The Coastal Post - February, 1998

A View Of Iran

By Karen Nakamura

Overtures are being made between the United States and Iran. Iran's new, and apparently more moderate, President Mohammad Khatami has granted an important interview to CNN and the White House is conducting behind-the-scenes meetings.

Many are surprised. After all, isn't Iran arming itself with nuclear weapons? Doesn't it fund terrorist organizations such as Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon? Isn't that a main reason Israel maintains a nuclear presence and buffer zone inside Lebanon territories?

Which spinmeisters should we believe? We decided to talk to Nick Fara, owner the auto repair and gas station in San Anselmo near Insalata's. Mr. Fara is a friend to many in Ross Valley. He's also been a guest on the Michael Krasney show. Born in Tehran, he returned recently after a 20-year absence.

During the '70s, Fara came here on a full scholarship from the Iranian government, receiving a masters in vocational education. For this, he's thankful. When asked what he knew about the Bay Area before leaving Iran, Nick answered, "As a kid, I watched 'Streets of San Francisco.' That's all I knew. TV can give a distorted view of the world.

"They still have American movies in Iran. However, they only come in on special occasions or are illegally smuggled in on VCR tapes. When I was there in the summer of '96, Ghosts was showing.

" You have to understand, while many Iranians still have a high regard for Americans, America's policy of containment of Iran has failed. Many nations have trade and diplomatic relations. The U.S. tried to isolate Iran, but ended up isolating themselves. They're not relevant to what's going on.

"I think what would surprise most Americans is how mellow and civilized people are there. I was in a cab and someone suddenly pulled in front. I said something. The driver was very laid back, telling me not to bother, that the other driver was only trying to make the turnoff. There wasn't any road rage. In fact, Iran is one of the safest places in the world. They don't worry about molestation and kidnapping, that sort of thing.

"I checked out the newspapers to see what the politicians were doing. They were talking about nuclear bombs being dangerous and inhumane. Reports that Iran is developing a nuclear bomb are nonsense. At least from what I saw. What they're concerned about is development of diverse fuel sources, like nuclear power, rather than depending on oil.

"Electricity is in great demand. They have to deal with it. There's 60 million people in Iran now. When the Shah was in control, it was common to have blackouts in Tehran. Even though Iran has dams and hydroplants, it still has to buy supplements from outside sources.

"The highway system has been built up. It's great. The Shah had a huge surplus of money. Instead of spending it on the needs of the citizens, he lent a billion dollars to France interest-free.

"Currently, the Iranian government is trying to get away from the mon-industrial policies of the past. For instance, they're developing the textile industry, marble exports, they're supplying marble to Italy now, and ceramics. The Persians taught the Chinese and Japanese in the old days. So these skills are being developed. What they're trying to do is diversity the economy.

"Americans think the place is run by a dictator, but Iran has a constitution, a parliament and the vote. Religious leaders have veto power, but they don't make laws. You need to realize the people voted in a democratic election for a system of checks and balances.

"There's talk about getting rid of the religious veto. The veto originally came about with Khomeini. People trusted him to keep things honest. Not that he did a perfect job. But he did keep order after the fall of the Shah. The country could have split into factions like the Kurds, Azarbijani and such.

"We don't want to represent this as a totally democratic country. The candidates have to go through a list of qualifications. The people do vote, but their choices are limited.

"You know, Iran has never been the aggressor. Iraq provoked the Eight-Year War by invading Iran. However, there are those who feel Khomeini could have ended the war honorably several time during the eight years. So many people died while he kept saying, 'The Path leads to Baghdad!'

"But then, a lot of people believe the U.S. supported Iraq and prolonged the Eight-Year War to get the hostages out of Iran and later out of Lebanon. Ironically, after supporting Saddam, the U.S. had to fight him.

"People think Iran supports Hezbollah for its violence. Actually, Iran sees itself as supporting freedom fighters. Besides, Hezbollah and Hamas also have schools, food programs and health clinics. The Iranian government also sees itself as a supporter of the weak and helper of the disadvantaged. Not that I'm a fan of the current government, but they've already invested more in Iran than the Shah. When the Shah was in power, you couldn't say anything against him without being taken in. You can bitch and moan more now. As long as you don't organize protests, they don't care."

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