I decided to ask my Facebook friends to ask me any questions they have about Iranian politics, history, and culture, thinking the questions and answers would make a good blog post. Feel free to ask your own questions in the comments.
How popular is homeopathy? Both strands of it, the slightly more regulated kind and the ayatollahs peddling all sorts of “Islamic medicine” kind that has way less plausibility. Do you see these things on the rise at all?
Homeopathy is somehow popular in a certain section of population, a secular, well-off, middle class section that are into all new age superstitions. There are certain sections of the regime that try to push traditional Islamic medicine and this particular pseudoscience is much more popular than the other stuff that is relegated to ultra-privileged high class uptown dwellers. But at least our Health Ministry does a great job, I think.
What 3 Iran/US political issues do you believe it is most important for Americans to be knowledgeable about.
Hmm. I’d say the internal divisions of the Iranian regime is the most important, because the monolithic view of the Islamic Republic causes a lot of misunderstandings. Secondly the differences between nations in Middle East. It’s rather complicated, but considering the outsize impact of US policy on the region, knowing this is essential. Thirdly, knowing the history of the real relationship between Iran and US would be very constructive.
What concrete steps need to be taken to end or mitigate the influence of the Supreme Leader and give power to the elected government, instead?
I guess gradual reform is the way to go. The more democratic Iran gets, the more of a symbolic figurehead the Supreme Leader will become, like the Queen of England. However, that’s a very long-term project. Right now we have more pressing matters and I don’t think picking a direct fight with the ideological core of the regime is very productive.
What is the average situation of vocal Ex Muslims in Iran?
In closet. We have no legal rights, but we lie when we have to. The more religious your family, the more miserable you are.
As an estimate how much support do Iranian people have for a) Iran Govt, b) Israel?
I’m sure that the government is at its lowest support in many years, or maybe ever, and that includes all levels of government, from the Supreme Leader to Rouhani. That’s mostly because of the ongoing economic crisis. As for B, there are certainly huge sections of population that have taken a liking to Israel as a backlash to the regime’s anti-Israel rhetoric. I don’t know what portion of the population they make up though.
Well– from what I’ve seen, you’ve said positive things about Rouhani. But my dad and his friends are all cursing him out and blaming him for the economic crash that Iran is going through– I’d love to hear more about that.
The vast majority of Iranians agree with you father and his friends, but evidence disagrees with them. First off, this is not a new crisis, but a reemergence of the same crisis that began in 2011 and 2012. Now, what are the causes of it? Firstly, sanctions, which Trump reimposed. Secondly, some structural problems in the Iranian economy, such as military intervention in the economy, corruption, and a government which gives out a lot of money in the form of direct cash subsidies and wages to unproductive employers. In all of these areas, Rouhani’s policies are the correct ones, as he has been very busy reconciling with the West, limiting military intervention in the economy, and attempting to cut down government waste. Despite the fact that he managed to miraculously turn the tide in his first term and begin a recovery, two factors, outside his control, fucked the situation up: mass protests in January which torpedoed his reforms, and Trump. Now, I can point to some bad decisions on part of his administration, such as a weird attempt to fix the value of currency, but even in the worst estimation the situation is 10% his fault.
Are women encouraged to enter science as a career?
Yep. I think only the fringest of the fringe would oppose women having scientific career, those who think women should have no career at all. Masculinity and femininity are different in every culture, and our culture doesn’t treat science and math as masculine. This, of course, doesn’t mean that there aren’t many roadblocks and glass ceilings and discrimination and false stereotypes; but I think they apply to women in workplace in general, not to science in particular.
How are Carter and Reagan viewed in historical terms by most Iranians?
I know Iranians really used to hate Carter in the beginning of the current era, but I think either Carter or Reagan are completely absent from the minds of Iranian masses.
I’d be interested in how the Iran-Iraq war influenced Iran’s future relationship with the US.
Iranians believe that the US sided with Iraq in that war, and that is something that especially the anti-US crowd keep bringing up. It certainly didn’t have a positive impact.
Do you think the IMF Per capita PPP calculations accurately reflect typical living standards?
Yep. Most people wouldn’t say that, because Iranians love to moan and exaggerate how miserable they are. But I’m a good skeptic and data are my Bible. Hail our savior, Nate Silver!
How easy is piracy in Iran?
100% easy. And it’s our only option when it comes to global cultural products too.
What are some good resources in understanding the mainstream (and fringe) political spectrum in Iran?
There aren’t that many resources, but a great one is a CRS (Congressional Research Service) report written by Kenneth Katzman entitled “Iran: Internal Politics and U.S. Policy and Options” (found here) which really summarizes things nicely. I don’t agree with him a lot, but he has facts in a row.
How’s the cuisine? Can you get pizza and burritos?
I love Iranian cuisine! It’s very rice-centered, most of our dishes are a kind of stew (khoresht) that we pour over rice and eat. But we also have kebabs and an assortment of other foods. Pizzas are very common and I don’t think you’d need to walk more than five minutes from any point in city to reach a restaurant that sells pizza. Burritos are rare, you have to find a Mexican restaurant.
Where do you see Iran going in the next 10, 30, 50 & 100 years? What would you like to see happen in your nation, what do you fear will happen & realistically what do you think will happen?
Only a fool would attempt to predict Iranian politics. But as for what I’d wish to see: I wish to see stability in the region, economic recovery in Iran, and a grand deal with the West which would end Iran’s isolation and open the borders to free market and tourism. After that, gradual political reforms. Now, how like is that? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
What are aspects of Iranian government, society, or culture do you feel people in the West misrepresent or are wholly ignorant of?
