Abbas Milani – American-Iranian historian
Iran that you see in the media, Iran that you see talked about, Iran that you see written about, most often in the last 30 years, is a dour country, run by angry old men, who shout death to America, death to Israel, who promote a cult of martyrdom. But it’s also a society that produces Maz Jobrani. And I am here to tell you that there is a lot more happening inside Iran than what you see here. A lot more things that are very very promising.
I’m not here to tell you that there’s nothing to worry about Iran, but I’m here to tell you that if you really understand the paradox of Persia, you will find a country that is worth being interested in. And it is a country that does not deserve to be stereotyped by the behavior of its current rude impolite and impolitic leaders.
Why do I call it the “paradox of Persia”? For those of you who are older than 35, you would know that before the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iran was called Iran. If you are a little older, at least 85 years older, you would know that in the English languages, essentially in all the Romance languages, Iran used to be called Persia. So when we talk about Persia, we’re essentially talking about what you today would understand as Islamic Republic of Iran.
And where does this paradox begin? It begins essentially at the dawn of Western civilization. And it begins at the dawn of the great Empire that Iran was 2,500 years ago. So I’m going to try to give you a little bit of its history of these 2,500 years and try to pick moments of that history that show you the Iran that is different than the Iran that you generally hear about, or read about. But it’s 2,500 years of history, and I have 14 minutes. If I’m very lucky, 17 minutes. So how do you do this in 17 or 14 minutes? I’ll do it.