It’s hard to imagine a more puerile take on Iran than Facebook-friending a bunch of young Iranians, noting that they, too, take selfies and upload cat videos, and concluding from this that Iran is not “a nation of crazed zealots,” but actually they’re a lot like us, the young people don’t seem that into the Islamic Revolution of their parents’ generation, and “they want economic opportunity and global connection.”
Alas, that’s just what Vox’s young Johnny Harris has done.
In a post that is more or less the Voxsplainer version of Sting’s 1985 anti-war ballad, “Russians,” Harris relates how Facebooking with young Iranians made him realize that not everyone in Iran thinks like former Iranian President (and consummate Holocaust denier) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Of his new Iranian Facebook friends, Harris effused, “[N]ot one of them seemed to hate Americans. On the contrary, each was excited to be friends with me. Many of them offered their home to me if I ever visited. In short, they didn’t sound anything like their hard-line Islamist regime.”
Or, as Sting put it: “There is no monopoly in common sense / On either side of the political fence / We share the same biology / Regardless of ideology.”
Basically, Facebook-friending Iranian youths totally changed Harris’ perspective on Iran. He realized that Iranian youths aren’t all that different than American youths: “Most Iranians are normal people living normal lives. They want to connect, they want to feel safe, and they want peace just as much as you and I do.”
Put another way, you might say that Harris came to the same realization as Billy Joel in his 1989 single, “Leningrad,” in which Joel tells the story of a soldier in the Red Army who becomes a circus clown and makes children glad. While the “Soviets turned their ships around / and tore the Cuban missiles down,” America kept on fighting for some reason Joel doesn’t understand. So he travels—lyrically, at least—to Soviet Russia with his daughter, where they meet the ex-Red Army clown: “He made my daughter laugh, then we embraced / We never knew what friends we had / Until we came to Leningrad.”
To bolster his main point, Harris notes how Iranians reacted to the news of the recent framework agreement on a nuclear deal. Here, Harris’ logic is airtight: the Iranians are happy about the nuclear deal because they want sanctions lifted and greater ties to the United States.
After reading and watching Harris’ piece, at first I was relieved because I’ve been worried the Iranian regime might acquire a nuclear weapon as a direct result of the Obama administration’s repeated concessions during the recent nuclear talks. If they got a weapon, I thought, they might hand it over to a terrorist group or use it as leverage (if not use it outright) in a regional Mideast war.
But I was comforted, albeit briefly, knowing this would never happen because the good people of Iran, per Harris, obviously would not allow it to happen; they’d simply vote their war-mongering leaders out of office if they tried something like that. Iran’s people want peace and safety, after all, just like we do.
Then I remembered that Iran is ruled by an apocalyptic Islamic theocracy and it doesn’t really matter what ordinary Iranians think about America, or cat videos, or the latest Internet meme. Remember Iran’s Green Movement of 2009, when Iranian protestors demanded the removal of Ahmadinejad after the presidential election and the government responded by suppressing the demonstrations and arresting hundreds, including the leaders of the Green Movement? Neither does Harris.
Where Harris went wrong, I think, was that he listened to the wrong ’80s pop songs about the Cold War. Elton’s John’s “Nikita” shares some themes with Harris, Sting, and Billy Joel—we are all the same, etc.—but John recognizes something the others don’t. Namely, that Nikita is a prisoner: “And if there come the time / Guns and gates no longer hold you in / And if you’re free to make a choice / Just look towards the west / And find a friend.”