I think the elected part of the regime. Iran is a very complex nation, and certainly the regime can be vicious and repressive, but it’s not only that. And while anti-west forces are more powerful, there is a major pro-reconciliation force in the regime. I see many westerners who do not distinguish between the Supreme Leader and the president, for example. The caricature of the Iranian regime is counter-productive.
Oh, what are some good resources in understanding Rouhani’s policies?
My blog! I think this, this, and this article are mandatory reading. There are some concrete examples too, like this, this, and this. And see lots of good stuff. Also, I highly recommend reading the introduction to Iran in the World: President Rouhani’s Foreign Policy, edited (and written, the part I’m referring to), by Shahram Akbarzadeh and Dara Conduit and published by Palgrave Macmillan.
I want to know about common misconceptions that people in the West have.
As I’ve mentioned, that the regime is monolithic, that Iran is too backward, (or too advanced, but that’s rare), things like that.
I’ve read that the Iranian government would rather the Yemeni Houthi rebels not engage the way they have, but instead, be a dissenting voice in a Sunni majority government, but I never see this claim cited. Does the Iranian government, or the Rouhani Administration for that matter, have a position on that?
That’s a very weird claim for me. What I do know is that (1) Iran wasn’t involved with Houthis before the war began; as they are actually a quite different kind of Shiite than Iran and (2) Iran’s influence on them is exaggerated. The Houthis might receive help from Iran, but they are not a proxy for them the way Hezbollah or some Iraqi groups are. Now, I guess there might be some voices in the regime who want that, but I have seen no evidence of that. As for Rouhani, as I’m sure he’s seeking a grand bargain with the West, he is not too happy with Iran’s regional policy and wants to reach a middle ground, but he doesn’t any power in the region, as all policy in Middle East is in the hands of Quds Army, so it won’t make a short term impact.
What is the official stance and the general understanding of Iranians regarding climate change and the likely effects and plans to deal with it?
We don’t have any climate change deniers in Iran, but the policy is mostly focused on Iranian environment. Sadly many climate activists were arrested and some of Rouhani’s officials were forced to flee the nation, because of conspiracy theories that climate activists are actually spying on Iran’s military, which were bluntly denied by the administration. The situation is dire because in 90s Iran wanted to recover and valued economic growth above all and really hurt the environment. We haven’t been able to correct since we’ve realized the wrongness of that approach. So, I’d say there is good understanding in Iran regarding green issues, but it hasn’t resulted in good policies and outcomes.
Iran had separatists? This was a huge surprise to me; can you put that in context?
It’s weird that this was a surprise to you! Iran is surrounded by separatists. Kurdish and Turkish ones on the west, Arab ones on the South, Balouchi ones on the East, and Turkmen and Turkish ones in the North. The context is of course three main factors: (1) Extreme discrimination that people in these areas face for religious and nationalistic reasons (2) The extreme nativism of some armed terrorist groups belonging to these ethnicities, and (3) The general irrationality of Middle Eastern borders that separates ethnicities and creates tensions. That’s one reason why we’re against revolution or regime change or a war on Iran. In absence of a powerful central authority, the whole nation will erupt in multiple bloody civil wars.
I often dream of coming back or visiting Tehran, but wonder if as a maybe-TCK and outsider who happens to speak Persian (albeit an outdated one) I would face problems socializing or have to grow accustomed to keeping myself on check. Do you know of any returning Iranians who had one set of experience or other?
Come back home, my friend. You’ll see warmth and hospitality. And yes, many returning Iranians have positive experiences visiting Iran, including second or third generation immigrants who speak no Farsi.
Are you safe? As in, are you away from active combat zones?
I’m in Tehran, so I’m safe. Borders are less safe. Overall, Iran is the safest nation in the region. That’s another reason why I don’t want regime change: we shouldn’t risk our safety in this volatile region.
What do the regular people of Iran think of average American people? Do they know we also hate our current government and that we are horrified at the treatment of Iran by this administration?
I don’t think even the most virulent anti-US forces have a real hatred toward average Americans. We do separate people and governments, and most people are not even that anti-US government, if Trump doesn’t manage to change that. He hasn’t so far, people blame the regime and Rouhani and not Trump. They’re wrong though, they should blame Trump.
How’s the internal news on this Saudi journalist killing in Turkey look? What’s the spin in your national press?
Well, Iranians of all political stripes hate Saudi Arabia with a passion and are following the news with glee as it undermines Saudi position in the world. (This is another issue where they’re wrong though. Iran and Saudi Arabia can only solve Middle East problems when they start cooperating).
Are there a lot of homeless people?
What’s the state of women’s rights?
Better than what you probably imagine but still very bad.
Do houses and stuff look the same as ones in usa?
Depends on the region. Tehran is a modern metropolis, and there are many cities like it, but some other regions look much more traditional.
Do y’all sit in separate rooms in your house and message each other on fb?
Facebook is not very common in Iran. We sit in separate rooms in our house and message each other on Telegram, which is the popular social network for Iranians. In fact, I do it a lot with my mother, we keep sharing YouTube videos and articles with each other as we surf the web before falling asleep.
Do y’all have traditions that you think of as specific to your country?
Yeah but since the Greater Iran encompassed much more than modern Iran, there’s nothing really exclusive to Iran.
What are the classic/important events/eras in history that all Iranians learn about in grade school?
Well, ancient Persian empires, early Islamic history, Safavid empires, Qajar Dynasty, Pahlavi Dynasty, oil nationalization and 1953 coup, Islamic revolution, and Iran-Iraq War are the most important parts, I guess.