By Patricia H. Kushlis
In 2005, a student of mine began his report to the class on the relationship between politics and Islam in Iran with the title “Iran is not Iraq.” Most, if not all of the students in that upper division Islam and Politics class already knew it but his was a particularly effective opening, and as he told me later, far too few Americans knew the difference between the two countries at the time of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and fewer still could differentiate between these two large Middle Eastern countries on the map.
Presumably, after the events in Iran over the past couple of weeks and the heavy news coverage here far more Americans may – hopefully - now recognize some of the major differences between the two countries. These include the facts that the majority of Iranians speak Farsi or a Farsi dialect while most Iraqis speak either Arabic or Kurdish; that almost all Iranians are Shiite Muslims while Iraqis are either Sunni or Shiite; that Iraq was an artificial entity patched together from three former Ottoman provinces by the British during the colonial period while Iran traces its origins to the Persian Empire; and finally that Iraq has been governed as a secular state since its independence in 1932 whereas Iran has been controlled by a Shiite theocracy since 1979. There are more differences, but enough for now.
Hopefully Americans also realize that there is a huge internal political struggle underway in Iran that burst into the open in the streets in reaction to the Iranian regime’s mangling the aftermath of the country’s recent presidential election.