They say Iran’s a threat to the world. If they manage to produce highly enriched uranium, they will certainly build and use nuclear bombs on their neighbours, most likely Israel. Therefore, we must stop them, at any cost. Sanctions, even a pre-emptive strike by European or US troops, or a coalition of the willing, is the answer. This is what we’re led to believe, especially if you read the US or European press, or try and understand the punitive sanctions which the US and Europe have recently increased against Iran. The thing is, I went to Iran, and I found something quite different. I found a society, a highly developed one, friendly, engaging, young, vivacious, curious, and, most of all, helpful. Iran should be engaged, not militarily, but economically and politically. So, why has Europe declined the offer to tour Iran’s nuclear sites later this month, yet, it’s resolute with sanctions against them?
The answer I think has little, if anything to do with uranium, or nuclear power. I’m far from an expert on nuclear enrichment, but what I do know is that Iran’s a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and most of the technology for their nuclear power stations comes from Russia, with the full knowledge and under the watchful eye of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). What I also know, when I went to Iran in July 2008, at a time when the western press was speculating that George W Bush was about to bomb Iran, I found a country and people so vibrant, so friendly, and, in Tehran, a city so safe, that I thought this wasn’t the Iran I’d read about, and there must be two Irans. Of course, there isn’t.
It was a direct flight from Moscow to Tehran. With my Australian passport, I could get a visa on the border at entry. At 5,610 metres, Mount Damavand in Iran is the highest mountain in the Middle East and the highest volcano in the whole of Asia, and some friends and I were there to climb it. The customs experience was not only painless, but also welcoming and friendly. Our guides met us at the airport, and it was an all-day drive through the mountain roads to the base of Damavand, about 70 kilometres from Tehran. It was a busy mountain, as we ran into many different nationalities. We spent four days and nights on the mountain, successfully summiting. From the summit, we came all the way down the mountain in one go. It was a 14 hour walk. On the bottom section, I walked for many hours with our guide. I asked him about Iran. He told me some fast facts, well, opinions, really.
Did he prefer the shah or the mullahs (post-1979)?
Under the shah, it was a police state. (He was active in those times, calling for the shah to be removed. The mullahs stole power though. Nobody thought that they’d replace the shah. Iranians wanted a secular government, and wanted the time to create this)
Do all Iranians go to a mosque to pray?
No. Most aren’t particularly religious.
Are women treated equally as men?
Yes, and no (I’ve my own observations on this).
Do Iranians hate the west?
Of course not.
Just to be clear, in Iran more than two-thirds of the population is under the age of 30, one-quarter being 15 years of age or younger. The literacy rate is around 80 percent. Iran has a population of about 75 million people; it’s ethnically and linguistically diverse. Tehran, for its part, is a cultural melting pot, bringing many different ethnic groups together, peacefully. I know it’s peaceful, because for four days I roamed all over Tehran, safely and freely. Many people stopped me, offering me help with directions, suggestions of what to see, and where to eat, all with smiles on their faces. There’ll be a revolution in Iran. It’ll be one driven by political and economic forces, rather than military ones, and most likely driven by the women of Iran.
Iran isn’t an impediment to peace in the Middle East, but, in fact, a key to achieving it. The current sanctions against Iran are much more about trying to protect a moribund economic and political system throughout Europe and the USA then they are about preventing nuclear threats. Europe and the USA should be engaging Iran, and not excluding them from the development of international trade with punitive sanctions. Political and economic interdependence in the Middle Eastern region and the world is what’s needed. With such a young and educated population in Iran, what on earth are the European cronies thinking? I know what I’m thinking; I should set up a branch in Tehran.
12 January 2011