Author Hooman Majd did a web chat with scholar Reza Aslan on the latter’s website. They’re discussing Majd’s lastest book, The Ayatollah’s Democracy: An Iranian Challenge. I’m reading it right now. You should be, too.
Incredibly well connected in Iran, Majd is one of the country’s most astute analysts and a great story teller.
For the last question of their chat, Aslan asks Majd what he thinks Iran will be like in five years. Majd delivers a nuanced answer, as both the current situation and Aslan’s question demand. His answer contains many lessons for U.S. policy-makers, shedding light on why Majd is an important voice on this issue outside the Washington bubble. Here’s the full video, with the transcript of Majd’s last answer (my emphasis):
I think it can go either way. It depends on what happens outside Iran, almost as much as what happens inside Iran. When I was last in Iran about five months ago, there was a lot of despondency among the youth, and people trying to emigrate and trying to leave. Not because of an imminent threat to them, but just because they feel like they lost. That’s why people say the Green movement is over, because they feel like they’ve lost this battle.
I don’t think the regime in Iran is particularly unhappy about those kinds of people leaving. I think they feel that they have enough support by their case that they can manage the system.
I think if the United States in particular puts the kind of pressure they are putting on Iran right now — including sanctions for human rights and things like that — they kind of tend to unite the country more than divide it. Even people in the Green movement in Iran — the leadership anyway — have been against sanctions like this because it gives the hard-liners every excuse to crackdown on them.
Five years from now, if you saw what’s happening today with relations between the U.S. and Iran — the threat of war, what’s happening with Israel — I don’t think you’ll see much of a change. We’d see the democratic process stalled; I don’t think we’ll see much progress.
[…] It’s all speculation. And I do think we play a big role in this. I think we play a bigger role than we thing in terms of being able to foster this democratic movement.
I’ve always said, Reza, that if we can resolve this nuclear issue with Iran — no matter how much we hate Ahmadinejad, no matter we dislike this regime — if we can solve this, it gives these guys in Iran a little breathing room so that they’re no longer accused of being on the other side. And it would also force Ahmadinejad and his government to face up to the problems that they have in Iran. Every time something happens, (Ahmadinejad) can point to the nuclear issue and say, ‘Well, we have to be united against them. Sanctions against us; they’re threatening war.’ And it’s impossible for these Green guys to get a break, because every time they want to say something, it gets overshadowed by this pressure from Israel and pressure from the United States.
I’m hopeful that the nuclear issue can be solved in five years, and if it can, you’ll see a lot more change in Iran.
Mostly raised in the West, Majd brings a quasi-outsider’s eye to the Islamic Republic (read my review of his latest book here).
While his Western sensibilities allow Majd to explain Iranian complexities so well to a U.S. audience, one of his greatest assets may be that he’s an outsider here, too: the man has little or nothing to do with the narrow, agenda-driven dialogue in Washington. Coming to writing and journalism late in his career, Majd is a quintessential Washington outsider (though don’t expect him anytime soon on a Tea Party ticket). He thinks outside the Washington box, which allows him to spend most of his time in the real world.
As I wrote, check out his book.