Understanding Iran

Understanding Iran

This is the first book I read about a modern middle eastern country. It gave me a completely different perspective on people in Iran.

To me, the middle east is a very foreign land. I’ve lived in the US other foreign countries for more than 7 years now. It still feels foreign at times, partially because I think I never really blended into the american culture. It’s kind of hard to say what counts as “American Culture” in the first place. Iran is different. Unlike the US, it has one unique culture, but I’m totally not familiar with it. Thus I read a book about it, when the ISIS and the whole problem of middle east terrorists versus the world become a topic that defined the year of 2017.

Iran underwent a few phases. It was an independent country for a long time, but it became under foreign influence during the 1800s. Its oil resources were sold to the Great Britain who gained huge profit. Its territories and other resources were once under the influence of Russia. Thus as a country it never felt safe with the west or with Russia.

At the same time, the country was heavily influenced by Islam – which is not a secular religion throughout the history. So when the Great Britain supported a pro-western secular ruler to the throne, it also polarized Iran. One side there were the traditional religious force who have no economic or military power but was widely supported by the “mass”. On the other side there were the ruling family who promotes a secular government, not just because they were suported by the west, but also because they do not want to divide their power with the Ayatollah and the clerics. Whenever the clerics criticized them for not being a good muslim (for not helping the poor, or for wearing western clothes etc.), the ruling family tried to suppress their criticism. In the mean time, some more well-off families start to send their kids abroad and they become westernized. Thus the whole country is split into two unequal halfs. One is the more westernized, secular, modern, wealthy citizens. The other half is more traditional poorer people. Both sides are Iranians, but their values, their beliefs, and their living areas are different.

After WWII, the US accidentally become a major player in Iran’s policy. It was the time of decolonization and cold war. Iran want to take the oil resources it leased to the Great Britain back. Great Britain says no and a conflict was about to break out. The US sided with the Great Britain to put pressure on Iran. The US made a decision to support a coup to get rid of the pro-nationalization elected prime-minister and it succeeded. Since then, the Iranians see the US as one of the colonization forces that want to tear apart Iran and get its resources. The US made that decision partially because the US was worried that Iran may come under Soviet’s infliuence. The US knew so little about Iran that it did not realize that Iranians didn’t like Russia either due to the history in 1800s. In the mean time, Iranians keep seeing European people walking in an out of their oil plants, wearing suits and ties, women in bathing suits, taking over 95% of the profit, with no respect to their country’s culture.

And in the year of 1979, some college students went into the US embassy and took hostage of all the US personales there. The secular government appeared weak and incapable of doing anything during the crisis. On the other hand, the Ayatollah, who was the spiritual leader of the country (His status in Iran is probably the same as the status of Gandhi in India), took the chance and encouraged people to start demonstrations and strikes. In the midst of this crisis, the king of Iran, Reza Shah, felt insecure and fled to the US.People saw this and further assumed that Reza Shah was under US influence all the time, so Ayatollah started the Iranian Revolution and formed the government as we know today.

I feel like after this book I understood a lot more about Iran, how the two sides of iranians felt at that time, and why Iran became so anti-western but did not fall under Soviet influence. My first roommate in high school was of Iranian descent. He and my politics teacher always talks about how the Iranian government confiscated people’s property. After I read this book, I see both sides of the story. Although I agree with neither the ideology of Reza Shah (If he has a well defined one) and with the Ayatollah, I can see the historical reasons now. I feel like I know Iran more now thanks to this book. If your impression of Iran is “A super islamic religious country where extreme Islamists are everywhere and women has not rights. Plus it is pursuing its own nuclear program just to piss the rest of the world off.”, maybe this book will not help change your opinion, but it will tell you how the modern day Iran came into being.