Iran: 'Axis Of Evil' Or Cultural Gem?

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Iranian citizen Ali Vayeghan arrives at Los Angeles International Airport on Feb. 2, 2017. Vayeghan was detained and sent back to Iran after arriving in the United States on the day that President Donald Trump's travel ban was implemented. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

President Trump’s ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries affected more Iranians than any other nationality.

The ban has shed light on some of Iran’s luminaries. Asghar Farhadi, the director nominated for an Academy Award, was unsure if he could make it to the Oscars when the ban was signed. Then he said he wouldn’t show up at all.

But Iran still has a low reputation among many Americans. Here & Now‘s Robin Young hears from Iranian author Kamin Mohammadi (@kaminmohammadi) about the conflict.

Interview Highlights

On what Americans should know about Iran

“I think the first thing that I would want Americans to know is, you know, we’re not that different to you. The largest populations of Iranians outside of Iran are in the U.S., I believe. And you know how, I mean — in Los Angeles, it’s called ‘Tehrangeles’ and I met a British friend whose ex-husband is an Iranian guy who’s now living in California. When her kids go to visit him in LA in the summer, they come back and they think that in America they speak Farsi because they just go to this extremely Iranian part, so that immigration has gone on for many, many, many decades. So these are highly educated people, they hold great jobs, they contribute a lot to society.

“Iranians who are in Iran are not so different. Iran has been probably the most progressive country in the Middle East. For example, our women got the vote in 1963, which is way ahead of a lot of our other sisters in the Middle East. Currently something like 65 percent of university graduates are women, a third of the workforce in terms of teaching the civil service, those kinds of jobs are held by women. So there are a lot more liberties and there’s a lot more progress in Iran than we would imagine.”


On Iranian society and Sharia law

“There are these terrific contradictions which are about what’s been enshrined in Sharia law, which was adopted. I mean, Sharia law always existed in Iran, but of course it became the regime’s system after the revolution. So, it’s true, there are very heavily discriminatory laws against women. These things are terrible. There’s no defense of that, but just to say that things like flogging, and yes, there’s not supposed to be mingling between the sexes, in theory you can be taken if you have incorrect hijab, Islamic dress, that kind of thing — in practice, those things are extremely rare. So what we tend to hear about outside of the country is the one case, you know, where that does happen.”

On the Iranian Revolution and Americans’ perception of Iran as anti-American

“That absolutely was the image, you know, what was coming out of the country in ’79, ’80, and I know that the hostage crisis impressed a very bad image on American minds completely understandably. That country which went behind the veil and shadowed everyone in black is still there, I suppose, but it’s mostly there for the television cameras. So when you notice there are demonstrations being shown where people are on the street punching the air, saying ‘death to America,’ burning American flags, the people that tend to turn up to those demonstrations are pretty much regime people or, you know, they’re school kids given the day off school — they’re staged.

“Any travelers to the country will be extremely shocked, actually, because that’s just not at all what you see when you go there. What you encounter, particularly when you land in Tehran, is a really throbbing metropolis. And it’s very, very modern, and actually so are the people and so are a lot of the attitudes, but because there is dichotomy between real life and the regime and the law, you have life being lived on several levels at the same time.”

On the disconnect between ideologies in Iran

“I think, in a way, with what’s going on with all of us at the moment, we’re beginning to understand how that can happen, you know, how you can have a sort of disconnect between actually things that are different points of view, very strong ideologies in your own country. And I think that that’s very much what’s kind of happened in Iran, and what we tend to see outside of the country is the negatives.”

On the lack of Iranian terrorism in the U.S.

“I’ve never come across much sort of support at all on the ground in Iran for the organizations that the regime gives money to. You know, Iranians see themselves as quite sophisticated people. As you mentioned, we have this extraordinarily long and rich history. Iran is the longest occupied piece of land by a single race in the world.”


On the relationship between Iran and America

“I’ve said this often in talks that I give in the U.S., which is that, you know, Iran and America, it’s like a love story that’s gone a little bit wrong. There’s great taste for American products. American popular culture is extremely popular, and as you say, the people who are coming over have been highly vetted and they’re usually extremely highly educated, and Iran has the highest rate of brain drain in the world. A lot of those massive big brains are coming to America, so why stop that from happening? America also misses out.”

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