The Iran Revolution at 40: From Theocracy to ‘Normality’

The country has changed enormously, as a growing middle class has quietly and successfully rebelled against the rigid ideology of the early years of the revolution.


Comments: 120

  1. Iran is an excellent example of how a country's population is able to bring it's government into the 21st century without the unwarranted intrusions of the Divided States. The observation that Iranians have been able to effectuate the kinds of change to their society described in the article, in the face of their otherwise primitive theocracy, demonstrates a very hopeful level of sophistication and commitment by the people to eventually have a government by the people and for the people. Nowhere did I read the populace was conspiring against the Divided States, despite the fact that Iran will soon become the target of Trump's evil machinations. I wouldn't expect our current government to understand the changes in Iran to be a favorable sign for our future relationships with that country; at least until WE are able to extricate ourselves from the morass we have gotten ourselves into, here in the Divided States.

  2. Follow the money. Saudi Arabia is Sunni and has been a long religious war with Shia Iran, though their armies aren't engaged at the moment. But the war involves buying off American politicians and thus American influence and I have no doubt that if one followed the money from the George H. W. Bush White House, thru his son's White House, to the Trump debacle, one would see why Iran is struggling like an insect under a magnifying glass. America is doing what it can to destabilize and destroy Iran, and has ever since it installed the Shah, both to keep stuffing pockets with Saudi money, and in lust over the oil. Iran isn't my enemy, nor is it America's. But the bought and paid for politicians in our White House are doing the bidding of the Saudi Empire, and that is that. We are trumping up a shooting war with Iran exactly as we did with North Vietnam, and Saddam. Hugh Massengill, Eugene Oregon

  3. @Hugh Massengill Also we are doing the bidding of Netanyau and his ilk in Jerusalem. Evangelicals and Big Oil companies may seem like strange bedfellows but there you are.

  4. @Brother Doc - Maybe not so strange? Big Bucks to be made by Big Religion and Big Oil as long as there's a Big Enemy somewhere, anywhere…

  5. What rose-tinted glasses you have! “While state television still refuses to show musical instruments”. Iranians simply exchanged one tyrannical regime for another. In reality, the theocratic regime has now imprisoned and murdered more people than the Shah before it!

  6. Here's hoping that their newborn liberalism and freedom isn't wound back by more American sanctions. Also, Instagram and social media being a good thing?? A revelation!

  7. @BORIS Yes, the social media piece was an eye opener for me, too, particularly since I've recently decided it's bad for society -- the internet as the playground for the id. But I welcome this other piece of information.

  8. We should leave Iran in peace. They are not our enemy.

  9. @betty durso - Our friends don't shout "Death to America" and hold Americans hostage. Yes, many Iranians are our friends. But their government, who encourages terrorism, is not.

  10. @Jim Our "friends" (Saudi Arabia, Egypt) do hijack planes and fly them into buildings in NYC and DC killing thousands. Iranian words may not be nice and their government may be adversarial , but there is no comparision between who are the bad guys and who are the better guys when comparing Saudia Arabia and Iran. Saudi Arabia has plenty of American politicians in their pockets. And how dare the U.S. fund and support al-Qaeda and al-Nusra with Saudi support to overthrow the Syrian goverment. The U.S., like Iran, should stick to fighting ISIS. If there is one good thing that Trump wants, it is to get out of Syria soon. Yet even Trump, or rather, his favorite son (-in--law) Jared has a bromance with the butcher of Riyadh.

  11. If I was a Muslim and had a choice of living in Iran, or Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Pakistan, I'd pick Iran in a heartbeat. Shia Islam has always been the kinder sect of Islam, and the Persians have always had a much deeper appreciation of personal freedom and modernity than any other country in the Middle East, including Turkey.

  12. @Sasha Love Thank you for your comment. I also have traveled and lived in the Middle East and I couldn't agree more.

  13. I agree. I wish Iran would move towards democracy faster, but they are on the way. Not so with the Saudis, who continue to instigate holy war.

  14. As a gay man that sees the lynchings in Iran, I’d have to politely disagree with you. I’ve been to Turkey, there is more freedom in Turkey to be an individual.

  15. maybe the author didn't think that the overturning of a popular and democratically elected Iranian leader in 1953 by the United States at the behest of British oil interests was worth mentioning.....nothing unusual here.

  16. @Autodiddy I don't think the author of the article ever intended it to address the origins or history of the 1979 revolution or to allocate or apportion blame. Rather, the seems to be identifying the evolution of social changes which he attributes to access to outside news and social media, while noting that there have not, as yet, been corresponding political changes. One hopes that human and democratic rights can some day be restored. Engagement rather than isolation is the key.

  17. It will be interesting to see how Iran develops up to the general elections in 2021, and its results. I sense that their could be results similar to what happened in 2005.

