Those friendly Iranians
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF in Tehran
Published: May 5, 2004
The New York Times
Finally, I've found
a pro-American country.
Everywhere I've gone in Iran, with one exception, people have
been exceptionally friendly and fulsome in their praise for the
and often for President Bush as well. Even when I was detained
a couple of
days ago in the city of Isfahan for asking a group of young people
they thought the Islamic revolution had been a mistake (they
police were courteous and let me go after an apology.
They apologized; I didn't.
On my first day in Tehran, I dropped by the "Den of Spies," as
the old U.S.
Embassy is now called. It's covered with ferocious murals denouncing
as the "Great Satan" and the "archvillain of nations" and
showing the Statue
of Liberty as a skull (tour the "Den of Spies" here).
Then I stopped to chat with one of the Revolutionary Guards now
based in the
complex. He was a young man who quickly confessed that his favorite
movie is "
Titanic." "If I could manage it, I'd go to America tomorrow," he
He paused and added, "To hell with the mullahs."
In the 1960's and 1970's, the U.S. spent millions backing a pro-Western
modernizing shah ˜ and the result was an outpouring of venom
that led to our
diplomats' being held hostage. Since then, Iran has been ruled
who despise everything we stand for ˜ and now people stop
me in the bazaar
to offer paeans to America as well as George Bush.
Partly because being pro-American is a way to take a swipe at
regime, anything American, from blue jeans to "Baywatch," is
revered. At the
bookshops, Hillary Clinton gazes out from three different pirated
of her autobiography.
`It's a best seller, though it's not selling as well as Harry
Heidar Danesh, a bookseller in Tehran. "The other best-selling
John Grisham, Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steel."
Young Iranians keep popping the question, "So how can I get
to the U.S.?"
ask why they want to go to a nation denounced for its "disgustingly
promiscuous behavior," but that turns out to be a main attraction.
people don't believe a word of the Iranian propaganda.
We've learned to interpret just the opposite of things on TV because
all lies," said Odan Seyyid Ashrafi, a 20-year-old university
if it says America is awful, maybe that means it's a great place
Indeed, many Iranians seem convinced that the U.S. military ventures
Afghanistan and Iraq are going great, and they say this with
than your average White House spokesman.
One opinion poll showed
that 74 percent of Iranians want a dialogue with the
U.S. ˜ and the finding so irritated the authorities that they
pollster. Iran is also the only Muslim country I know where citizens
responded to the 9/11 attacks with a spontaneous candlelight vigil
as a show
Iran-U.S. relations are now headed for a crisis over Tehran's
nuclear program, which appears to be so advanced that Iran could
bomb by the end of next year. The Bush administration is right
this issue, but it needs to step very carefully to keep from
inflaming Iranian nationalism and uniting the population behind
lay out the evidence on satellite television programs that are
into Iran, emphasizing that the regime is squandering money on
weapons program that will further isolate Iranians and damage
Left to its own devices, the Islamic revolution is headed for
there is a better chance of a strongly pro-American democratic
Tehran in a decade than in Baghdad. The ayatollahs' best hope is
hard-liners in Washington will continue their inept diplomacy,
wave of Iranian nationalism that bolsters the regime ˜ as
happened to a
lesser degree after President Bush put Iran in the axis of evil.
Oh, that one instance when I was treated inhospitably? That was
teahouse near the Isfahan bazaar, where I was interviewing religious
conservatives. They were warm and friendly, but a group of people
away went out of their way to be rude, yelling at me for being
propagandist. So I finally encountered hostility in Iran ˜ from
a table full
of young Europeans. >>> See Roozbeh Shirazi's reply
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