Hooman Majd: Most average Americans, if they only follow the news on Iran the way it is presented, wouldn’t even know that there is a parliament, wouldn’t even know that there are three branches of government in Iran, like America: there’s the executive; there’s the legislative, which is the parliament; and there’s the judiciary. And they are independent, those three branches, but most people wouldn’t know that. . . .
Iran today is still, despite everything that has happened, probably more democratic than Egypt. No American would ever think that, nor would it occur to them that here in Egypt you have a president who has been a president for 28 years. Egypt has a state of emergency law that has been in effect since President Mubarak took over, where a gathering of more than five people is illegal. . . . So, Iran today, even today, as bad as it can be in terms of freedom, is still probably a lot more free than some other countries — certainly more free than Saudi Arabia, which is a big ally of ours, an ally of the United States, which is selling them $60 billion worth of arms. . . . Most people don’t think it [Saudi Arabia] shouldn’t be an ally. . . .
In terms of fearing Iran, I think it’s overblown, and I don’t think we should fear Iran as much as we do. . . . No matter how much you despise the government of Iran or even the political system of Iran, the truth of the matter is that Iran tends to be very realistic and very practical when it comes to national security. . . .
If you were to rely only on the media to understand Iran, or even some books that were written by people who are very against the Iranian regime, then you would come to that conclusion that Iran is an absolute dictatorship on the level of, let’s say, North Korea. The truth is of course it isn’t, for anybody who goes there, but, again, because most people don’t have the opportunity to travel there or immerse themselves in the culture, they don’t get that opportunity to see that we are restricted by how the media portrays Iran — particularly the American media, but to some degree the Western European media as well.
Sanctions are always something that governments like to do so they can say they’ve done something. Look at the American embargo of Cuba — 60 years now, and nothing has happened. Sanctions on Myanmar, Burma — nothing has happened there. Sanctions don’t really do anything to a government, and certainly they don’t force a government to change, in my opinion. They didn’t work in Iraq either with Saddam Hussein. They only end up hurting ordinary people. They also tend to decimate the middle class. The middle class is what makes up civil society. So, even if you believe in human rights — your biggest concern is human rights and not the nuclear issue, and you want to support civil society, you want to support opposition to Ahmadinejad — if you impose sanctions, you are actually hurting them, hurting them directly in their livelihood, the way they do business, the way they live, and their living standard.
Take away those threats, take away that pressure, and you don’t give the government an excuse to crack down all the time on the opposition by saying that it is part of, you know, a Western plot to overthrow the government or the Western pressure to undermine the Islamic Republic. That’s the view in Iran: that the American government can’t stand the Iranian government, has not been able to stand it since the hostage crisis in 1979-1980, and they are just looking for a way to punish Iran. So, that’s the view. Doesn’t help.
Hooman Majd is the author of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran and The Ayatollahs’ Democracy: An Iranian Challenge. This video was released by Nieuw Amsterdam on 24 November 2010. The text above is an edited partial transcript of the video.