  18. Nice overview of the last 40 years of revolutionary evolution in Tehran. Such a paradoxical society. I suspect it would be fascinating to be there as a reporter. My own brush with contemporary Iran was March 1979 landing on PanAm One in the airport as I headed to Karachi to begin my first Foreign Service assignment. We weren't allowed off the plane. In Karachi we experienced the early revolution at one remove. Our Gunny had the misfortune of being detailed to Tehran at the wrong time to head the Marine Guard detachment. He became a hostage as did one of my entering Foreign Service classmates. As a Consular Officer I interviewed Bahai refugees fleeing Iran and wrote cables recommending their admission to the U.S. Many years later I played a small role in the coordination and release of a Foreign Relations of the United States series volume that finally documented and thus officially acknowledged U.S. covert actions in Iran between 1951-54. That was one small step toward the day when the U.S. and Iran may again have normal relations. Perhaps as the years progress the time may come when American citizens, especially Iranian-Americans can again safely travel or live in Iran.

  19. Iran sounds like it has more freedoms than Saudi Arabia (our ally).

  20. @felixmk good lord, they are apples and oranges! Of course Iran has more freedom. Women have been driving there for decades! And becoming doctors, lawyers, judges, engineers etc. My Aunt, who is ninety, was a school principal back in the 1960's. Did you know the middle east's second largest Jewish population (after Israel) is in Iran? Not to say everything is sunshine and light, Iran has its problems, but it is not like Saudi Arabia at all.

  21. Dictators of any stripe fear the people. This is why the clerics are obliged to make concession to the Iranian people. Never forget that the clerics betrayed their promises of democracy. They promised at the time that the futur constitution of Iran will drawn by an elected constituant assembly. Never happen! Why? Because the clerics knew that the people of Iran were fighting for democracy not for theocracy. The clerics hijacked the revolution for their own purposes and imposed a theocratic dictatorship.

  22. Fascinating read. Will be assigning this to my students. Iran may not be a bastion of democracy but slowly and surely it is moving there. Social media’s impact on our world is a sight to see.

  23. @Jessica Just wait until the IRG in Syria starts a war with Israel that goes nuclear and destroys Iran and contaminates much of the Eastern Hemisphere if not the entire planet with fallout.

  24. I always look forward to pieces by Thomas Erdbrink! I spent my high school years in Iran, an American, well before the revolution. It changed my life in more ways than I can describe, mostly positive. I'm a world traveler and I still think Iran is the most beautiful place of all. My Iranian friends are friends for life. The revolution was a sad, sad day for me, though. Most of my Iranian friends were not in favor of the change to theocracy, it's extremely difficult to take AWAY rights from people (we should remember this). But the radicals won out in the end. Though saddened by the effects of the revolution, there are some positives that I can see. Many more people, women included, can get an education now and become whatever they dream of. This would not have happened pre-revolution. A fascinating book "Searching for Hassan" by author Terrence Ward, delves into the current Iran as seen through the eyes of American ex-pats on a return trip. I had lived there and was surprised to read about how modernized it had become. Like many Americans, I assumed that the revolution had caused the country to only move backwards. Lastly, the image of Iran being portrayed by our current administration is extremely unfortunate. This is an ancient and rich civilization and I'm pretty sure it will be around for a long long time to come. We should be cognizant of this.

  25. @striving I have been to Iran 4 times for extended visits to my Iranian in-laws and know the Tehrani middle class lifestyle fairly well. A lot of present day complaints are due to economics with issues of highly educated young folks with limited job opportunities etc. Many people attest that the current high level of women's education could not have happened under the previous regime, so I agree with you! It's amazing how people compare Iran with places like Saudi Arabia and other gulf countries. Iran is much more progressive and favorable for women and girls!

  26. What about the rest of Iran, outside Tehran and its nearby ski resorts? Iran is a large country. Are social changes similar in the suburbs of Mashhad, Isfahan, Karaj, and Shiraz? Water issues are huge in the countryside, but no mention of restlessness in food-growing regions.

  27. During my 2 week trip to Iran last November after 32 years of absence, I can state that the society portrayed by the author is a very small fraction of the land, made even smaller by the 2-3 million diaspora that may have had "Western" values. In Iran, as anywhere else in the non-Western world, Democracy today is a four letter word, made even more foul by its deeds of the century past. Whatsmore, the circus presented by Trump, May, Macron et al hardly gives people any hope for its future. The new model for the emerging world is China that pulled out 700 million out of poverty in mere 15 years the period when Democracies decimated their middle class in aftermath of financial meltdown, debt, depression, despair. One word - moral decline. The main question for America 2020 is what we can learn from China, Russia, Iran and their "rigid" ways.

  28. @Syed Abbas Sorry sir, but China is no model for those who breath free air. South Korea, Japan, and other democracies seem to be off your radar, even though their growth rates and GDPs rival those of the the much larger state controlled China's.

  29. Do we really want to learn from regimes characterized, respectively, by censorship, corruption and religious fanaticism? How can these be chosen so blithely as "Times Pick"? Chilling, indeed.

  30. @Syed Abbas Russia? You must be kidding! Try reading The Future is History: How totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen. That should open your eyes.

