One of the hardest things about being an Iranian in today’s world is living under a government that does not represent you. In Iran, the regime pretends to speak for its people by calling itself a democracy and performing “democratic elections” for the president. However, anyone who understands how Iran works knows that these elections are not really democratic, because all candidates have to first be approved by the extremely conservative supreme leader. The leader, Ali Khamenei, is known for his severe punishments and harsh interpretation of Islamic law. He oversees all aspects of the Iranian regime, and is responsible for approving or denying any potential candidate for positions of authority. That being said, for Iranians, their country feels much more like a dictatorship than a democracy, and getting their voices heard is essentially impossible.
So what do Iranians do when their leaders express hateful views, infringe on the human rights of its own citizens and people abroad, and engage in wars that the Iranian people is against? They speak out against it as much as they are able, as they did in the 2009 post-election uprising. However, other than open rebellion of the regime, there is little Iranians can do to make their voices heard amongst the corrupt and oppressive government.
The Iranian regime conducts itself without any consideration for the opinions of its people, and this leads to a disconnect between what Iran represents, and what Iran actually is. The oppressive, controversial, and violent regime has taken stances on human rights that result in Iran being the world’s leading per capita executioner of its citizens. They detain dual nationals without just cause to use them as political pawns in their international dealings, they target and arrest citizens in their homes for having private gatherings, and the revolutionary guard serves as a “modesty police”, arresting women for dress considered inappropriate.
While Iranians must deal with harsh treatment from their regime, internationally, the people of Iran must deal with threats from those who group the people as being active participants in the repugnant acts of their oppressors. Iranians must suffer the consequences of living in a country that has such an abysmal human rights record and history of violence both by being targeted internationally and by their own regime.
On the other hand, Iran’s recent reputation of being “more progressive” in light of Rouhani’s “election” and the passing of the nuclear deal is equally as harmful for Iranians. When Iran’s government starts being viewed as progressive, this puts Iranians in a difficult position where their grievances against the regime are not being heard. When Iran is touted as a pleasant tourist destination, or when Hassan Rouhani is named Time’s Person of the Year, it leads the Iranian people to feel that the international community does not take the human rights violations they suffer seriously. It leads one to believe that the world is “buying” the progressive act that the Iranian regime is “putting on.”
In reality, Iran is a complex country full of culture and history, and is full of a people who have repeatedly rejected extremism in all its forms for hundreds of years.
Recently, Iran’s regime has taken the side of Dictator Bashar Al-Assad in the Syrian civil war, and its military is responsible for violence against Sunnis in Iraq. These international acts are carried out without the consent of the Iranian people, so once again, the role that Iran plays on the world stage has nothing to do with the generally peaceful, tolerant view that the majority of Iranians in fact hold toward people of different sects and faiths.
Whether Iran is being feared as a dangerous enemy, or being considered as a progressive global partner, the image that the Iranian regime puts forward for the world to see has devastating consequences for the Iranian people. The Iranian people do not get to reap the benefits of a true democracy that responds to their concerns, but they also don’t get the sympathy or understanding that they deserve now that their country is being improperly labeled as “progressive.”
Until the international community can properly define Iran as it truly is: a dictatorship that has stolen the control from its people; Iranians will be caught between the two faces of Iran; one of a progressive regime, one of a country full of terrorists; both of them false.