Iran is many things, but a culturally backward, state sponsor of terrorism it most certainly is not.
These days, any small amount of foreign policy realism from the Trump administration is good news. The goods news is that both Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson have acknowledged that Iran is in full compliance with the nuclear deal agreed between Iran, the US, Russia, China, UK, France and Germany.
The bad news and frankly the absurd news is that Tillerson has said Iran,
“…remains a leading state sponsor of terror through many platforms and methods”.
This simply isn’t true.
With that in mind, here is the good, the bad and the ugly of modern Iran.
Iran is in fact the opposite of a state sponsor of terrorism. Iran is one of the world’s foremost fighters in the war against terrorism. Even before Russia became involved in the Syrian war on terrorism in 2015, Iran was standing by its secular Arab ally in Syria in order to fight Salifist terrorism. Unlike many western propagandists, Iran does not see the Muslim world in terms of secular versus theocratic; Shi’a versus Sunni. Iran is pragmatic and supports Syria without trying to change its secular constitution.
One needn’t be a secular Ba’athist nor a supporter of the Iranian Islamic Revolution to acknowledge the importance of fighting the terrorism promulgated by ISIS, al-Qaeda and its offshoots including al-Nusra and the deceptively named but equally brutal FSA (Free Syrian Army).
Iran is also increasingly a force for stability in the region. By contrast, the other historically great non-Arab power to bookend the region, Turkey, has unequivocally become a force for regional instability.
Unlike Iran which is legally in Syria at the invitation of the Syrian government, Turkey continues to illegally occupy Syria and is now fighting a war on several fronts using both Turkish regulars and more often than not, Turkey’s jihadist proxy group, FSA.
In the course of the conflict Turkey has fought and continues to fight Syrian forces as well as Kurdish led SDF forces.
Iran’s foreign policy is one that is objectively non-threatening to world peace. Iran does not desire the re-conquest of ancient Persian imperial lands but Turkey under Erdogan, does want to reconquer lost Ottoman imperial territory.
Turkey is a state sponsor of terrorism in Syria and an illegal occupier of that country while Iran is the exact opposite.
America has no leg to stand on when calling Iran a state sponsor of terrorism, it simply has no basis in reality.
The bad or worrying moves surrounding Iran’s foreign policy are best described as the product of circumstantial inevitability.
Between 1958 and 2003, Iraq was a fiercely independent Arab Republic. For a time in 1963 and consistently between 1968 and 2003, Iraq like Syria, was a secular Ba’athist Republic.
However, in 1966, the Ba’ath Party split between Syrian and Iraqi factions, thus retarding the progress of Arab unity in the heart of the Arab world.
Revolutionary Iran became a friend of Syria while in the 1980s, the west backed and encouraged Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s totally ill-advised war against Iran.
It was under Saddam Hussein that latent regional tensions in Iraq began to crack open.
These cracks were burst open when America and Britain illegally invaded Iraq in 2003, something that both Iran and Syria opposed, in spite of their negative views on Saddam Hussein’s Presidency.
The sectarian war which the US and UK fomented in Iraq through an aggressive and disastrous occupation, led to the inevitable consequences of Iran becoming a powerful influence on certain regions of Iraq (the south mainly) and also on elements in the Shi’a dominated Iraqi government, which unlike the Ba’athist government was more sectarian than pluralistic.
Where the Ba’athist government had Sunni Muslims, Shi’a Muslims and Christians in key positions, post-Ba’athist Iraq became increasingly Shi’a dominated and Sunnis rightly felt increasingly marginalised. The fragility of Iraq’s Sykes-Picot drawn borders had been fully exposed.
Iran’s influence increased as a consequences, something ironically both George Bush and Saddam Hussein found troubling. The difference is that Bush didn’t foresee it (or he pretended that he couldn’t) whilst Saddam Hussein did.
That being said, Iran’s role in Iraq has not been a violent one, in many ways it has been a stabilising influence. However, it is also symptomatic of the fact that Iraq is invariably being carved up into spheres of influence: Iran in the south, America in and around the capital Baghdad and Kurds and Turks fighting over what remains of the north which has for years been occupied by ISIS.
After centuries of domination by non-Arab powers, many Arabs across all religious lines are correctly distraught at any non-Arab power having a sizeable influence on an Arab country. Many Arabs and not just extremist, sectarian medievalists like those in the Gulf, are suspicious of any non-Arab power’s designs on the Arab world. Iran is and always will be included on this list. Of course it must be said that the non-Arab power with designs on the Arab world that presents the gravest danger to Arab unity is the United States.
Turkey, Israel, Britain and France are also far higher on this list than Iran.
As these pictures reveal, Iran is not ugly. It is actually quite beautiful. Iran’s ancient, Islamic era and modern architecture are sights to behold.
Iran is a learned, literate society. It is a land of poets.
The problem is that in the simplistic, chauvinistic views of many in the west; people have become intellectual constipated when they are faced with the fact that Iranian society is far more sophisticated than they would wish it to be. A beautiful Iran, an exciting Iran, an Iran as a tourist destination; doesn’t fit the narrative of ‘evil Iran’.
The west seeks to dehumanise Iran and in doing so, minimise Iran’s many cultural achievements.
Many in the increasingly anti-religious west cannot accept that Iran is both a theocracy and a democracy. It is a theocracy which is Islamic but one in which Christians and Jews live in peace. It is a democracy whose registration process to run for President is far more open than in the United States, where it frankly takes millions of dollars to get anywhere near the finishing line.
Iran like most nations has its ups and its downs; but slandering Iran’s culture or lying about the fact that Iran is a soldier in the war on terrorism, will only make bad relations even worse.