Of all the nations on this great big globe, why in the world would an American want to go to Iran? You’ve seen the news, haven’t you? With all the embassy take-overs, the flag burning, the defiant statements by political and religious leaders….Iranians obviously don’t like us.

But is that really true? Iranians’ opinions about Americans are truly diverse, just as any given American has his or her own view of people from Iran. Not only are Iranians able to separate their view of the American government and its policies from their opinion of American people (“Iranian people like American people. We don’t get fooled by governments on both sides,” said a young Iranian to this reporter for the New York Times, standing beside the grave of a relative who perished during the Iran-Iraq War), but American travelers to Iran regularly return gushing about the warm reception they received while visiting. (“Go home and tell the Americans we like them,” said the Iranian immigration official to this visiting reporter from the Christian Science Monitor, before asking if the reporter could help arrange a way for him to visit his relatives in Chicago.)

So should you go to Iran? The answer to that question depends on who you ask.

— this from the U.S. State Department’s October 8, 2010 Travel Warning regarding Iran: “Increased tension between Iran and the West over the past several years is a cause of concern for U.S. citizen travelers….The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of travel to Iran.” with
— this from’s travel pages about Iran: “At its core you’ll discover a country of warm and fascinating people living within an ancient and sophisticated culture….Embrace Iran, and allow the Iranians to embrace you–it’s the most priceless of experiences.”

Also, contrast
— this from’s blog about their trip to Iran, “In Iran even strangers were given the mi casa, su casa welcome. What a way to get under the skin of a country pounded by western media for all the wrong reasons.”

— this from a statement by Sarah Shroud, one of three Americans detained by Iran when they strayed across the border while hiking in Northern Iraq, upon her release: “I found Iranians to be a diverse, generous people defined by their fervent worship of God and noble Islamic values. Like all of us, they love their families and they want to live in peace.” Oh, and she also said, “I never in my worst nightmare imagined that I would be a prisoner. I never saw it coming, and I never knew that my family would have to suffer like this.”

Can Westerners’ travel to Iran be risky to the point of being inadvisable and at the same time potentially enlightening to the point of being necessary to really get to the heart of the chasm between two supposed “enemies?” Should you stay away because of tensions between the American government and the leaders of Iran? Or, is that specifically the reason you should go?

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