  31. I’m sure there are many fine Persians - I actually know many who escaped in the 1980s to the US. The problem is their leadership, that is still a religious dictatorship that sponsors terrorist organizations around the world such as Hezbollah. There was a reason for the nuclear deal - this is a dangerous regime. Remember the Arab Spring? Where is it now? Don’t let your animosity towards our current president drive you to see only good in the Iranian leadership.

  32. @Steven Roth, I'm sure there are many fine Americans - I actually know many. The problem is their leadership, that is currently a mindless, bullying oligarchy. Remember the American Revolution? Where is it now?

  33. @Steven Roth An Iranian could say, "The problem is the American leadership, that is still an oligarchy that sponsors wars around the world such as in Yemen and Iraq".

  34. Women wearing nose rings, riding bicycles, motorcycles....” where will it end, where will it end”....Meanwhile, in other news this month, the Saudis are using online apps to track, recapture women wanting freedom, torturing and threatening sexual assault on one woman who....gasp....advocated for women drivers. Dubai has evidently imprisoned a princess (with the aid of a UN representative), and one old man in Britain has decided that small girls in danger of female genital mutilation should be left to the tender mercies of their families- because the process of the proposed law was not to his liking.

  35. The Iranians do have one thing correct: nose rings are indeed despicable.

  36. On my bucket list is a wish to visit Iran. I think it is a beautiful country. Like French, their language is music to the ear and very pleasing to listen to. Mostly I think the people are friendly and very open. The food is delicious! Yes I do have concerns that as an American I could very easily be held as a pawn for some political purposes. But ... Thomas has done a wonderful job to bring the sense of normalcy that prevails in Iran at this moment. I think and hope he is right and I always look forward to his pieces on PBS and here in NYT.

  37. @Theni Yes, Iran is a beautiful country, even if part of it is experience severe drought. But more importantly, the people are kind, gracious, and welcoming of Americans. I can speak to that having been there twice and feeling quite comfortable and safe both times as I traveled (as an American with a guide because that is just the way things are now) throughout different parts of the country. If you can possibly go, make sure to visit Persepolis and Shiraz.

  38. Pence would have been at home in the Iran just after the Shah was deposed. Changing the US into an evangelical theocracy under the mantra of religious freedom is his fondest dream.

  39. It is upsetting this article did not really touch on Iran's major issue with "brain-drain" in which all the educated individuals are simply leaving the country. They have one of the highest rates of this phenomenon in the world. Without this brainpower I am pessimistic of any truly substantial change to antiquated theocratic law.

  40. In 1979, the Iranian government did something that even the Nazis and Japanese did not do. Their faces have changed, but the rhetoric has not. "Ideals of the revolution?" About what are you talking? What happened in 2009 was Tiananmen Square 20 years later. There is little to hope for as the Ayatollahs maintain their grip on power, supported by the armed forces. So, a few Saudi women can drive cars. Big Deal. Tell Khashoggi how much Arabia has changed.

  41. I'm happy for the people of Iran that their regime's Islamist zeal has abated somewhat, making some aspects of everyday life easier. But that does not mean the situation is "normal," unless one considers it normal to be ruled in perpetuity by a theocracy. The people of Iran deserve, and most of them want, to enjoy the right to choose their own leaders through democratic elections, and the attendant right to speak their mind freely without fear of punishment. Letting women ski without headscarves does not address this concern at all.

  42. Iran is to be held up as model of what happens when religion is allowed to run governments. Disaster and dictatorship rules. As soon as the present generation of ayatollahs who were there for the revolt of 1979 die off, then change has a chance of taking hold. And, Iran is a cautionary tale like Russia who could have gone in another direction and joined the worldwide community but a hatred towards the American presence in the world has blinded them. A curious note: when Reagan was in office during this time of upheaval in Iran, America saw the rise of the Christian Right. Jerry Falwell, Jim and Tammy Baker, Pat Roberts etc. Was this a response to the Iranian revolt? Perhaps.

  43. @William Here in the United States we have our own version of the morality police, who use the name of religious freedom to force their backward views on the rest of us. Their ultimate goal is to overturn democracy and change the US into a theocracy. Meanwhile, in a special report from the NYT yesterday, we see that the evangelical leaders and pastors of the Southern Baptist Convention have been participating in and hiding their own sexual assault for years. Evangelicals seem to see women merely as toys put on earth to pleasure their patriarchal men. Where is the outrage by the evangelical morality police? I haven’t heard anything from them except for praise for a president creditably accused of the same sort of sexual assaults.

  44. Just like in America, the old guard is holding on to its vision of governance while society continues to evolve. In Iran, it uses religion as an excuse so that the people in power can remain so. The far right tried that in America too, but the sinner in chief put the lie to that belief, so now it is about economics and immigration. It's the same old power grab wearing a different costume.

  45. @mlbex Except we have elections in 2020. They don't (unless you want to vote for those in power).

