The article implies that hardline figures like Mohammadi as worried about the prospects for expanded American cultural influence as they are about the possibility of the West undermining Iran’s nuclear program and its progress toward a nuclear weapon. In fact, Mohammadi suggests that the removal of Iran’s “strategic nuclear technology” is only the first in a series of goals that the US continues to pursue with the ultimate aim of promoting transformative change in the Islamic Republic.
On this view, a nuclear agreement that falls short of fulfilling all of Tehran’s demands could have the effect of weakening negative views and strengthening positive views toward the West among the Iranian population.
Western critics of the Obama administration’s negotiating tactics are widely concerned that a nuclear deal may actually give Iran virtually all of its demands. Such a high cost of rapprochement may nullify the effects that Mohammadi fears from a deal that is more in line with Western interests. Still, the same critics generally do not consider the possible cultural impact of successful negotiations, or the prospects of developing a closer relationship with the Iranian people.
On the other hand, some such critics are also long-standing supporters of the Iranian resistance and would consider an expanded relationship with prominent resistance organizations to be tantamount to partnering with the Iranian people.
But whatever form such partnership might take, it is clear that the Iranian regime would see it as a threat. This is evidenced by Mohammadi’s comments as well as by a wide range of stories regarding the clash between the regime’s policies and pro-Western trends throughout Iranian society.
The fear of Western influence is prominent among Iranian hardliners in part because such influence is already an established trend among well-educated and tech-savvy youth of Iran. In an article published on Friday, IranWire explained, for instance, that foreign authors are actually more popular in Iran than domestic authors. This includes a number of American authors including subversive individuals like Charles Buckowski.
The IranWire article goes on to explain that Iranian translators and publishers are engaged in a constant struggle with extremely zealous censorship authorities to make such works available for public consumption, and that they are often forced to change the original tone or language of the work in order to do so. But the end result is still effectively increased awareness of Western culture.
Earlier reports have indicated that when simply changing the text is insufficient, otherwise censored works are increasingly finding their way to the Iranian readership via online distribution. This may be regarded as a form of activism in itself, and evasion of Iran’s internet restrictions also leads to much more direct forms of activism.
As a case in point, Al Monitor reported on Thursday that the Twitter hashtag #NeverThreatenAnIranian had become popular on the banned social media network as a slogan for mocking Iran’s foreign aggression and domestic human rights abuses. The phrase was reportedly delivered by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in an argument with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini during nuclear negotiations. But some have speculated that the story was merely invented for Iranian propaganda purposes.
In either event, the hashtag has been attached to images of Iran’s public executions, the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, and other historical contexts that highlight that the regime routinely threatens its own people and overreacts to perceived threats against it. At the same time, the spread of this protest on Twitter demonstrates the popularity of web platforms that the regime attempts to suppress for fear of contact between Iranians and Western media or ideas.
Yet even without such online outlets and even in spite of Iran’s suppression of dissent, there is still ongoing activism in support of supposedly Western ideals such as women’s rights. One aspect of this issue has been prominently on display in recent months as Iran’s religious clerics and hardliners fought back against pressure to end the ban on women’s access to Iranian stadiums and sporting events.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran updated readers on this issue on Thursday when it reported that Vice President for Women’s and Family Affairs Shahindokht Molaverdi has increasingly come under fire from citizens for her refusal to follow through on relaxing the ban. Government-affiliated hardline groups like Ansar-e Hezbollah have threatened violent reprisals if any change is enacted on the policy, and women’s rights activists have loudly criticized the government’s refusal to rebuff such threats.
It is no doubt in the context of these existing trends against the ideology of the Iranian regime that individuals like Mehdi Mohammadi fear the outcome if even more Iranians come to perceive the West as a potential political ally and not as an imperialist aggressor.