Is Iran the fearsome enemy we think it is? Reflections of a recent traveller

June 28, 2019 by Roger Mendelson
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Few would doubt that Iran represents the greatest current threat facing Israel and thus, the Jewish people.

Isfahan bridge.Note the fact that no men are in Islamic clothing and the women are fashionably dressed.

The Supreme Leader and the President make continuous threats to “wipe the racist Zionist Entity from the map”.

We have learnt to take threats from national leaders seriously and have no reason to disbelieve the stated intentions of the Iranian Leaders.

Accordingly, it was with a slight degree of trepidation that I visited Iran for a 2 week period in May. My trepidation was outweighed by the fact that Iran is such a closed book and the only information we seem to receive about it emanates from government propaganda, which is incessant, unambiguous and threatening.

If the information provided by the local media in Farsi reflects the content of the English daily newspaper, which I am sure it does, then the Iranian population are being stirred up continuously with anti-Western and anti- Israel lies.

If you perceive Iran as being a major threat, I recommend that you can switch your worry meter from “high alert” to “moderate concern”.

My wife Sue and Danny Ayeneszan, a member of the Isfahan Jewish community, outside the shul. There was no security. It was a typical Sephardi shul. They were very welcoming.

The comments I make are those of an observer and not as an informed expert and I wondered how many Iran experts have actually visited the country recently.

Starting with the basics, travel in Iran is as free and unrestricted as any country I have been in.

The benefits of a country under Sharia is that there is no discernible alcohol consumption, certainly no public drunkenness, no drugs, clean toilets, a diet which excludes pork, amazingly cheap prices and warm-hearted, engaged Iranians who are welcoming and are very happy to see visitors to their country and to talk to them.

In Iran, you will see less police than in any Australian city, almost no visible military presence and none of the trappings you would normally expect from a militaristic society.

The men, almost without exception, wear western clothing.  You will see more men wearing kippahs in the CBDs of Sydney or Melbourne than you will see men in religious garb in Tehran.

Although it is compulsory for women to cover their hair, I did not see one full burka in the time I was there.  Older women, particularly in provincial areas, are inclined to wear black and a full headscarf, whereas younger women, particularly in the cities, dress stylishly and wear colourful scarves as a fashion statement.

The rights of religious minorities are protected by law and on the trip, I visited an Armenian church, walked past a large Greek Orthodox Church in Tehran and was welcomed into a Shabbat service in a Synagogue in Isfahan.  At the Synagogue, there was no security at all.

Jews have been living continuously in Iran for close to 2,500 years and those I spoke to confirmed that they are fully accepted as a religious minority in Iran.

Iranians are proud of their pre-Islamic history (pre-seventh century) and major Zoroastrian Fire Temples have been preserved and many are operational.

The old US Embassy is now a museum dedicated to the Great Satan. It is very much as it was left when the hostage crisis ended.

Iran’s population has increased from approximately 30 million at the time of the Revolution (1979) to over 80 million today.  Accordingly, the population is overwhelmingly young.  To them, the Islamic Revolution is ancient history and the excesses of the Shah are even more irrelevant to their lives.  They want to engage with the world.

My feeling is that a very high percentage of the population is opposed to the theocratic government but there is nothing that they can do about it.  A brutal regime, holding the levers of power, is very difficult to dislodge.

Living standards and lifestyle are basically low level compared to western standards.  Healthcare appears to be of a high standard, the people appear healthy and well-fed, education standards are high but infrastructure is poor.

There are indications everywhere that the economy is performing badly, although the shops are well stocked.  I would put the average age of the private car fleet at about 35 years.  Most cars, trucks and vans on the road are battered and dated.

I saw very little evidence of recent industrial activity and the many factories I did see looked run down and decrepit.

There is a high level of underemployment.

Roger Mendelson

A standout feature is the massive number of either abandoned or never completed buildings. On almost any block, in any city or town, there will be several ghost buildings.

The main nuclear facility is visible from the main highway and as with most Iranian facilities, it looks run down and tired.

The daily use of technology is years behind Australian standards.

My feeling is that Iran is in a similar situation to the final period of the USSR.  During the dying days of the Cold War, the rhetoric of the USSR leaders failed to match the reality on the ground.

Should Jews visit a country which is so bellicose in its threats to Israel?

Iranians love having visitors.  By visiting them, you are showing support for them as a people and will provide them with encouragement to press for genuine democracy.

My feeling is that Trump’s sanctions are biting but it is not leading to anger against the West but to wearied irritation against their own regime.

Roger Mendelson is a Melbourne lawyer and businessman who has authored two business books and one novel has held many communal positions.

All captions written by the author.



4 Responses to “Is Iran the fearsome enemy we think it is? Reflections of a recent traveller”
  1. Roger Mendelson says:

    Shalom Michael.

    Melbourne is peaceful and I don’t claim to be an Iran expert.
    However, I stand by my observations.
    There is no doubt that the government makes appalling remarks and threats about ‘the Zionist entity’.
    However , my feeling is that the Iranians intensely dislike their government and do not support it. They seem to want to engage with the world.
    Iran cannot be compared to Nazi Germany in the thirties. The government had popular support and was developing leading edge infrastructure and technology.The Iranian government operates in a vacuum and is like generals fighting the last war.
    The economy is really struggling and the technology they use in their daily lives is ancient.
    I fully support Trump’s tactics and believe that they are exposing the Iranian government to a backlash from the population.

  2. Adrian Jackson says:

    A friend of mine, I used to house share with a few decades ago, visits Iran every few years to see relatives and she has shown me photos and described the place and its a modern place particularly in the cities.

    I am getting sick of reading, in the mainstream and mostly US controlled media, neurotic rubbish about Iran. Before the revolution Iran was a main ally of the USA. The Iran citizens are much the same only the government is different. The former kings regime were not political clean skins either.

    • Roger Mendelson says:

      I agree Adrian.
      The cause is very much the fault of the regime.Because they totally control the media, there is no independent media in Iran to report to the world. If there was, they would report how warm the Iranians are and how support for the regime is lacking.

  3. michael kuttner says:

    Shalom Roger

    Are we destined to repeat the same fatal mistakes of the 1930’s when commentators, politicians and Jewish leaders excused Nazi intentions as “overblown rhetoric” never to be carried out? Visitors to the Olympic Games in Germany reported back how peaceful, clean and efficient the country was and how nowhere could there be seen any sort of anti Jewish manifestations. Just because those Jews still remaining in Iran have a vested interest in portraying life as idyllic and jolly it does not hide the fact that in actuality they live under the rule of Islamic fundamentalists who at the first available opportunity will hold the Jews hostage. History repeats itself but we never learn.

    Living in faraway and peaceful Melbourne you obviously do not feel threatened. How about those of us living in the crosshairs of Iranian genocidal intentions? Read this and then tell us whether we still should revise our opinions as to “whether Iran is the fearsome enemy we think it is?”

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