On the evening of Tuesday, November 13, I attended a lecture by Dr. Reza Saadein titled “Why Iran Matters” in the Chapel. Dr. Saadein introduced the topic by going into some of the history of Iran. The Persian Empire lasted only a little over 200 years, yet they controlled a large amount of land stretching from Egypt to Greece and India. The first Persian empire was led and started by King Cyrus. Under Cyrus’ rule, they were also the first civilization to create a declaration of human rights.
A very interesting image that Dr. showed us was of the ancient city of Persepolis. It was the ceremonial capital of the first Persian Empire. It’s most defining feature was a huge square terrace that was situated in the middle of the city. There was also a huge open building with tall pillars that contained many large stables for horses. This demonstrated to me the complexity and sophistication of the Persian Empire.
This was interesting to me because many people probably don’t know about the culture and history surrounding Iran.
The image that most people have of Iran is probably based on the current political climate surrounding Iran, especially since US-Iran relations have been tense for several decades now. Naturally, Dr. Saadein then moved quickly to events of the 20th century, beginning with the discovery of petroleum in Iran In 1908. This led to the formation of a British based oil company, which gained control of Iran’s oil industry. It wasn’t even until 1979 that Iran managed to nationalize its oil industry.
After this Dr. Saadein talked about events after the coup in Iran, which involved a religious movement in 1963, Ayatollah Khomeini being sent to exile by the Shah, and the Iranian revolution of 1979, which was triggered by an insulting article about the ayatollah.
The Iranian Revolution was a movement that sought to replace the Shah, who was the head of a dictatorial monarchy. In part, this revolution was a fight against the western ideals and secularist government brought about by the Shah, who was backed by the US. Under the rule of the Shah, Iran’s natural resources were exploited and his rule oppressive and corrupt. Khomeini led an opposition to the Shah, and sought to bring back religious and democratic values. Dr. Saadein ended by talking briefly about US-Iran relations. The tension between Iran and the US picked up after the events of 9/11, in which Iran was suspected of sponsoring Al-Qaeda. And since then, Iran’s nuclear activities have only increased this tension. Since the Iranian Revolution and an ensuing hostage crisis, Iran has been placed under a trade embargo. However, under President Obama, there was an easing of sanctions in return for Iran’s reduction of nuclear activity.
Then, when Trump came into power as President, he pulls out of the agreement and promises crushing sanctions against the Islamic republic. The last slide that Dr. Saadein showed us was a few questions, the last of which stood out to me. The question was, “Do you think politicians learn from history?” My immediate response was no, and it made me think why I thought that. Of course, I would assume that most politicians went to university and attended history classes and thus know how certain actions and rhetoric might influence how another country views us. However, after Dr. Saadein’s presentation, I realized that oftentimes, humans make decisions based off of emotions and a lot of tendencies that are hard to get rid of. For example, the exploitation of Iran’s oil industry by the British was driving by the human desire for wealth and Trump’s view towards Iran (which is definitely mirrored by many Americans) comes from a human tendency to band together against a “common enemy” or anyone who is against our own interests. In short, human beings have a tendency to “otherize” people who are different; those that are outside of our social group.