Average American knows very little about daily life in Iran

Kourosh Ziabari
Tehran Times
November 1, 2012

U.S. journalist and photographer Nile Bowie says U.S. citizens know very little about daily life in Iran, adding that the realities on the ground in the country are different than what is being presented by Western media outlets.
“Keeping American society fearful of Iran is key to manipulating the general public into accepting the immoral barrage of economic sanctions and possible military operations taken against the country in the future,” Nile Bowie said in a recent interview with the Tehran Times.
He is based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and writes for the Canadian Center for Research on Globalization.
Last week, Bowie and a group of American tourists traveled to Iran to visit the country's different cities, historical villages and cultural sites. He took numerous pictures of Iran and provided us with some of them for publication.
Following is the text of the interview:
Decorative capitals of Persepolis columns
Decorative capitals of Persepolis columns
Q: Nile, it's the first time that you're visiting Iran. What's your impression of the country and its people?
A: I've lived in Southeast Asia for the past several years, and upon arriving to Iran, I found the country be very similar to Europe in its design and infrastructure. Just as one would expect to find in Europe, Iran has successfully integrated its rich historical heritage into a modern metropolitan environment. What I found fascinating is that villages in Iran's countryside have managed to reap the benefits of economic development, but still carry the picturesque beauty and charm of centuries ago. For those interested in history, Iran is an essential destination – the country has done well to preserve its ancient sites and diverse places of worship, from Islamic mosques to Armenian churches and Zoroastrian temples. From what I've seen, practitioners of various religious groups treat each other with respect and are able to peacefully coexist together.
Lifestyle and fashion in Iran is in keeping with Islamic values. While traveling through the country, I thought to myself that the average conservative American family would likely find an environment based on such values a far more appropriate place to raise children than within the hyper-sexualized culture of the United States, where sex appeal is overtly used to sell products and build brands. Anyone who has come across Iranian people knows that their hospitality and generosity is unmatched. While the society is conservative, average people are more than willing to strike up conversations and invite foreign guests into their homes for lavishly prepared meals. The sentiments of other foreign visitors I've come across have been generally positive, especially reflecting on visiting sites such as Persepolis. 
The Imam Mosque in Isfahan
The Imam Mosque in Isfahan
Q: How much different was Iran from what the mainstream media portray of it? How much have your perceptions of Iran changed since you entered the country? The Western media depict Iran as a deserted, isolated and uncivilized country, but many of those who visit Iran come to realize that the reality is quite different. What's your viewpoint?
A: The average American knows very little about daily life in Iran, and what they imagine it to be more closely resembles that of rural Afghanistan under the Taliban. Keeping American society fearful of Iran is key to manipulating the general public into accepting the immoral barrage of economic sanctions and possible military operations taken against the country in the future. Iran has always been an island of stability in the Middle East; it is a regional leader with developed infrastructure and world-class universities, in addition to emerging as a major player in developing pharmaceuticals and new technologies. The reality is that the average American would find it infinitely more comfortable to spend time in Iran rather than in Saudi Arabia, the biggest American ally in the region, a nation that represents the antithesis of “American values.”
A bas-relief in Persepolis
A bas-relief in Persepolis
Q: Which cities and provinces have you visited? Which of the tourist attractions and cultural sites fascinated you the most?
A: I had the pleasure to visit Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan, Yazd, Abyaneh, and several smaller villages between these locations. Although we cannot deny that Iran has some of the best tourist attractions and ancient sites in the world, I find myself more interested to observe people in their environment in each country I go to. Personally, I found the old desert city of Yazd and the mountain village of Abyaneh to be the most memorable places – both of these locations had incredible rustic architecture and villagers with very unique eye color and physical attributes not often seen in the West. I was amazed that lifestyles and fashion in these places are relatively very similar to that of historical times, and these places exist only a few hours drive from the bustling modern metropolises of Tehran and Isfahan. 
Q: What do you think about the Iranian people? Of course you have had the opportunity to interact with Iranians during your trips to different cities. What kind of people they are? How did they receive you when realizing that you are Americans visiting Iran as tourists?
A: There is a large community of students and Iranian entrepreneurs where I live in Malaysia, and I have experienced the hospitality of Iranian people long before coming to the country. Since coming to Iran, the initial reaction I get when telling people that I am an American is one of surprise and disbelief. I imagine that many Iranians don't realize that Americans can legally visit the country due to the political situation. The response has been very warm and friendly, and of course the average Iranian is quite curious about American people and their customs, values, ideas, and perceptions of Iran. Politics rarely comes up in conversation.