  46. This attempt to cherry-pick a few examples of meager progress shows the dangers of a nation becoming complacent and it makes me fear for our Nation. This is not something to cheer, as real freedoms remain elusive. And, merely being better than Saudi Arabia should not be the standard. In America, we have slowly become complacent or indifferent to the egregious behavior of Trump, his Administration, and are no longer shocked by once unacceptable actions and statements, and flat our lies. We have come to expect them even. While change often occurs slowly, let's continue to call out Iran, which sponsors terrorism widely, restricts women's rights severely and the press. Iran is far from being a nation worth praise.

  47. I only know what I hear and read from non-Iranian sources. Are we to believe that Iran is the greatest sponsor of International Terrorism or not? Does anyone not believe that they seek the ability to launch a Nuclear Missle at Israel or us there avowed enemy ? What Obama did by lifting sanctions and sending Billions in Hard Currency is far worse than anything DJT has done. I tend to believe the people who have lived in Iran and seen the crackdowns on dissidents. They torture and kill people who speak up and then they disappear forever. There's an old saying:" How do you know if a Lawyer is lying? His Lips are moving". How many Centrifuges do you think are spinning as we speak?

  48. @ABC The "hard currency" that was sent to Iran was not American money. It was money paid by Iran during the time of the Shah for airplanes and other military merchandise that was not delivered, and the Iranian funds that were already paid were never returned to the country, but held by the US. The returned money included a portion of the interest earned.

  49. @ABC If US intelligence agencies are to be believed, Iran is still honoring the terms of the treaty. So I'd say not many.

  50. Modern peoples in the 21st century recognize that science based, rational and pragmatic thinking is needed for the society to advance. For social behavior to be controlled by religion at the exclusion of all else sets us back to the early days of civilization. You can't stop smart people from seeking the realities of the 21st century; to develop normal interpersonal relationships and the integration of men and women in daily life, as well as the world wide demand, openly or below the surface, for equality for women. Ultimately, you can't hold back a society. The one powerful reality of the 21st century is near instantaneous communication across the globe available to billions.

  51. The 'Theocracy' is not Persian. It is an ideological import by invasion that came from the Arabian peninsula, and that has been imposed on Persia. Long live the SHAH Reza Pahlavi!

  52. Look at those top pictures - all men! This was a revolution by and for men. And women have paid the price ever since.

  53. @Ohana Don’t judge just by looking at some select pictures, women were as involved as men, in demonstrations or armed missions

  54. @Ohana Women were very active in the protests that toppled the Shah. They took to the streets in the thousands, risking being beaten, arrested, even gunned down.

  55. @Ohana on the contrary the revolution was equally supported , activated and managed by women and men. Just because you don’t see them turning a car over doesn’t mean they didn’t participate and support the revolution . Nothing gets done in Iran without the women support . The unfortunate part was and is that still many women are followers of the Islamic republic and religious ideologs .

  56. I was in Pune, India on business and was being helped by this very friendly young woman in a store. In our conversation I told her I was from the US and she shared that she was from Iran. It was surprised as she was in India until she told me that many students from Iran go to Pune for university studies. We talked for a good hour and the other thing that surprised me was how ordinary and modern she was. So many years of US news stories about Iran had painted such a one sided picture for me of Iranians. Until that point, it never occurred to me until that point that Iranians were just normal human beings with the same aspirations as any other human beings.

  57. @Ben Before the English came to India, it was ruled by Mughals who had a heavy Persian influence. Also, Modern Hindi is heavily influenced by the Persian language. The present Indian cuisine is also quite influenced by the Persian cuisine, be it the Raita, the Pulao and the generous use of herbs.

  58. I have not been there but I understand the country, the land itself, is beautiful to behold and the people, as a whole are so very intellectually advanced, it's hard to understand how they have so patiently borne out the oppressive regime changes over the past 40 years. Could it be their discipline? Could it be they can look at one another and think, we have ancestors over two to three thousand years old. That kind of grounding has to account for something.

  59. The notion that Iran is close to anything resembling normality is a baseless assertion. The author cites loosening of social norms as evidence for his claim. He does not discuss discuss Iran's horrendous human rights record, corruption, economic mismanagement or environmental destruction. The article's outlook was very superficial. I expected much better from New York Times.

  60. This article is pure propaganda. It works hard to blame the US throughout, but in the end, there is no freedom for most, especially women. I find the 'celebration' picture to be devoid of women completely. Is this the kind of country the NYTimes wants us to now believe is somehow 'free?' Sorry, but his reader isn't buying that Iran is 'normal.'

  61. @Ma What "celebration" picture? The only photo completely devoid of women is the one showing hostages from the US Embassy.

