The western view of Iran is that of old men with white beards and turbans ruling over a constricting and prejudiced society. Although this may be partially true, Iran has a population of over 77 million people and the majority do not agree with the mullahs who run the government. In fact, most Iranian citizens have a negative view of the mullahs and the shopping malls are more crowded than the mosques. Religion is not as important to most Iranian citizens as it is to the societal elite in the halls of government.
Iran’s Religious Fundamentalism
Every nation has a community of religious fundamentalists. In Iran, they just happen to be the ruling elite. Before the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran was a secular nation, and Tehran rivaled some of the largest metropolises in the Western world. Iran is a nation with a rich history whose current government does not speak for the majority. The government distorts the true identity of common Iranians.
Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad probably did more to damage the West’s view of the Iranian people than any other. His ludicrous holocaust denial and his statement that, “we don’t have any gays in Iran,” played in tune with the foolish Western prejudices concerning Iranian people.
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The Liberal Iran
Ahmadinejad, no longer in office, has been replaced by the moderate President Hassan Rouhani. There is hope that the Rouhani administration can reverse some of Ahmadinejad’s draconian measures. The informed Iranian people know this is unlikely. Rouhani may have better intentions than Ahmadinejad, but he lacks the power to create real reform. Many Iranian liberals have given up on regime change. But they still enjoy the freedom they have, and they have more freedom than people in the West believe.
There are still human rights abuses in Iran. Iranian women have far less liberty than men. In the more progressive cities in Iran, however, women are treated more equally than in rural areas. When the perpetual ally of the West, Saudi Arabia, Iran has a moderate record concerning women’s rights.
It’s not only the population that is liberal. The Iranian government has certain policies that are much more liberal than those of the United States and others in the West. Iran is at the progressive forefront on many issues. Below is a list of Iranian policies that may surprise you:
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Starting in 1988, Iran began providing free contraceptives and other family planning services to its citizens. Certain political sects in the U.S. would never allow this type of policy. Some U.S. politicians even favor of abstinence-only sex education.
The Iranian government thousands of family planning clinics between 1988 and 2012. These clinics were staffed by medical professionals, psychological professionals, and pharmacists. These services were entirely free. Unfortunately, Ahmadinejad was responsible for another giant Iranian step backward. He canceled the program in 2012 to combat an aging population and low birthrates. In its place, he put a policy to encourage couples to have children.
Under the new policy, the Iranian government opens a savings account for each newborn child. They deposit $950 into the account when they are born and then $95 annually until they are 18. The children are then encouraged to spend the money on college or to make major purchases. This has done little to increase the birthrate, and there is talk of going back to the old policy.
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HIV is ignored throughout most of the Muslim world. Many Muslim leaders associate the disease with homosexuality and do not want to admit it is a problem in their countries. Iran is to this rule. Iran has over 420 HIV treatment and prevention centers scattered throughout the nation. These centers provide free condoms, sterile needle and syringes, and they offer voluntary counseling and testing. These services are also offered in the Iranian prison system, where HIV is a major concern.
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The United States has the largest number of incarcerated drug users in the world. The U.S. government considers drug users criminals and punishes them instead of treating them. The Iranian government had a similar view of the drug issue until 2010, when it drastically changed course. It is that over six million Iranian citizens are addicted to drugs. To combat the problem, the government has decided to focus on treatment instead of punishment. They have opened over 3,000 methadone clinics and over 600 substance abuse rehab facilities, and all of the services offered are completely free.
Stem Cell Research
Image Source: Iran daily
Stem cell research has always been a contentious issue in the United States. Politicians can’t seem to stop arguing about when life begins, and subsequently cheating Americans out of stem cell research proven to save lives. In Iran, they have 46 scientists and 186 lab techs devoted solely to stem cell research. This may seem odd in a theocracy, but in 2002 the Supreme Leader issued a promoting stem cell research and stating that life doesn’t begin until the third month.
Not everyone in Iran is a religious fundamentalist. Many are liberal and socially progressive people living under a regime they disagree with. Also, one cannot deny there are currently serious human rights issues in Iran. We should be careful not to paint everything as either good or evil. However, in comparison to America, the Iranian government has provided its citizenry with progressive programs that have improved their quality of life.
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