ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN
BY Vincent Lyn
Iran, also called Persia and officially known as the Islamic Republic of Iran, is a country in Western Asia with over 95 million inhabitants. It is the second largest country in the Middle East and the 17th largest in the world. Tehran is the country’s capital and largest city, as well as its leading economic and cultural center.
Iran is home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations, beginning with the formation of the Elamite kingdoms in the fourth millennium BCE. It was first unified by the Iranian Medes in the seventh century BCE. It reached its greatest territorial size in the sixth century BCE when Cyrus the Great founded the Achaemenid Empire, which stretched from Eastern Europe to the Indus Valley, becoming one of the largest empires in history. The Iranian realm fell to Alexander the Great in the fourth century BCE and was divided into several Hellenistic states. An Iranian rebellion culminated in the establishment of the Parthian Empire, which was succeeded in the third century CE by the Sasanian Empire, a leading world power for the next four centuries.
Arab Muslims conquered the empire in the seventh century CE. The Islamization of Iran led to the decline of Zoroastrianism, which was by then the country’s dominant religion, and Iran’s major contributions to art and science spread within the Muslim empire during the Islamic Golden Age. After two centuries a period of Muslim dynasties began, which were later conquered by the Seljuq Turks and the Il-Khanate Mongols. The rise of the Safavids in the 15th century led to the reestablishment of a unified Iranian state and national identity, with the country’s conversion to Shia Islam marking a turning point in Iranian and Muslim history. Under Nader Shah, Iran was one of the most powerful states in the 18th century. Though by the 19th century, a series of conflicts with the Russian Empire led to significant territorial losses. The Iranian Constitutional Revolution in the early 20th century led to the establishment of a constitutional monarchy and the country’s first legislature. A 1953 coup instigated by the United Kingdom and the United States resulted in greater autocracy and growing Western political influence. Subsequent widespread dissatisfaction and unrest against the monarchy led to the 1979 Revolution and the establishment of an Islamic Republic. This is a political system that includes elements of a parliamentary government that is vetted and supervised by a theocracy and overall governed by an autocratic “Supreme Leader”. During the 1980s, the country was engaged in a war with Iraq, which lasted for almost eight years and resulted in a severe number of casualties and economic losses for both sides.
It is a major regional and middle power, and its large reserves of fossil fuels– which include the world’s largest natural gas supply and the fourth largest proven oil reserves — exert considerable influence in international energy security and the world economy.
On 4 November 1979, a group of Muslim students seized the United States Embassy and took the embassy with 52 personnel and citizens hostage. This was in response to the United States refusal to return Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to Iran to face trial in the court of the new regime — and all but certain execution. Attempts by the Jimmy Carter administration to negotiate for the release of the hostages, and a failed rescue attempt, helped force Carter out of office and brought Ronald Reagan to power. On Jimmy Carter’s final day in office, the last hostages were finally set free as a result of the Algiers Accord.
The Cultural Revolution began in 1980, with an initial closure of universities for three years in order to perform an inspection and clean up in the cultural policy of the education and training system.
On 22 September 1980, the Iraqi army invaded the western Iranian province of Khuzestan, launching the Iran-Iraq War. Although the forces of Saddam Hussein made several early advances, by mid 1982 the Iranian forces successfully managed to drive the Iraqi army back into Iraq. In July 1982, with Iraq thrown on the defensive, the regime of Iran took the decision to invade Iraq and conducted countless offensives in a bid to conquer Iraqi territory and capture cities, such as Basra. The war continued until 1988 when the Iraqi army defeated the Iranian forces inside Iraq and pushed the remaining Iranian troops back across the border. Subsequently, Khomeini accepted a truce mediated by the United Nations.
Following the Iran–Iraq War, in 1989 Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his administration concentrated on a pragmatic pro-business policy of rebuilding and strengthening the economy without making any dramatic break with the ideology of the revolution. In 1997, Rafsanjani was succeeded by the moderate reformist Mohammad Khajami; whose government attempted unsuccessfully to make the country more free and democratic.
The 2005 Presidential election brought conservative populist candidate, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to power. By the time of the 2009 Presidential election, the Interior Ministry announced incumbent President Ahmadinejad had won 62.63% of the vote, while Mir-Hossein Mousavi had come in second place with 33.75%. The election results were widely disputed, and resulted in widespread protests, both within Iran and in major cities outside the country. This also sparked the creation of the Iranian Green Movement. When Ahmadinejad did not run in 2013, Hassan Rouhani defeated five other candidates and was elected as president on June 15th.
Moving to the present and myself having just returned from Iran, it couldn’t be more opposite to everything I’ve been told by western media. Much of it is such propaganda and blatantly untrue. Many reports seem to indicate that Iranians are living in medieval times. But this is hardly the case. The 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution is coming up on February 11th, 2019. For 40 years the U.S has put enormous sanctions on Iran and there is no country in history that has been so heavily sanctioned and ostracized. The situation and relationship got a little better under former President Obama who lifted many of the sanctions. But as soon as President Trump was voted into office he sidelined them and enacted even more sanctions. He even recently pressured the E.U to place heavier sanctions on Iran. Considering all these sanctions Iran has had to pull up its bootstraps and take care of itself, which it has done an incredible job of. I believe if there weren’t any sanctions in place Iran would be as rich and thriving as Germany or even Switzerland. But I am thoroughly impressed with its current state, nonetheless. The people are some of the kindest and friendliest I’ve ever met in the world. And having personally traveled to 120 countries, I think that I can make that judgment- call quite positively.