  62. I dont care what reason Iran is what it is but it is a theocracy and dangerous to the stability of the Mideast and world.. Increase the sanctions and make it more painful for countries to do business there. Up the ante for china and russia Kick them out of the world bank and the western monetary system unless they comply. Time to get Brass and take the Yayatootalah down with his horde of corrupt compatriots. Let's free the Iranian people

  63. Not one mention of the cause of all the trouble: the CIA-backed overthrow of the democratically elected PM in 1953. Iran had a constitution. It had democracy. And freedom. And the CIA destroyed all that by *re-installing a tyrant KING* (the Shah), so that the US and the UK could get a bigger cut of Iranian oil. The Iranian revolution of 1979 was just a regurgitation of US/UK poison crammed down the throat of the Iranian people. The shame of it is that the religious wing-nuts were the ones that happened to have the power to do it, and not the educated and pro-democracy normal people of Iran. Once again, Americans complete and utter ignorance, self-righteousness, and immorality caused problems for decades to come.

  64. @J c “Once again, Americans complete and utter ignorance, self-righteousness, and immorality caused problems for decades to come.” Yes yes yes. When reading what happens note who did what. Iranians did it. The CIA was a player that got the boot. Iranians Iranians Iranians. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/1953_Iranian_coup_d'état Focus on what actually happened. “Once again, Americans complete and utter ignorance, self-righteousness, and immorality caused problems for decades to come.” Yep. Still does.

  65. A blurb in the last paragraph stating that political freedom is an um issue in Iran. What a total whitewash article. No one doubts that the Iranian people have a long and rich history, but this article makes the Iranian regime seem like one evolving toward democracy. Dream on Mr. Erdbrink.

  66. My wish is that all people in Iran have the freedom to wear what they like when they like, to love whom they like and express that love, to dye their hair pink and get a nose ring if they want to, to ride motorcycles and ski, and most of all, to be free to say, watch, read and sing what they like, to dance to their favorite tunes, and to be able to freely discuss any issue without fear of repercussion, societal backlash or, worst of all, any interference from "morality police."

  67. The article reports on the hip urbanites seemingly all in Tehran. What's the views of the butchers, bakers and shoemakers, as well as the vast population in the rest of the country?

  68. @The Liege You forgot the candlestick makers. FYI - butchers, bakers and shoemakers still value their freedom and human rights. Don't sell them short.

  69. @The Liege Snafu, is what I hear. In a usual human approach, the newspaper of the big city in the US reports on the folks in the big city in Iran. But I appreciate it for what it attempts, and look forward to other journalistic products, as well.

  70. Iran has moved forward somewhat in the past 40 years. This article is beautifully written, but misguided and misleading. If (hypothetically) an individual re-enters society after many years as a hermit, and exclusively read the NY Times for information on modern culture and government, he/she would think Iran as a permissive, modern society with personal freedoms, and Israel an oppressive theocracy. One country allows full rights and equal freedom for women, gays and minorities. The other has lynchings without due process. On country has a protected minority of other fully recognized religions. One country recognizes that its minorities speaks other languages, so much so that all road signs are bilingual. One country abides by a fully secular rule of law. One country fully integrates women in its military. And both have ski resorts. But in only one of the two countries, women don't have to rely on any law that "allows" them to wear ski hats instead of religiously mandated full head coverings. It is bewildering why Gay and Women's rights supporters will adamantly encourage BDS and wax poetic about Iran and other restrictive Muslim nations. No, Israel is not by any means anything even close to perfect, they have MAJOR oppression issues as well. But side by side comparison with ANY Muslim nation for personal freedom? There is no comparison.

  71. The fact that Iranians have more personal freedoms now does not change the fact that they continue to allow an ugly, destabilizing, terrorist-sponsoring government to rule them. It's been 40 years now, and they could have overthrown this regime with violence-- just like they did the Shah-- by now if they really wanted to. We can't allow the modicum of normality they have in their personal lives to affect our foreign policy towards them.

  72. (This shows corrected final sentence: apologies) The ameliorative tone of this article belies the basic fact that the so-called "Iranian Revolution" hasn't brought anything better to Iran's people than the autocratic rule of the Shah. Both to the Mideast and to the world in general it remains a stain to both our democracy at its best, and much as I hate to say it, even at its worst. The only legitimate complaint any freedom loving Iranian should retain against the United States is that in 1953 the CIA under Allan Dulles overthrew the only real democracy Iranians had ever had, and so it remains. For this and for nothing else do we owe that unfortunate but worthy people a sincere apology that has yet to be made. This is something Obama should have done rather than coddling a regime that whether put off a few years or not will stop at nothing to prevent the Mideast, the world at large, let alone its own people from becoming better place in which to live.

  73. You forgot to mention the American coup (operation Ajax) of 1953, which trashed a democratically elected government and ushered in 26 years of extreme repression by the Shah. The reason for the coup--cheap oil for the Americans. That 26 year experience was the catalyst for the birth of a Theocratic government. It was a foil against further American imperialism.

  74. @John Penford It was not an American coup. But that is an American for you. Hogging all the credit and making everything about themselves no matter the facts or the issue.

  75. No, in fact classified docs released two years ago prove the CIA’s central role in the 1953 coup. Yes, the Brits - more democracy lovers - were also involved.

