rattling by the US and Israel is unsettling:
When Iranians burn the American flag in street demonstrations – they are NOT showing hatred toward Americans; they are in fact pointing out the the U.S. government has and is continuing to try to destroy Iran and Iranians.
Who is the U.S. government fooling? Maybe Americans – but not Iranians. We know the truth and understand fully the harm that is being imposed on Iran – every single day.
As much as Iranians despise their current regime and adore Americans on a personal level, they are united in the opposition to foreign intervention. If the US attacks Iran, Iranians will rally around the flag. As the aforementioned article in the New York Times states:
Left to its own devices, the Islamic revolution is headed for collapse, and there is a better chance of a strongly pro-American democratic government in Tehran in a decade than in Baghdad. The ayatollahs’ best hope is that hard-liners in Washington will continue their inept diplomacy, creating a wave of Iranian nationalism that bolsters the regime — as happened to a lesser degree after President Bush put Iran in the axis of evil.
Like the people of Iran, most Americans support diplomacy and are opposed to war. While it’s true that most Americans don’t reciprocate the love Iranians feel for them, it is largely because they glimpse into Iranian society exclusively through the corporate media.
Hardliners on both sides fan the flames of hatred and mutual distrust because it serves their nefarious agendas. The interests of the people lie in recognizing each others’ common humanity.