Surprise! The Americans dislike Iranians and the Iranians dislike Americans but the world dislikes both. In a recent BBC World Service survey, conducted by GlobeScan and the University of Maryland, Iran was most widely viewed as having a negative influence in the world; followed in second place by the United States. The survey asked 39,433 people in 33 nations across the world how they saw various countries (
BBC News, 02-03-2006).
The US and the Iranian administrations and political alliances are more similar than different. President George W. Bush was elected by an electoral base of conservative, largely rural, religious voters and perceives himself as an enforcer of the Christian moral values. Similarly, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected by conservative, largely rural, religious voters and perceives himself as an enforcer of Islamic moral values.
One of the ironies of our times is that the religious fundamentalists in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, believe they are “commanded by God” to do what they do. The question is: Can God be on “our” side and “their” side at the same time? If one really and truly believes in God, then there is only one superpower — a merciful, kind, fair, loving, and peaceful God. A God devoid of hate, bigotry, and violence.
In terms of political ideology, the US and the Iranian populations are both quite polarized. In the US, as Abe Aamidor observes, the neo-conservatives are the mirror image of the New Left (as we called it 30 years ago), and of the Progressive or “Social Democrat” political movements generally. Just like as the New Left celebrated Third World violent revolutionary wars of national liberation, the neo-conservatives came in time to assert, “we can do the same thing, you know” (witness their support for the contras against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua). Just as the New Left believes in social engineering and the power of leadership from the top to radically improve society, the neo-conservatives believe the same thing. Their mission is to expand their sphere of influence, persuade other nations to cooperate, and propagate their point of view nationally, regionally, and globally.
However, the post-monarchy revolutionary scene in Iran is quite complex and the civil institutions are still in flux or nonexistent. The conservative faction is firmly in control of the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches of the government. The moderate/liberal faction is marginalized and there is conflict between and within both factions.
Since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, conservative Iranians have marched in the street of Tehran and shouted, “Marg bar Amrika” — “Death to America.” Since then, the US has imposed punitive sanctions on Iran, has labeled it as “An axis of Evil”, imposed a trade embargo, and sought to isolate Iran in the world community.
Since the Hostage crisis, Iran and the US have not directly communicated with each other, have not exchanged ambassadors, and continue to insult and marginalize one another. They refuse to see each other face-to-face and have been involved in a circular and cyclical communication pattern, greatly complicating matters. In other words, they have been engaged in a dangerous political dance — a dance that may easily lead to death and destruction.
In both nations, politics and religion have converged. Consequently, the voices of reason have been replaced by voices from the beyond. Civil liberties have suffered. People's private lives have been invaded through illegal wiretaps, Internet monitoring, and arrests. A sense of insecurity, intimidation, and fear permeates the air. One President justifies his actions and inactions in the name of “war on terrorism” and the other in the name of confronting a foreign (mainly US) invasion. In terms of freedoms, the US increasingly resembles Iran and other developing countries.
Now, the US and Iran are at each other's jugulars over the Iranian nuclear program. The key point in this confrontation for the West is to prevent Iran from achieving its nuclear energy/technology ambitions, therefore limiting its growing dominance in the Middle East. It should be noted that the Iranian nuclear program was initiated during the earlier, Pahlavi regime by the very same Western powers now opposing Iran.
As an experienced observer of global affairs, particularly the Middle East, my sense is that any military confrontation with Iran will have disastrous and grave consequences throughout the world. The conservative Iranian president's rhetoric and regime notwithstanding, Iranians have had centuries of experience playing the chess game. Hence, in view of the Bush administration’s position in Iraq, the unease in Afghanistan, the victory of Hamas in recent elections, and the derogatory caricaturization of the Prophet Mohammad in the European press, the chess game between Iran and the US (West) seems to be at a point of “stalemate.”
At its recent emergency meeting, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board has decided to report Iran's nuclear case to the UN Security Council. This is, quite transparently, a step toward a new pre-emptive war in the Middle East.
A global culture clash is in the making. Short-sighted political and defiant religious forces have created a highly polarized, tense, divisive, agitated, and volatile global environment — particularly in the Middle East and within the Muslim World. What “we” and “they” need is to set aside our counterproductive and often disastrous “macho” mentality and get out of the existing cycle of violence. We need to devise creative solutions based on wisdom, cooperation, dialogue, fairness, and mutual respect.
The foreign policy experts must focus their energies and resources on “crisis prevention” and “effective/direct communication” techniques. Resources devoted to creating and fighting wars should be devoted to creating and nurturing peace and harmony throughout the world. Let's prevent another catastrophic war and the killing of more innocent American soldiers and civilians in the Middle East. Is there no limit to human sacrifices offered on the altars of global powers to protect the interests of big corporations, especially the oil companies?