  76. There are as many people in Iran's government who believe in and care about the revolution's ideals, as there are Republicans in the US government who care about conservatism. Talks of revolution now is all but a story to justify holding on to power. They know the people know, but as long as they can keep 20-30% support and continue to effectively utilize means of state power, they simply don't care. Mr. Khamenei and Trump could have been good buddies - could have shared tips and tricks on how to rig the elections and silence the dissidents - if it weren't for Bibi and Mohammad Bin Salman's regional rivalry with Iran.

  77. Iran today is reminiscent of the more open Eastern European societies during final decades of Communist rule of which Hungary was the leading example. There too, it was claimed that the rulers were opening up society so that it was becoming not so different from the West. But when the Eastern Bloc cracked under Gorbachev, these countries, including Hungary, immediately and enthusiastically threw off restrictive Communist rule. The same thing can be expected to occur in Iran when the Islamic revolution there finally crumbles.

  78. @Caleb And now Hungary and Poland have decided that they kind of like repression, and are returning to that model.

  79. While I’m encouraged by the positive portrayal of Iran, and Iranians, it feels like the article is somewhat anachronistic. It made sense to talk about a shift to “normality” two or three years ago when the Iran Deal had just been reached and there was an optimistic prospect of economic and cultural reform emerging in Iran. Today, with the deal scraped and the crippling sanctions and hostility towards Iran restored by the new administration, it’s hard to see this attitude in the Iranian society. A lot has changed just in the past two years with the Iranian economy, quality of life, and internal politics. What has instead resulted now, for the first time in 40 years, is a near total mistrust of the government, from both sides of the political spectrum. Iran today, in the post-2016 era, is not at the verge of normality but total collapse and chaos. It’s difficult to read this without considering what’s going on on the ground today.

  80. The problem with one party rule is that everything becomes the ruling party's problem - and their fault. Grinding down the teeth of the 'revolution' is just the second of three steps in that process. Slowly, yes slowly, the teeth get smaller and smaller and one day the gears won't mesh. There are a multitude of reasons Iran's government will eventually collapse of its own weight and some of those are sufficient to finish the current regime by themselves but the slow accretion of individual freedom has it's own power to drive the result too.

  81. I was born six months before the revolution, spent my early years in Tehran living through Iran-Iraq war before we finally moved to the U.S. in 1986. My father became a computer scientist here, and I am now an oncologist here in Texas. We are thousands of miles away from our homeland and have been for over 30 years. The theocratic revolution in Iran was nothing short of a brain drain and cultural drain for the country. It significantly slowed progress and impeded freedom for millions of Iranians. There have been two sides of Iran: One side shown by the media and how many Americans view Iran based on the news. The other side is the "underground" version which is much more prevalent and accurate. People who live very different lives behind closed doors. Many people who yearned for more freedom and detested the oppression of the regime. Thank you NYTimes for showing the real side of Iranian people and how the human spirit outlasts and wears down the brutality and cruelty of authoritarian regimes.

  82. Thank you, Thomas Erdbrink, for this article and all your other reporting. Iran has been demonized for too long! I visited Iran in 2011 and it was eye opening. We were welcomed with open arms and treated like rock stars. My observation was that people might obey the letter of the law, but not it's spirit. So women in Tehran might wear a tunic and pants, but the pants were skin tight and the tunic was belted, leaving little to the imagination. The people are welcoming and pro-American and hungry for western engagement. I only hope the US doesn't change all that by bombing/invading.

  83. It really doesn't matter if the women can wear ski caps if their leaders are supporting war against Israel in Syria. This could easily spin out of control turning that beautiful land of Iran into a nuclear wasteland. This is the big picture that the author avoids in this piece.

  84. Now all Iran has to do is to stop funding terrorism across the middle East and we'll all have a love fest. Easy!

  85. Iran. Wow. Must be nice to have a 'growing' middle class. Not exactly what we have going on here.

  86. Any regime that forbids music deserves to be overthrown and forgotten.

  87. What Erdbank actually means is "Westernization," since it isn't universally abnormal to have rules separating men and women or requiring conservative dress. However, Iran's Westernization is, to a degree, a story about Tehran, not the entire country, and in politics and foreign affairs, Iran is anything but Western/normal. Iran has two former presidential candidates under house arrest, it has thousands of political prisoners, it has an arm of the military (the Guards) run a huge section of its economy, its leaders shout "Death to _____," it is ranked one of the most corrupt countries in the world, it has given its fisheries to China, it spent $20 billion propping up Bashar al-Assad, and last month it executed two gay people. https://gayexpress.co.nz/2019/02/man-executed-on-homosexuality-charges-in-iran/

  88. Feel sorry for the Persian people. The Iran revolution only benefited the theocrats. Hostage taking was a bad way to start building a nation. No wonder Iran is foundering and given a chance millions of Iranians would like to get the hell out of there and one cannot blame them.

  89. Today, another huge rally in Teheran, bragging about exterminating the Jews and pledging "Death to America". To quote Stan Lee, "'NUFF SAID".

