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Open Letter to Iran

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Iran is the heir of Persia, and as such is a very, very old civilization. Every literate person in the world knows this. Modern Iran is not an old civilization, however, and even modern Iranians may not understand the implications of their country's relative youthfulness. The truth is that a huge percentage (43.2%) of the Iranian population is under thirty years of age. Of these males outnumber females, which is also more than just interesting.

These demographics play to some very interesting psychological, moral, and cultural issues. For instance, in the western democracies (where the population is more evenly spread across older age groups and sociology is a highly developed study not only by universities but by insurance companies) it has been discovered that the average male does not develop a full appreciation of personal risk until well into their twenties, often not until the age of thirty. Accordingly, young drivers are understood statistically to be much more dangerous drivers of automobiles, for instance, but also much more likely to be reckless in other ways.

One of the basic and universal stages of human development is the transition from dependency on one's parents or other familial elders to independence. This usually a period of conflicted emotions, false starts, and reassessments of one's personal social environment. Successful transition depends on youth acknowledging (however grudingly) the wisdom of elders and equally on the practice of wisdom by those elders ... not overlooking any member of youth.

One of the complications of this universal transition is the flaring of sexuality as the gonads mature and begin to pump surprising hormones into the bodies of young people who are simultaneously approaching full adult height, if not weight, and certainly not experience. Sexual awareness carries with it social and personal issues relating to passion and to economics, since it becomes almost universally understood in this transition period that babies happen when girls and boys engage in sex. It is one of life's biggest concerns, and yet it is in most cultures treated as if it were not a central issue, obscured by embarrassments of various kinds, dubious moral principles, over a background of half-truths, outright falsehoods, and perplexing taboos.

Sexual and most other kinds of youthful recklessness in the West and some Asian cultures is moderated by strong pressures brought to bear on young men and women by large and strong cohorts of more mature (that is, risk cognizant) older people, usually cohorts who hold the keys to certain kinds of life opportunities like education, jobs, and political interests.

In populations like Iran's (and many other countries) the demographics have been skewed toward youth for a very long time. Where large and strong older cohorts were not available to exert moderating pressures on youth, religion took up this responsibility. You can see this in the older practices and principles of the Roman Catholic Church that presided over medieval Europe, in certain Hindu traditions, and very clearly in Confucianism and Islam.

In many respects the ferment in Islamic societies is due to the fallout from political and economic injustices that rain down on a youth population demographic constrained by religious and moral principles that are at odds with modernism and especially modern communications. Islam cannot replace the stern and admonishing father figure when it is vividly obvious that that father figure is trapped by religious principles more appropriate to bygone non-technological centuries.

And yet ... youth in Islam know full well as their risk appreciation increases and their full social mentality matures that there needs to be something to hold down the passions and excesses that the rowdier of their cohort participate in and from which comes so much trouble and grief.

Perhaps the younger citizens of Iran already know that Grand Ayatollahs are prisoners of their own awareness of a disconnect between faith and fact, between the reasons for certain moral principles historically and the reasons now ... if any. Perhaps the young people of Iran know that their form of government is a last gasp of an ancien regime, but they do not know how to make a society behave the way they expect without the trappings of "revealed" authority.

Know this young Iran: nuclear weapons have been used already, so if you develop them you can be pretty sure they will be used by you. If you use them, the older people cultures of the planet will annihilate your country.

If your country acts as if it is unique and given by Destiny or Kismet to take its place among the nations of the earth, then know that it must grow up. You must grow up! You must figure out a way to survive to be older, to provide the necessary moderating influence on the passions of youth, know them, respecting them, but moderating them.

There are many of us in the outside world who believe you can do it. Know that we will support you and that mistakes will be made. Learn tolerance and forgiveness. Respect yourselves. Do not fall prey to those who would make martyrs and victims of you.



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James R. Brett, Ph.D. taught Russian History before (and during) a long stint as an academic administrator in faculty research administration. His academic interests are the modern period of Russian History since Peter the Great, Chinese (more...)

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