Iran not an evil force

By Kevin Rothbauer

Iran is neither a Heaven on Earth nor part of President Bush’s “Axis of Evil,” according to Philip MacKinnon, Canada’s ambassador to the Islamic Republic. The ambassador spoke at the University of Calgary’s Rozsa Centre last week.

“Iran is a blessed country in many ways,” said MacKinnon, noting Iran’s lack of external threats, appreciation for its culture, and its vast resource base.

At the same time, Iran has often battled a reputation as an “evil” nation, going back to the days of ancient Greece and Rome, when the Persians posed a significant threat.

The current state of Iran dates to the revolution on 1979, when Iran started going in an “opposite direction from the rest of us,” MacKinnon explained. “Iran pursued aims that led to political and economic isolation in its own region.”

Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran’s approach to external politics has been one of isolationism, one that is only now beginning to change.

“For 23 years, Iranian foreign policy was designed to protect its political structure,” MacKinnon pointed out. “This strategic slumber… prevented any kind of meaningful recognition of where Iran’s needs lie.”

With recent focus on the Middle East, Iran’s relationship with the United States has received more attention. There are no diplomatic ties between Iran and the U.S., so Canada has often acted as an unofficial mediator between the two.

“Iran’s relationship with the U.S. reminds of the U.S.’s relationship with Cuba,” said MacKinnon. “Is it based on foreign policy or domestic policy?”

There is a strong anti-U.S. sentiment in Iran, but much of it appears to be based on rhetoric.

“[In many government speeches], if you took out the anti-Americanism, there would be nothing left but the revolution.”

Despite its many years of isolation, MacKinnon claims that the youth of Iran are trying to push the country in the opposite direction. In his travels throughout the country, he continually meets young Iranians who are curious about the West.

“Today, Iran is trying to internationalize,” said MacKinnon. “It’s incredible, the desire to know what is going on in the rest of the world.”

Iranians want a transformation to occur, and the West sees this as a rebellion against the Islamic system. MacKinnon says this isn’t the case.

“Eighty per cent of Iranians want change, but that doesn’t mean that they are a bunch of raving secularists.”

Young people in Iran face numerous obstacles to success. There are 50,000 openings for first-year university positions in the country, and 1.2 million Iranians took the entrance exam last year. Even upon graduation, the best projections are that only one third of graduates will be employed in their field of study.

“The only way to deal with it is foreign investment… or [domestic] investment,” MacKinnon stated.

Before foreign investors are willing to put money into Iran, a few changes will have to be made, including improving the relationship with the United States.

“For the kind of atmosphere of security that will attract tens of billions of dollars, they are going to have to come to terms with the U.S.,” MacKinnon stated.

Leave a comment