  90. 95% of Iranian women would show their hair if they could. The vast majority would like to be friends with the US, and prefer Israel to the Sunnis in Gaza and the West Bank. This article is a shameless puff piece that could have been written by John Kerry.

  91. The so-called "islamic republic of" Iran clearly is an illegitimate state. It is ruled by unelected, illegitimate, Twelver, religious-fanatic dictators who took over the country by force, (from a prior dictator whom we supported), and who run around in 7th century costumes and headgear doing what they do to encourage, in their minds, the coming out of a savior, a twelfth imam called Al Mahdi. They believe that Al will show up with Jesus to redeem the world. Imagine that the Mafia took over Italy by force. Would anyone recognize the Mafia as Italy's legitimate government? Same thing with Iran. The should be shunned by the international community and their UN membership should degraded to observer status is that. We need to do all we can, without our resorting to arms, to encourage the people of Iran to throw out those dictators who subjugate them.

  92. They already did that when they threw out the dictator called the Shah … who was installed by the US after we helped overthrow Iran’s democratically elected PM. So… maybe we oughta just sit quietly and think hard about what democracy actually means.

  93. Is the systematic persecution of the Bahá’í Faith in Iran part of the country's "normality?" For 40 years, Bahá’ís have been denied basic citizenship rights, despite being fully Iranian. They are often imprisoned because of their faith. That this article overlooks Iran's largest religious minority saddens me as a Bahá’í. That said, my hope is that Iran can be a prosperous, thriving country. While Iran has many positives, the persecution of an entire faith within its borders and exported to Yemen are certainly among them.

  94. @Glenn Franco Simmons I meant to say: While Iran has many positives, the persecution of an entire faith within its borders and exported to Yemen are certainly NOT among them. I also speak as an individual and not for other Bahá’ís of the Bahá’í Faith.

  95. You have to be seriously suspicious of any male-dominated society that wants their women to wear MORE clothes.

  96. Too soon!

  97. On May 31, 2001, Steven Emerson and Daniel Pipes wrote in The Wall Street Journal that "Officials of the Iranian government helped arrange advanced weapons and explosives training for Al-Qaeda personnel in Lebanon where they learned, for example, how to destroy large buildings." The 9/11 Commission Report stated that 8 to 10 of the hijackers previously passed through Iran and their travel was facilitated by Iranian border guards. Judge George B. Daniels ruled in a federal district court in Manhattan that Iran bears legal responsibility for providing "material support" to the 9/11 plotters and hijackers in Havlish, et al. v. Osama bin Laden, Iran, et al. Included in Judge Daniels' findings were claims that Iran "used front companies to obtain a Boeing 757-767-777 flight simulator for training the terrorists", Ramzi bin al-Shibh traveled to Iran in January 2001, and an Iranian government memorandum from May 14, 2001 demonstrates Iranian culpability in planning the attacks. Defectors from Iran's intelligence service testified that Iranian officials had "foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks."

  98. Same old diatribe. It's the government not the people.

  99. However terrible the Iranian revolution is, we must remember that it is a creation of misguided US foreign policies.

  100. No one disputes that Iran and the Iranian society have evolved since early days of the revolution. A common fallacy among foreign observers -- and Thomas Erdbrink is no exception -- is that they confuse Iranians with the Islamic Republic of Iran! The Iranian society, though subjugated by the ruling theocracy has resisted the cultural onslaught by clerics and has paved the way for what now are visible trappings of twenty-first century life. The Iranian youth is well-schooled, vibrant and connected. They struggle against all odds to live in the epoch in which they were borne. There is a deep fault-line between the broad masses of people and the ruling elite. Appearances could be deceptive.

  101. @Darioush Bayandor Now if we could just get Americans to read history. The level of American propaganda since WWII is sad and on-going. My trip to Iran in the 70s was a real eye opener - as you describe in your post above.

  102. @Darioush Bayandor "There is a deep fault-line between the broad masses of people and the ruling elite." So they're really not so different from Americans at all, are they?

  103. Certainly a visitor is safer in Iran than Iraq.

  104. It is so shocking that NYT assigned a whole page to suggest a shift to ‘Normality’!! As In NJ mentioned the whole state is corrupted and one could just consider the facts in the “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran in 2018” and wonder why a whole page to normalize situation in Iran.

  105. We know that many of the Iranian people are indeed normal, and they seek to have someone, or something, rid them of the theocratic tyranny that burdens them. A major point missing in this article, understandably, is the theocratic leaders have been threatening to destroy Israel, and its people (you live in Israel, you are guilty), with almost yearly parades featuring mock-ups of deadly, precise missiles that can, G-d forbid, hit Israel. Of course the government denies being anti-Semitic, but how many Jews, and others, have they ensnared and murdered? Their acceptance of Judaism is limited to a second class, restricted religion that barely references Israel/Jerusalem/Zion. They treat members of the Bahai faith even worse, if that's imaginable. If the ayatollahs sound anachronistic, they possess untold power without any intentions of losing it, regardless of how much it can cost the rest of the population. Shame on them.

