May 10, 2005


How the West Can Win Iran (Jaan Sepp, 05/09/2005, Tech Central Station)

Iran has been in internal turmoil for years now, as its rapidly growing youth population is gaining strength and audacity and becoming increasingly alienated from the theocracy's ideology. Much of Iran's large, relatively highly educated population is more pro-Western than the people in other countries we tend to consider as allies, such as Russia, India and certain Arab states. In a way, Iran is an antithesis to Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia a small, relatively pro-Western elite rules over a deeply conservative population, but Iran's population of 70 million, often strikingly liberal, is ruled by a small, fiercely anti-Western regime.

But the West still must consider certain sensitivities. Just as in other countries in the region, the reformists and strong potential allies of the West are motivated not just by the desire for freedom and democracy, but also nationalist aspirations. Iranians think Iran deserves better than the present pariah status the regime has brought about. They tend to turn to the greatness of Persia's past, and blame the theocracy for the great country's recent decay. Ironically, the same forces of frustration and disillusion that have fueled radical Islamist opposition movements in many Arab countries are working against the Islamist regime in Iran. This is the first sensitivity the West should keep in mind: people are primarily interested in their own lives and their own country, and attempts to manipulate them for externally imposed agendas will backfire.

The West must be careful and not lose or compromise the uniquely powerful and efficient ally it could have in the Iranian nation. Iran, like another important country in the neighborhood, Pakistan, is a non-Arab Muslim state with an imperial past (which in Pakistan's case is the Mughal India). Moreover, unlike Pakistan, Iran is a Shi'ite empire, which isolates it in the Sunni and Arab dominated Muslim Umma. Shi'a Islam could be more liberal than Sunni, but the Iranian theocracy has hidden this fact.

You don't cut down the tree to harvest low-hanging fruit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 10, 2005 12:04 PM
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