Roger Cohen on Iran
Today’s New York Times has an excellent opinion piece by Roger Cohen (“Israel Cries Wolf”). In his columns since his visit to Iran in February, Cohen has been busy countering the myth of Iran as a failed state and failed society. In this piece he is exposing Israeli prime minister Netanyahu’s Iran paranoia who has labeled Iran’s leaders a “messianic apocalyptic cult”. Cohen wonders if this is the same leadership that, “has survived 30 years, ushered the country from the penury of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, shrewdly extended its power and influence, cooperated with America on Afghanistan before being consigned to “the axis of evil,” and kept its country at peace in the 21st century while bloody mayhem engulfed neighbors to east and west and Israel fought two wars.”
I wonder to what extent the inaccurate portrayal of Iran also as a failed economy has contributed to the image of Iran as a backward, poverty-stricken, failed state. For example, last October Tom Friedman wrote in NYT, “as a real nation-building enterprise, the Islamic Revolution in Iran has been an abject failure.”
If the answer to my question is a partial yes, there is a lot of work to do to set the record straight about Iran’s economy.
Later in the article, Cohen makes an interesting point about the attitudes of Iran’s youth, which is related to economic change in Iran:
“Netanyahu also makes the grotesque claim that the terrible loss of life in the Iran-Iraq war (started by Iraq) “didn’t sear a terrible wound into the Iranian consciousness.” It did just that, which is why Iran’s younger generation seeks reform but not upheaval; and why the country as a whole prizes stability over military adventure.”
It was this last sentence that prompted me to write a letter to the Times, hinting at the immense social and economic changes that have taken place in Iran since the 1980s. Odds are strong against seeing it published, so here it is:
Those who got Iraq so wrong should read “Israel Cries Wolf,” Roger Cohen’s April 9 online column about Iran, so they do not repeat their mistake.
Mr. Cohen dismisses the “messianic apocalyptic cult” view of Iran held by Israeli leaders. There may be similarities between rulers of Iran now and in the 1980s, when martyrdom was elevated to defend the country against Iraqi aggression, but the ruled are not the same.
Many who fought and died in that war were the children of mothers with little education who were raising eight or more children. The average rural mom today is much better educated and spends her time educating two children.
The standard of living has more than doubled since then, and the poverty rate has come down from 45 percent to less than 10 percent.
Mothers focused on the future of two children are rarely apocalyptic, let alone willing to lose one to martyrdom. If Israeli leaders believe otherwise, Iranian leaders do not.