What Iranian Elites Think: An Inside Look at Views of the West - News - International
Israeli hawks are threatening a military strike in order to stop Iran’s nuclear program and many Republican presidential candidates in the US also support action. A loose survey of students and academics in Tehran shows that even among opponents of President Ahmadinejad, anti-Western sentiment is strong.
These days, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad agitates against the United States, Israel and the West, all the while presenting himself as a proud advocate of nuclear energy in his country. The deputy chief of Iran’s military forces is threatening to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s enemies. Bombs believed to have been set by Iranian agents have exploded in India, Georgia and Thailand. And, in a show of force, Iran has dispatched warships to the Mediterranean.
Such actions, which are more customary for a major power, dominate the headlines on an almost daily basis. In turn, the West has toughened its sanctions, and Israeli politicians have openly discussed a possible military strike against Iran.
Such reports and statements usually only provide clues about what leaders and experts are thinking. But how do educated Iranians feel about these rising tensions and their potential for triggering a conflict?
Of course, it’s difficult to ascertain the views of Iranians. State censorship is tight, and foreign journalists are rarely allowed into the country. Nevertheless, it is possible to make contact with some Iranians. And when you speak with them, you learn something quite surprising: Even if they oppose Ahmadinejad, their radical president, most of these Iranians still view their country as the victim in the current circumstances. They also view the West as an enemy and fail to consider or acknowledge that there are massive differences between hawks in Israel and doves within the Obama administration.
“After 9/11, George W. Bush systematically portrayed Iran as the bogeyman. That’s happening again now. I have seen no indication that we are building a nuclear bomb,” says one professor in Tehran who, like the others interviewed for this story, preferred to remain anonymous. There is no freedom of opinion in Iran, and saying the wrong thing can stir up trouble — especially when it has to do with the country’s nuclear policies.
Aircraft Carriers, Murdered Scientists and Sanctions
Iran is upgrading its weapons inventory, sabotaging the work of independent nuclear inspectors and installing new underground centrifuges for efficient uranium enrichment. But when asked about these issues, educated Iranians are evasive and merely assert that, despite all indications to the contrary, Iran’s nuclear program is geared toward civilian purposes. “We have the right to do this, just like any other country,” says one university student in Tehran.
In the media, President Ahmadinejad can constantly be seen gloating over his nuclear program. But many find his claims of only pursuing peaceful aims difficult to believe. Indeed, the mullah-ruled regime has been badgering Israel since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and denying its right to exist. Nevertheless, even seemingly enlightened people in Tehran believe that they are the ones being attacked and that they are surrounded by enemies. In this atmosphere, conspiracy theories abound.
In their heavily censored television broadcasts, Iranians now see images of three American aircraft carriers cruising in the Persian Gulf. On maps, they see how many US military installations are in the region. They hear the government’s anti-Western propaganda. What’s more, they are also suffering from the sanctions imposed by the West.