Jonathan Bukowski Help Received: In class notes and bibliography
The United States, entrenched in seemingly unproductive negotiations and fabricated rhetoric with a country more than 6,000 miles away, finds itself in a stare down with the Islamic Republic. Two countries vastly contrastive in multiple aspects like government structure, geographical location, and ethnic makeup, differ severely in their beliefs and attitudes. Or do they? Power, of course, is of great interest to both nations. The United States’ perception of power, however, is understandably different than Iran’s. While the United States suppresses defectors and attempts to rebuild failing states, Iran’s primary focus is on its own survival. Furthermore, when America ceased to exist in the world, Iran was tangled in battles with imperialistic Arab forces. A history of 200 years compared to a Persian history stretching thousands of years puts the two cultures in perspective. America and its leaders project confidence and sometimes a very narrow view of the world that limits perceptions to solely an American lens. Iran’s representatives and leaders lack trust in other international leaders and they may even express xenophobia because of it. From the Iranian perspective, they are alone in a world with very little friends and many potential enemies. Both countries have molded cultures that represent their unique histories. Persian and American culture, although unalike in many characteristics, surprisingly do embody complementary values and beliefs. Some of these similarities include strong desires for democracy, liberal values, a hunger for international power, and the embrace of qualities like courage, heroism, humbleness, and the search for justice.
Literature can reveal lessons, morals, and values that appropriately identify particular cultures. American and Persian literature produce stories with lessons that precisely compare. When analyzing the story of Faraydun in the Shahnameh, similarities with Atticus Fitch in the American story, To Kill a Mockingbird, can be uncovered. Atticus and Faraydun can both be described as defenders of justice and seekers of what ought to be right in the world. The search for justice is a reoccurring theme in both stories. Each character has, “a duty to maintain justice in the world” (Atticus and Faraydun). Both characters also reveal the triumph of good over evil. Faraydun, “purified the world with his kindness,” while Atticus Fitch went against societal norms and did what was right by fairly defending an African American man in trial (Atticus and Faraydun). The term farr, meaning obedience, was demanded of the children of Faraydun and Atticus, yet both parents loved their children dearly.
The most important lesson that can be learned from both stories is that reality is comprised of many challenges and sufferings that must be overcome to survive. Faraydun’s youngest son was killed by his two older sons and this forced Faraydun to avenge his son’s death. A similar difficulty challenged Atticus who courageously defended an African American man in an extremely prejudice town. His client was later killed, but Atticus became a shining light for a town bogged down by racism. The lesson drawn from both stories is that American and Persian cultural literature focuses on characters with stand-out character and courage. Americans, as well as Iranians, take pride in characters that represent their cultures through courageous actions and humbleness.
Pop culture is another place of comparison for Iranian and American culture. Honor, trustworthiness, and bravery are expressed in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and in The Iron Giant. In each story, the primary characters make discoveries that drastically change their own lives and remove themselves from normalcy. Hughes became best friends with an Iron Giant, essentially a giant robot, and Ali Baba stole treasure and riches from a hidden cave where thieves have stashed their fortunes. Due to their discoveries, Hughes and Ali Baba were forced to hide what they found from the rest of society. They both made their decisions with good intentions; however, American and Persian (Iranian) history reveals that good intentions do not always produce intended results. This is partly because both characters, “deal with the issue of trust in their stories” (Ali Baba and The Iron Giant). Trust is a major component of peaceful relations in a complicated and predominately violent world. It is also a primary reason why any agreement with Iran today is nearly infeasible. Iranian culture establishes its foundation upon the assumption that trust is easily broken, yet burdensome to fix. American culture is founded upon similar assumptions due to its origins and fight for independence. The issue of trust, clearly displayed in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and in The Iron Giant, is an indispensable truth of American and Persian culture.
When comparing two major leaders from the history of Iran and the United States, the differences and similarities that exist reveal a lot about the culture of each country. Ronald Reagan and Khomeini were, “international giants” of the 20th century in terms of their impact around the world (Khomeini and Ronald Reagan). Their charismatic personalities and eloquent speech, “captured an audience’s attention and spirit,” which allowed their message to resonate with every day people (Khomeini and Ronald Reagan). Major differences also exist. Ronald Reagan utilized soft power and diplomacy to find solutions for world issues. Khomeini was more focused on building his country and creating the first ever Islamic Republic. Reagan was dealing with the Cold War and what he called, “The Evil Empire”. Khomeini was the leader of a revolution and was a mystic who believed man could become one with a divine being. But what does this all really tell us about culture? The American people rally behind a president that strives for peace through strength and talks about freedom. Iranians throw their support behind leaders that stand out by relieving the burdens of everyday life and projecting power abroad. In a way, Khomeini and Reagan carved out a culture that was similar: Peace is the goal, but sovereignty must be guarded fiercely with unwavering words that never fail to be acted upon, even if it means the use of force; however, Americans fear a leader that has too much power and Iranians accept it.
Differences also exist between American and Iranian government structure. Iran is known as an Islamic Republic, but it has truly acted as a theocracy that lacks the characteristics of a democracy and the values of liberalism. The U.S, however, has been a democratic model for the world due to free and fair elections, an impartial judiciary, a directly elected president and legislative branch, and the liberties citizens enjoy, like freedom of the press, speech, religion, assembly, and more (Iran and U.S Governance). Iran and the U.S differ in this aspect, but, “the Iranian government was established with the potential for a more democratic structure that has been tainted by the abuse of informal powers by the Guardian Council, Judiciary, and Supreme Leader” (Iran and U.S Governance).
Both countries have a president, but their roles are very different. The United States’ president is the head of government and state as well as the commander in chief of the armed forces with a primary duty to implement laws. In Iran, the President’s powers are absorbed by clerics and other powerful hardliners leaving him or her with the sole responsibility to ensure the constitution is implemented. The Supreme Leader, a position completely tyrannical in the eyes of Americans, has full-fledged power to perform any action he so desires (Iran and U.S Governance). This sharp contrast in governmental structure highlights a key difference between Iranian and American culture. America formed after the breakaway from England and has established a government with numerous checks and balances to mitigate power consolidation in the hands of the few, as well as, effectively protect the people’s liberty. Iran on the other hand has consolidated power into a single leader who is trusted, although not always liked, to defend the country against imperialists and advance their cause to become a regional hegemony in the world. Furthermore, American citizens more heavily embrace individualistic values, like those discussed by the founding fathers, while Iranians cherish their Persian identity and align closely with Islamic teachings.
Iran and the United States are the furthest from being countries that share a similar history or experience. The Iran we know today revolutionized into the only Islamic Republic existing in the world. The U.S, however, became the most powerful nation in the international system. Iranian leaders, especially those who view themselves as Persians, believe it is their country’s “destiny” to control the Shi’ite holy places imbedded in the Middle East. This is why Middle Eastern issues pressure Iranians to act. As America sets foot in all reaches of the world, Iran shakes in fear hoping they aren’t next on the list. This is why their cultures differ so greatly in various aspects. Iranian leaders trust no one and compensate for this anxiety by consolidating power into powerful elites and clerics. American leaders use their power and influence to project American values abroad even if it means war. American people sometimes take their liberty for granted even though great sacrifices must be made to maintain their freedom. Iranian people just want to live a better life free of sanctions and absent of oppression. History will tell what the United States and Iranian relationship becomes, but the culture of each country is a very good indicator: The U.S will continue to project dominance and never satisfy for anything less than it knows it can obtain, while Iran will constantly conceal its thoughts and find ways to crack any form of diplomacy or relationships it is offered. The U.S and Iran, unfortunately, will never see eye to eye.