  106. Change is coming in Iran, all be it two steps forward one step back. The big question is with the new sanctions imposed by Trump administration squeezing whatever is left of middle class in to life of poverty, whether it’s going to stop or slow down the change process all together. After all if you are hungry your priority becomes feeding yourself and your family and everything else will be pushed in the back burner.

  107. I prefer Iran (which I visited in the 70s and was treated well) to Saudi Arabia any day of the week. The leadership is not one I like and I wish women had more freedom. I've watched the Netflix specials following Thomas and showing some normal life. I hope Thomas and his wife remain safe and never are arrested.

  108. Watch Thomas on Frontline. Great journalism!!

  109. The last Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was a barbaric dictator. It was a good thing that a revolution occurred in Iran. Thank you Mr. Erdbrink for informing us about Iran. President Trump must reach out to Iran. President Trump should make a treaty with Iran and abolish all economic sanctions and economic embargoes against Iran. Iran is the only country in the Middle East that is effectively fighting and beating ISIS. The US and Iran have mutual interests in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. The majority of the 9-11 bombers were Saudis. A lot of ISIS members are Saudis. Saudi officials are killing journalists in Saudi Embassies. Saudi women are being violated by the Saudi government right and left. Saudi women need to be liberated. America must move forward and become friends with Iran. The U.S. must abandon Saudi Arabia as a great ally. The US should see Saudi Arabia as what it is, a disgusting place run by terrorist dictators. The only thing that the US should do with the Saudis is buy their oil. Besides that the US should bring human rights charges against the evil Saudis.

  110. It’s pretty amazing that the author of an article about one aspect of a culture must - apparently - top his piece by saying stuff that everyone -presumably - already knows. Yes, Iran is oppressive. Yes, Iran funds terrorism. They hate gays and subjugate women. Yes, we all know this - and patently - so do the people writing these comments! So why do you need him to regurgitate them for you? These are things* that are covered literally every day in the media. He’s offering what we call a sidebar. It’s not a freaking encyclopedia article on Iran. *Unlike my comment about the fact that the US played a major role in overturning Iran’s democratically elected PM in the 1950s, which is NEVER covered by the media.

  111. Come on. That the US overthrew Mosaddegh is common knowledge and published in the media thousands of times over.

  112. Great article but reads llke half an article that just cuts off. Instead of offering up a little more detail about how actual government policies interact with reality and speculating more about the future of Iranian society and politics, the author just suddenly closes with a single sentence regarding the stark choices that Iranian politicians face.

  113. Ten environmentalists were arrested in Iran about a year ago for trying to set up cameras to identify endangered species. One died in prison and another claims torture. They are still in prison. If Iran is becoming so tolerant, it sure hasn't affected the opinions of its theocrats regarding environmentalism. This is the sort of abuse the West should be outraged by.

  114. For a fraction of the population . Dog walking recently outlawed in Tehran. Just the powerful Obama doctrine of portraying Iran as a friend, not so covertly at the expense of Israel. Hizbullah, Hamas ,Syria, all Iranian proxies. Shame on Panetta for whispering 'Iran is a threat to its region" Shout it out dems! Deal gives them the bomb under sunset clause. worth the wait...

  115. Is the liberalization of Iranian society also taking place outside the major cities such as Tehran? I'd also think Iran could put a lot of pressure on their Saudi enemies by officially blessing the liberalization of society, while the Saudis continue to kill journalists and imprison women who don't have a male's approval to travel. Why would Americans not in the oil industry want to side with Saudi Arabia?

  116. A moslem country where people can live productive lives and is outside the control of the US? A threat we need to bomb immediately at the behest of Netanyahu.

  117. This article is frankly a bit of a fantasy in the vein of capitalism brining democracy to china. for 40 years state has been masterful at keeping its middle class just happy and comfortable enough to stop any real threat,

  118. Compare the Iran described here to Saudi Arabia. Yes, the end of the article is sobering; the leadership of Iran is still trying to enforce the past of 40 years ago, but the people of Iran look very western. If the leadership starts to crumble, Iran, in the long run, will be a much better friend of ours than the Saudis.

  119. Secret police rounding up dissidents, assisting in the murders in the Iraq civil war, the soldiers and weapons sent to fight in the Syrian civil war, the secret program to build nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them, the continous threats to destroy Israel, that’s the real Iran.

  120. We were in Iran some years back. Never have I come across a lonelier people. In just about every market place, park or distant village, people would sneak up to us with "Do you speak English?". Young Iranian women students cornered me in a park and asked, pointing to their headscarves "How long do you think we have to wear these things?" Saddest was our departure evening where we talked mild politics with some friends of our guide in a noisy restaurant. Our guide begged us to stop, "There are spies everywhere" Everyday Iran might have become a little softer, but not that much. The Mullahs have too much to lose.