With mainstream media buzzing over the solution to Iran’s nuclear weapons program as of late, Dr. Mehrzad Boroujerdi, associate professor of Political Science at Syracuse University, threw his opinion into the mix yesterday in front of a large audience at Mallott Hall.
Sponsored by Project Nur, a student organization concerned with civil rights and international issues, the lecture by Mehrzad focused on making sense of all the talk going on about Iran over the past year.
“We have been hearing all this stuff in the news about secret sites and nuclear bombs but we don’t really know what is actually going on, which is why the main goal of this talk was to clear things up for us,” said Farhan Quasem ’11, President of Project Nur.
Mehrzad claimed that as of now, it is in the United States’ best interest to come to terms with Iran’s determination to continue building up its weapons programs because the U.S. is in no position to stop Iran.
“If you look at things from the standpoint of Iranians, there is no reason for them to listen to our suggestions. Appreciating this logic will benefit us immensely and help facilitate concessions between us,” Mehrzad said.
According to Mehrzad, Americans and in some cases, American politicians, have trouble distinguishing the facts from the myths presented by the media, resulting in a distorted perception of Iranian politics.
The first myth is the notion that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has the final say on nuclear and foreign policy in Iran.
According to Mehrzad, many Americans assume Ahmadinejad’s influence in Iran is comparable to President Barack Obama’s influence in the United States. This misperception, coupled with the attention Ahmadinejad receives from the global media, further leads Americans to overestimate his power in Iranian politics.
“Iran has a collective leadership, which means there is no one man calling the shots,” Mehrzad said.
The second myth is the belief that the Iranian leadership is staunchly opposed to non-Muslim countries.
Mehrzad said this stems from a misguided sense that everything Iran does is motivated by religion. He points to many instances in which Iran has sided with non-Muslim powers in disputes, including the conflict between Chechnya and Russia, in which Iran sided with the Russians to protect economic prospects.
The final misconception Mehrzad discussed is the perceived unyielding opposition Iran has towards the United States, which he said is continuously confused with what is actually a “profound sense of mistrust.”
Mehrzad said this mistrust stems from actions by the United States government in the Iraq-Iran war, as well as past practices in foreign relations which have left the reputation of the government in shambles.
However, according to Mehrzad, American culture is very much admired in Iran, as is attested to by the number of young foreign students coming to continue their studies at American universities. “I can’t tell you how many e-mails I get a day from students graduating from conservative religious schools in Iran telling me how much they want to come to America,” Mehrzad said.
While the debunking of these myths will better help one understand where Iran is coming from, the central reasoning behind the nuclear program can be best understood by realizing Iran’s main goal — to become the regional superpower of the Persian Gulf, according to Mehrzad.
“Iran wants to be recognized as the big kid on the block,” Mehrzad said, “and they can’t do that if everyone else on the block has nukes and they don’t.”
According to Mehrzad, understanding this concept is the key to making sense of where Iran stands with its nuclear weapons programs. “If we can visualize this perspective, then we can see that there is nothing we can really do to stop them,” he said.
Mehrzad believes that by coming to terms with this realization, the Obama Administration and the United States can avoid a larger conflict with the Muslim world.
“What we do with Iran sends a signal to the rest of the Muslim world. We have already gone to war with two Muslim countries thus far — a third would create an intense animosity never heard of before,” Mehrzad said.