When U.S. President George W. Bush declared Iran part of the “Axis of Evil” in his 2002 State of the Union speech, lumping it with the then-Saddam-led Iraq and the nearly impenetrable North Korea, many Iranians were taken aback. Relations between the United States and Iran had been chilly to say the least since the Islamic revolution of 1979. Still, by 2002 there was at least the possibility of a thaw. The Iranian President at the time was Mohammad Khatami, a reformer who risked his political career on the idea of maintaining a positive dialogue with the West. Unlike Iraq and North Korea, Iran was a multiparty state whose people democratically elected their government (with some important caveats–see below). Also, Iran, being predominantly Shiite Muslim, was not a country that supported Afghanistan’s Taliban or Al Qaeda, whose September 11, 2001 attack had inspired Bush’s speech. In fact, Al Qaeda, which has a Sunni leadership, has actually long listed Shi’a among their enemies. None of the September 11 hijackers was from Iran. So while Iranians with knowledge history were unlikely to have found Bush’s “Axis of Evil” inclusion stunning, to Iranians, being called “evil” was a severe public and personal insult. Paradoxically, many analysts say Bush’s “Axis of Evil” comment weakened Iran’s reformers like Khatami, dividing them in thereby helping the hard-line conservatives defeat them. Go figure.
This week All Around This World is going to meet “evil” Iran. Chances are good that when we learn about the country’s history, its culture, its music and even some of its recent leaders, we may still find ourselves on opposite sides of any number of political or religious arguments, but “evil…?”
Oh and one thing to be sure to know before we explore Iran. Persians are not Arabs! Ethnic Persians trditionally speak Persian. Arabs traditionally speak Arabic. In contemporary geopolitical usage, Iranians are people who are citizens of Iran. There are some Iranian Arabs, just like there are millions of Iranian Kurds and Azeris. (Iran is far from ethnically monolithic.) Most Persians and most Iranians are Muslim, as are most Arabs, but being “Persian” or “Arab” does not make you Muslim, just like being “Israeli” does not necessarily mean you’re Jewish…good?