Everyone I met there were all very curious to know where I was from and especially wondered how on earth I got the visa to visit. They also wanted to know whether I liked Iran, and as soon as I said I loved it, they asked me to please tell the whole world. One downer is how much the country is heavily monitored via social media, texts, emails, etc. But knowing their history it is easy to understand why: they are protecting themselves. They really don’t have a choice considering the position they’ve been put in by the U.S and other western powers.
President Obama’s first months in office included secretly ordering increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities and significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyber weapons, according to participants in the program. Obama decided to accelerate the attacks begun in the Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games. An element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010 because of a programming error that allowed some of the code directed at Iran’s Natanz plant to leak into public domain on the Internet. Computer security experts who began studying the worm, which had been developed by the United States and Israel, gave it a name: Stuxnet. The Iranian Government has been accused by western analysts of its own cyber-attacks against the United States, Israel and Persian Gulf countries, but they deny this. Specific allegations include involvement in hacking into American banks in 2012. This conflict between Iran and the United States has been called history’s first known cyber-war.
No matter how much truth there is to this, on either side, the strained conditions between both countries is certainly on a spiraling downward path. It’s certainly very disconcerting, to say the least. As a traveler in Iran you cannot use credit cards of any kind because of the sanctions. One thing you certainly don’t want to do is check your bank accounts or billing back home while there. Otherwise everything will get blocked, and you’ll have a very hard time putting things back in order when you return stateside. Sadly the pollution in Tehran is extremely awful, reminding me very much of Beijing. Most of the time I wore a surgical mask while outside, especially in the taxis or on buses. On the up side, which there are many, they have all the luxuries that we are used to back home. There are beautiful western style shopping malls with all the designer brands. The food is delicious and very fresh and all organic. No GMO’s or additives. What I found quite surprising is that 70% of the population is below the age of 35. The youth and millennial generation are so progressive and very much against the government status quo. Though that seems to be the case the world over, wherever you reside. Iran is a country 95% Shia Muslims but many of the young generation are non-practicing Muslims. Everywhere in Tehran the young women are fashionable, wearing make up and nail polish, and in the shopping malls the women wear colorful scarves as far back on their heads as possible. Some even try to remove the headscarves in the shopping malls but there are big bold signs to remind them that headscarves are mandatory. Though I don’t think they need reminding. Many you will see with reconstructive nose surgery. It’s a sign of affluence, so the women who’ve just had the surgery wear the nose bandages in public to let everyone know. There are so many young artists and musicians performing, with art exhibitions all over the city. I was taken to a few art shows and was immediately set upon by artists and curators asking me to take photos and interviewing me about where I’m from and my feelings about Iran and my views on the art.
Their indulgences for enjoyment are at the countless coffee shops and array of restaurants — and shisha (hookah). Everything closes at midnight. There is no alcohol allowed at all in the country, and sadly no dancing allowed in public, only in the privacy of your own home. I was invited to the Iran National Production of Les Miserables held at the Espinas Tehran Royal Hall. It was filled to a capacity crowd of 2,600 and had been playing for 40 days to a packed house. The production was outstanding and equal to anything I’ve seen on Broadway in NYC or the West End in London. What struck me was how safe I felt, unlike being in Iraq a week earlier where I never felt really safe. But not since the Iran-Iraq War 1980–1988 have they had a war. There are no bombings or terrorist attacks. Yes, there’s been political turmoil as in most countries but nothing that’s turned deadly. Every year they march in the city square and burn the American flag, chanting down with America. But it’s not aimed at the American people but at the U.S government and its foreign policy. I can’t reiterate this point enough.
I’m all in favor of the “eye for an eye” law of the Quran which is held tightly in Iran — the laws are so strict that no one in their right mind would commit any heinous crimes. I was changing money on the street with a guy who had a suitcase full of cash in plain view, and he was by himself with no security guards. The offense for stealing in Iran is severe: the severing of the tips of the fingers at the first knuckle. Interestingly, I did notice some older men with missing fingers. This was most probably from crimes they committed when they were young. As for committing murder, the guilty person is taken to the exact location of where the murder was committed, a crane is hoisted and you are hung in public. If you murder a child or youth then their parents get to decide your fate. I’m pretty sure I know what most parents would choose. As for rape, you are hung in public from a crane for all to see. As a result one feels extremely safe. I for one have no issues with these rules at all. Many in the western world deem it medieval, but in America 25 inmates were executed in 2018 considering there are hundreds still on death row. A heinous crime deserves a heinous punishment.
There are many positive things to say about Iran, but personally for me it’s always about the people. Iran became my 112th country. I have seen beauty and ugliness all throughout the world, but what I can say is, the people of Iran are wonderful. They only showed me sincere kindness and made me feel completely at home. It’s certainly a country I will return to because I know I’ve only scratched the surface.
On an unnerving note of caution, many people I spoke to — especially the highly educated and affluent Iranians — are very worried about the impending possibility of the U.S invading Iran. They certainly don’t trust U.S foreign policy. But then personally I don’t either. The electoral victory of President Rouhani relatively improved the relations of Iran with other countries. The continued heavily laid sanctions and increasingly strained relationship with Iran have exacerbated tensions in the region and is cause for great alarm. This is probably the most dangerous action of foreign policy the U.S could ever make. I firmly believe the consequences would be catastrophic throughout the region and possibly the rest of the world. Only time will tell, and we can pray that war with Iran never ever happens. At the end of the day all we want to do is to be left to our own devices, to be able to take care of ourselves and our families. God Bless. Inshallah. Allah Maak.
CEO/Founder at We Can Save Children
Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization
Economic & Social Council at United Nations
Rescue & Recovery Security Specialist ay International Confederation of Police & Security Experts