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One Iranian-American’s Perspective on US-Iran Tensions, Part One

By Neema Nourian, Guest Contributor

*A personal disclosure: I am a 63-year old Iranian-American. I was born and grew up in Iran but have spent the majority of my life in the United States. I am a US citizen, and I am very proud of both my Iranian identity and my American identity. However, when it comes to claims made by governments, including the Iranian and US governments, I never take what they say on face value. Therefore, whatever I say and claim in this article is based on my own personal experience and knowledge. It does not reflect any support or opposition to either government.

Earlier this month, the United States and Iran came seriously close to an all-out war between the two nations. Fortunately, cooler heads have prevailed for now, but the danger of war is still very real.

This is only the latest episode in the tense situation that has existed between the US and Iran for over four decades. In the last couple of years, however, things have come to a boil and there is no sign of any peaceful resolution to this highly tense situation, which has the potential to throw the world into a major crisis.

One of the questions that I hope all of us will consider is: How did we get to this crisis point and who is to be blamed?

If you listen to the US government and its allies, Iran is the cause of all this tension. Iran is labeled as a state supporter of terrorism, a rogue nation, a nation that threatens the peace and stability of the region, and a nation that has American blood on its hands. 

But is there another side to this story? Let’s look at the historical facts.

For those who may not know or don’t remember, the United States and Iran had, up until the 1979 Iranian revolution, a very close and friendly relationship. For many Iranians like myself, however, this relationship was too one-sided, in favor of the United States. It felt more like a master-servant relationship. 

More importantly, Iranians held the United States, along with the United Kingdom, responsible for the 1953 coup that overthrew the democratically elected and nationalist government of Mohammad Mosaddegh and brought back the Shah and helped his regime to establish SAVAK, which became the most feared and hated institution in Iran for two decades. Iranians also felt that the United States and its allies were using the Shah to plunder the national resources of Iran and in turn sell billions of dollars of American weaponry that Iran did not need. We felt that Iran had much more urgent needs than becoming the West’s regional police.

These feelings were so strong that they became one of the primary reasons for the Iranian revolution of 1979 that overthrew the regime of the Shah and ushered in the Islamic Republic.

At the same time, many, if not the majority, of Iranians were fond of Western culture, particularly American culture, and thus did not want a hostile relationship with United States. We just wanted a more respectful and more equal relationship between the two countries, and a stop to the plundering of our natural resources.

However, many in Iran feared that the United States would not allow this to happen. After all, it wasn’t too long ago when they meddled in Iran’s internal affairs for their own gain. What is to stop them from doing the same thing again?

This fear led some Iranians to take over the US embassy in Tehran and hold the embassy personnel hostage, which soon became the official policy of the Iranian establishment. Many Iranians like myself opposed this act. This was, in our view, both a moral and a strategic mistake on the part of Iran.

All the hostages were eventually released, but the damage was already done. Iran’s global reputation was in shatters and Iran was left with very few friends. It also set the United States and Iran on a path of perpetual confrontation.

To be continued in part 2.

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Helpful Links:

Al Jazeera | US-Iran tensions: Timeline of events leading to Soleimani killing

PBS News Hour | A timeline of US-Iran relations

CNN | The US-Iran Conflict: A timeline of how we got here