You can look back as far as the early stages of the Cold War to see where tensions started to rise between the United States and Iran. On the 13thof February 2018 the United States along with many European and Middle Eastern nations held a peace summit. One of the major issues of discussion was the United States dissemination from the Iran nuclear deal and where that leaves the world going forward. Unfortunately, the conference was not attended by many key Iranian figures nor any representatives from Russia, Iran’s closest ally (Smolenski, 2018.) The current United States administration has made its issues with Iran clear. However, I’d like to take a look at how the cultures of the United States and Iran differ and how social learning and organizational change can prevent us from the worst option, war.
Iran and the United States could not be more different from a cultural standpoint. While Christianity has long been the dominate religion in the United States, they have always been a country whose culture is rooted in freedom of religion. Although, the majority of the country may be some form of Christian, throughout their history they have been steadfast in the protection of all religions. Iran on the other hand is a country where religions and government are intertwined. With over 97% of Iran being Muslim, religion has always played a large role in how they govern (State Department, 2005.) The Iranian constitution even goes so far as to name Islam its national religion. Now, I think most people reading this blog would agree that freedom of religion is a good thing. However, when dealing with a country whose view is categorically opposed to that fact, you need to try to learn and socially adapt. The culture of the United States, more specifically the belief in freedom of religion runs in opposition to the culture of Iran, which mandates a religion. In order to work with each other each culture needs to look past religion to accomplish a greater goal. It is unlikely the U.S. will ever get Iran to conform to its views on religion and vice versa. They need to suspend their dislike for this facet of each other’s culture and adapt their organizations if they are to ever end their conflict.
Another cultural aspect in which the United States and Iran are diametrically opposed is the roles of women in society. Despite inherent biases and sexism, the United States is a society based upon the foundation that all men and women are equal. While one could argue that the United States doesn’t always practice what it preaches when it comes to male and female equality, one cannot argue that its position is far more advanced than the views of Iran. The Iranian government has restrictions on female dress and their ability to work. While Iran is not as deplorable as some neighboring countries, their overall view on women is backwards. In 2016 America saw the first woman win electoral votes in a Presidential election. In Iran just 3% of the Parliament is female and every time a woman has tried to run for President, they have been turned down by the Guardian Council (Blair D, 2015.) Social learning from each other in the case of female rights is much more difficult because there is such a clear aspect of right and wrong at play. Restricting females and not treating them as equals is wrong. The fact that I say that goes to show you part of the issue between our two countries. It is hard to interact and negotiate with a country you believe is doing something morally reprehensible. The United States certainly isn’t going to adopt a more backwards view in regard to equality and Iran most likely won’t get more progressive for many years. Something has to given though. Neither country has to condone the actions of the other, but we cannot deny that we both exist and have a presence on the global stage.
So, the question becomes how do the United States and Iran socially learn from each other enough to end our conflict, without supporting specific parts of each other’s culture? The best way to do this is through organizational change. So, after each country has taken the time to socially learn from the other, they need to institute organizational change. As previously stated, this does not mean America adopts Islam as the national religion and institutes legal dress codes for all women. While social learning, we can find things deplorable about one another’s culture, but we still have to look at the bigger picture. The bigger picture being avoiding war, nuclear or otherwise. An example of how organizational change can be instituted is by having the United States send Islamic members of its government to engage in peace talks. Iran can mirror that gesture by sending women to negotiate in the peace talks. We don’t have agree or like each other’s culture, but we do have to attempt to be sensitive to it in order to progress. If both countries are willing to change, there is nothing that can’t be accomplished. Social learning begets organizational change, which begets a higher order of social learning. I in no way condone any of the truly terrible acts propagated by Iran or the United States in the past, present, or future. My point is simply that we have to try to learn from one another in order to change for the better. War is always the worst option and if neither country is willing to make concessions to understand each other that is likely where we’ll end up.
- Smolenski, J. (2019, February 13). US-led Middle East conference in Warsaw: All you need to know. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/led-middle-east-summit-warsaw-190212230343271.html
- America, State Department. (2005). International Religious Freedom Report 2005 BUREAU OF DEMOCRACY, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND LABOR. Department of State. https://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/2005/51599.htm
- Blair, D. (2015, September 21). Iran’s big woman problem: All of the things Iranian women aren’t allowed to do. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11875128/Irans-women-problem-All-of-the-things-Iranian-women-arent-allowed.html
- Gaouette, N. (2019, February 14). US Middle East conference expected to zero in on Iran. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2019/02/13/politics/warsaw-mideast-conference-iran/index.html
5. US-Iran relations: A brief guide. (2014, November 24). Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-24316661