Palestine Square in Tehran
Palestine Square in Tehran
Q: Despite having unpleasant memories of the U.S. government meddling in the internal affairs of their country or supporting dictators in the Pahlavi era, backing Saddam Hussein during the 8-year war of 1980s and funding terrorist groups such as MKO or Jundallah to create unrest and instability in the country, Iranians have always welcomed opportunities to interact with the American people. Is this something that you could witness and acknowledge?
A: Absolutely, and I think this can be attributable to several factors. The older generations of Iranians have very positive sentiments toward American people because so many American citizens lived in Iran prior to the Islamic Revolution in 1979 – they established close friendships with American people at that time and still generally hold Americans in high regard. American media and popular culture have heavily influenced the younger generations, and they've accepted this idea that the United States is place where everything is so free and wonderful, a place with bountiful wealth and unparalleled opportunities. Of course, this perception is just as inaccurate as the way in which the average American views Iran today.
Either way, I don't think this is an inherently negative thing – promoting understanding and reconciliation between Iran and the United States needs to start by citizens of those countries exchanging ideas and getting familiar with each other. If the average American had the correct information and knew what the situation was like in Iran, I don't think they could ever support a war against such a nation. Likewise, if the average Iranian took the time to examine the full extent of what the United States has done around the world – engaging in wars that have killed millions of civilians, plundering resources in Iraq and Afghanistan, and enabling terrorism in places like Syria and Libya – I think it would be unlikely that they would continue viewing the United States in the same way. Either way, there is no reason like-minded Iranians and Americans cannot befriend each other because of a conflict between their governments.
Q: What do you think about the economic sanctions imposed by the United States and its European allies against Iran? These sanctions are taking a toll on the ordinary citizens by denying them access to medicine, foodstuff and other humanitarian goods. Don't these sanctions violate the principles of human rights? What's your take on that?
A: The sanctions imposed on Iran by the West are completely unjustified and illegal. Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and has complied with international norms and inspections of its nuclear energy facilities. It does not have nuclear weapons. Israel on the other hand is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has between 200 - 400 nuclear weapons. Iran has received harsh criticism for threatening to destroy the Israeli regime, and many argue that this is evidence of ill intent behind Tehran's nuclear program. When Israel calls Iran a “fascist …regime” and makes similar comments about attacking the country, there is little objection to these statements in the Western media. 
I believe that Israel under Netanyahu is the biggest threat to peace and stability in the Middle East; the belligerence of his administration is unparalleled. The economic sanctions placed on Iran reflect the institutional hypocrisy of international bodies like the United Nations, which turns a blind eye to the Israeli regime employing apartheid policies against Palestinians, and allows the people of Iran to be collectively punished for possessing a weapon they don't actually possess. The purpose of these sanctions is to create social unrest and erode public confidence in the Iranian government, to target people's livelihoods to the point where they are no longer comfortable, with the hope that they would take to the streets in protest, the West is aiming to revive the kind of unrest that took place in 2009.
Although these sanctions claim to target Iran's oil export industry, the real victims are the country's factory workers, merchants, shopkeepers, students, and local manufacturers. During my stay, the rial fell 40% against the dollar. Washington and Tel Aviv are fully committed to preventing Tehran's independent technological, economic and political development. The Iranian government must be diligent in finding ways to manage its currency devaluation and economy – because of its natural resources and abundant energy wealth, the country is in a unique position to deflect international sanctions and use them to its advantage by increasing cooperation with neighboring countries through mutually beneficial economic development and securing international markets for Iranian goods and energy exports. Ultimately, other nations must defy the illegitimate sanctions against Iran and normalize relations – that is already beginning to happen.
An alleyway in Yazd
An alleyway in Yazd
Q: What will you tell your readers about Iran when you return home?
A: I would stress that Iran is an extremely safe country to travel through, and anyone who visits will certainly leave with more accurate perceptions than what Western media attempts to depict. Iran is the only country where a clerical official established power through a popular revolution, as someone who is deeply interested in various models of governance and social organization, I feel compelled to improve my understanding of the country and its transformation into an Islamic Republic – perhaps others feel the same. Everyone has different objectives when they travel, most people would visit to simply admire Iran's rich historical contributions to the world.
Q: And, finally, how is it possible for Iran to introduce its culture, civilization and people to the world? How effective are such initiatives like bringing tourists from around the world to Iran?
A: Every visitor who leaves the country with positive perceptions represents a step in the right direction toward improving Iran's image abroad. As I mentioned, I think creating understanding at the civilian level is a crucially important step that can be taken at this point. Winning the hearts of minds of Americans is a difficult thing to do, especially when the average American is xenophobic and endorses a view of the world shaped by bias media outlets and Hollywood movies. An astounding amount of tourists from East Asia visit Iran, and I think at this point it is in Iran's best interest to develop ties and cultural exchange with friendly nations throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America.