The Argo image of Iran, in which Iranians are irrational radicals bent on the destruction of the United States, often dominates the American imagination. There is no denying that the Iranian government, with its incendiary rhetoric and sponsorship of terrorism, has done lots to deserve this reputation. But as most Americans will probably tell you, it would be a mistake to confuse the government with the people.
This open mic session, held on the streets of Tehran, highlights what average Iranians really think. Most aren't fans of the American government, but their critiques of U.S. policies, often given in English, are given in a rational and cool-headed way. However much you might disagree with their ideas on nuclear weapons, it's clear that they are reasoned opinions, not irrational emotional outpourings. There are no “Death to America” chants to be found.
Americans must recognize that while there are many Iranians who are radicals, not all of them are. Furthermore, there is a huge disconnect between most Iranians and their government. The recent election of President Rouhani, the most moderate candidate allowed on the ballot by Ayatollah Khamenei, is just the most recent instance of the Iranian people expressing their rejection of the hardline politics of the previous president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The 2009 Green Movement is another important example of this. When Ahmadinejad was prematurely declared the winner of the presidential election, despite his widespread unpopularity, it sparked countrywide protests. Eventually, over a million Iranians took to the street to protest the rigged electoral victory. This popular movement, not unlike the Arab Spring uprisings that followed it, was violently suppressed by the state police.
The internet offers more insight into the beliefs of everyday Iranians. Earlier this year, at the height of tensions between Iran and Israel, an Israeli launched an initiative called the Peace Factory. For it, he forwarded a simple but potent line: “Iranians, we love you.” The underground response to this in Iran was in kind. Iranians, with their faces covered, posted pictures and videos with the line, “Israelis, we love you.”
Practically, this knowledge about Iranians might not change anything right away. Radicals remain entrenched within the Iranian political elite. Ayatollah Khamenei, the Revolutionary Guard, and other powerful figures try their best to steer Iranian policies towards radical ideological purity, despite more moderate voices.
But it is still useful for Americans to realize that the image of Iranians they've been fed is inaccurate. The narrative of a monolithic, radical Iran strengthens firebrand politicians in our own political system who gain clout warmongering and refusing to compromise. With the Iranian regime taking real steps to resolve the issue of nuclear proliferation, it's more important than ever that we keep the voices of everyday Iranians in mind, and ignore the politicians in the U.S. who are pushing us towards war.