February 12, 2008


Many in Iran bear the U.S. no ill will (Michael Slackman, February 11, 2008, NY Times)

Generally speaking, Iranians like Americans, not just American products, which remain very popular, but Americans. While that is not entirely new - Iranians on an individual level have long expressed desires to restore relations between the two countries - the sentiment seems much more out in the open now.

It is spreading not just on the streets of Tehran, but in the way politicians talk. A former student hostage taker; the mayor of Tehran; even the supreme leader himself, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have said it was not out of the question to someday restore relations with the United States.

That change of tone, combined with Khamenei's recent mild criticism of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government, seems to have given Iranians license to express their frustration with their situation and their longing for normal relations.

They do not necessarily see themselves as having any connection to the extreme radical ideas of their leaders, whether in religious or geopolitical terms, and calculate that Americans are equally disconnected from their leaders' decisions, political and social analysts said.

"I think the problem we have with the Americans is the way Americans perceive Iran as a threat, as a rogue state," said Masoumeh Ebtekar, a member of the Tehran City Council who served as a spokeswoman for the students who stormed the U.S. Embassy and seized 52 hostages in 1979. "This perception has to change. I believe if they understand who we really are, the basis for reconciliation will be based on respect and equality."

She framed the conflict as a matter of perception, of misunderstanding. But there was a time when such talk was seen as subversive. Now, there is Baskin-Robbins. Not the real Baskin-Robbins, apparently, but an Iranian bootleg version with its own display of 31 flavors.

"I used to be the one who chanted death to America," said Abolfazl Emami, owner of the ice-cream shop in Mohseeni Square. "It was a slogan that came up during the revolution. People don't mean it now."

With a smile and his hand raised in the air he said: "I like American goods, and I prefer American people. It's just the government I don't like."

It may be hard to reconcile the images of men punching their fists into the air and chanting "Death to America" with a man serving scoops of peanut-butter chocolate ice cream in pink paper cups and sugar cones. But it is in some ways a measure of how distant many Iranians feel from the radical government of Ahmadinejad.

"We never like our own government, never, ever," said Morad Saghafi, a writer and philosopher in Tehran. "So it is a big concern for our government that it is not loved."

And when it happens it will happen fast.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 12, 2008 6:44 AM
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