What is Iran? Is it a nation ruled by savage mullahs who are the world's prime sponsors of terrorism, who seek a nuclear capability in order to advance their hegemonic aspirations, and who order the murder, rape and torture of their political opponents in order to protect their illegitimate regime? Yes. Is it also a country populated by freedom-seeking people, inheritors of a grand civilization, who, after more than 30 years of soul-crushing theocratic rule, find themselves filled with warm feelings for America and what it stands for? Also, yes.
The Atlantic.com's international channel posted a pair of pieces this week that make the unassailable, if by-now stale argument, that most Iranians actually like the U.S. Christopher Thornton, the author of the pieces (one is a travel narrative, the other a photo essay) writes in a faux-naive, or honestly-come-by, naive style, but a style laced with condescension -- condescension directed at Americans, who, he claims, without evidence, are ignorant of the "real" Iran. The only thing Americans care about, he argues, is the alleged perfidy of the Iranian government. Thornton's introduction to his photo essay will give you a sense of his mission:
The version of Iran that Americans see in the media can certainly seem like a frightening, hostile place: stern mullahs, clandestine nuclear programs, angry (if often staged) anti-American protests. Yet Iran seen first-hand is very different, and much friendlier. Approximately half of Iranians are willing to tell pollsters they hold a favorable view of Americans, but when visiting the country it seems like many more share that view. The many Iranians I've met have been eager to tell me how much they like Americans and the U.S., the many commonalities they see between the two countries, and of course their desire to visit--and remain permanently if at all possible. I hope this other side of Iran comes through in these photos I've taken on my visits to the country. These are not nearly as disturbing or frightening as the Iran-related images you're likely accustomed to, but they show the "real" Iran that outsiders rarely see.
The photos include images of children playing in a fountain and of women buying fabric, One photo comes with this immortal caption: "Men laugh over the poultry at a bird market in Esfahan."