|GUEST COLUMN: Iran today is at a definite turning point
America has played an outsized role in Iran over the past century, and is now criticizing the government over the country's nuclear program. This January, Vice President Dick Cheney said Iran was ''right at the top of the list'' of potential trouble spots.
Yet, despite the current turmoil and decades of anti-American propaganda from the Iranian government, many Iranians express admiration for the United States. For the March issue, Smithsonian magazine's contributor Afshin Molavi, a recognized authority on Iran, found that Iranians say they admire, of all places, America.
''The paradox of Iran is that it just might be the most pro-American or, perhaps, least anti-American populace in the Muslim world,'' says Karim Sadjadpour, an analyst in Tehran for the International Crisis Group.
Many Iranians who said they welcomed the ouster of the American-backed Shah 26 years ago are now frustrated by the revolutionary regime's failure to make good on promised political freedoms and economic prosperity. Government mismanagement, chronic inflation and unemployment have also contributed to mistrust of the regime and, with it, its anti-Americanism.
Though hard-line officials urge ''Death to America,'' most Iranians seem to ignore the propaganda.
A local Tehran resident, who is 30, said, ''In my school the teachers gathered us on the playground and told us to chant 'Death to America.' Naturally, it became boring. Our government has failed to deliver what we want: a normal life, with good jobs and basic freedoms. So I stopped listening to them. America is not the problem. They are.''
In a recent survey, nearly three-fourths of the Iranians polled said they would like their government to restore dialogue with the United States.
It's apparent that Iran's youth are the most disenchanted with the current government. Young people in Iran make up the bulk of the population, 70 percent of which is under 30. Students on today's college campuses tend to shun politics and embrace practical goals such as getting a job or admission into a foreign graduate school. Some 150,000 Iranian professionals leave the country each year, one of the highest rates of brain drain in the Middle East.
In 1953, the United States engineered a coup to overthrow the government and then in the 1960s backed a modernization effort under the shah government. These ventures led to a surge in anti-American sentiment in the 1970s. Today, however, those under 30 are too young to remember the anti-American sentiment and share little of their parents' ideology, according to the Smithsonian article.
Iranian intellectuals are quietly rediscovering American authors and embracing values familiar to any American civics student -- separation of church and state, an independent judiciary and a strong presidency. However, intellectuals are not running the show.
A presidential election is scheduled for June, and social critics in Iran as well as international analysts say a free and fair contest is unlikely. Many Iranians are expected to stay away from the polls in protest, almost guaranteeing a conservative victory.
The separation of church and state has long been a problem plaguing Iranian politics. There's ample evidence that many Iranians are fed up with the involvement of Muslim clerics in government.
Iran today is at a turning point. Either the Islamic revolution must mellow and embrace political change, the article says, or face a reckoning down the road when hard-line clerics come into conflict with the secular, democratic ideas of the younger generation.
Afshin Molvai, is a fellow at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy think tank, and author of ''Persian Pilgrimages: Journeys Across Iran.''