So they must be stopped at any cost. Sanctions, even a pre-emptive strike by European or US troops, or a coalition of the willing, is the answer. This is what we are led to believe, especially if you read the US or European press, or try and understand the punitive sanctions which the US and Europe have recently increased against Iran. The thing is, I went to Iran, and I found something quite different. I found a society, a highly developed one, friendly, engaging, young, vivacious, curious and most of all helpful. Iran should be engaged, not militarily, but economically and politically. So why has Europe declined the offer to tour Iran’s nuclear sites later this month, yet is so resolute with sanctions against them?
The answer I think has little, if anything to do with uranium, or nuclear power. I am far from an expert on nuclear enrichment, but what I do know is that Iran is a member of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and most of the technology for their nuclear power stations has been provided by the Russians, with the full knowledge and under the watchful eye of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). What I also know, is that when I went to Iran in July 2008, at a time when the western press was speculating that George W Bush was about to bomb Iran, I found a country and people so vibrant, so friendly and in Tehran a city so safe, that I thought this was not the Iran I had read about, and there must be two Irans. Of course, there are not.
It was a direct flight from Moscow to Tehran. With my Australian passport, I could get a visa on the border at entry. At 5,610 meters,Mount Damavand in Iran is the highest mountain in the Middle East and the highest volcano in the whole of Asia, and some friends and I were there to climb it. The customs experience was not only painless, but welcoming and friendly. Our guides met us at the airport, and it was an all-day drive through the mountain roads to the base of Damavand, about 70km from Tehran. It was a busy mountain, as we ran into many different nationalities. We spent 4 days and nights on the mountain, successfully summiting. From the summit, we came all the way down the mountain in one go. It was a 14 hour walk.
On the bottom section, I walked for many hours with our guide. I asked him about Iran. He told me some fast facts or opinions really.
Q. Did he prefer the shah or the mullahs (post 1979)?
A. Under the shah it was a police state.
(He was active in those times, calling for the shah to be removed. The mullahs stole power though. Nobody thought that they would replace the shah. Iranians wanted a secular government, and wanted the time to create this)
Q. Do all Iranians go to a mosque to pray?
A. No. Most are not particularly religious.
Q. Are women treated equally as men?
A. Yes, and no. (I have my own observations on this.)
Q. Do Iranians hate the west?
A. Of course not.
Just to be clear, in Iran more than two-thirds of the population is under the age of 30, one quarter being 15 years of age or younger. The literacy rate is around 80%. Iran has a population of about 75 million people and is ethnically and linguistically diverse. Tehran for its part is a cultural melting pot, bringing many different ethnic groups together, peacefully. I know it is peaceful, because for 4 days I roamed all over Tehran, safely and freely. I was stopped by many people, who offered me help with directions, suggestions of what to see, where to eat, and all with smiles on their faces.
There will be a revolution in Iran. It will be one driven by political and economic forces, rather than military ones, and most likely driven by the women of Iran.
Iran is not an impediment to peace in the Middle East, but in fact a key to achieving it. The current sanctions against Iran are much more about trying to protect a moribund economic and political system throughout Europe and the USA then they are about preventing nuclear threats.