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Iran's technology revolution

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Last week's Ted Koppel Discovery Channel documentary painted a meticulously-framed picture of Iran to support a hostile mindset. It was like a self-fulfilling prophecy; one always finds what he is looking for. He focused on the schisms of Iranian society much the same way that Iran always points out the schisms that exist in America. Koppel reminded Americans of the origin of this conflict when in 1954 the CIA toppled the democratically elected government in Tehran and appointed the Shah. Then, in 1979 the Islamic revolution kicked the Shah out and took over the US embassy and held up American hostages for over a year.

"Iran-the most dangerous nation" was the title of his show and the name said it all. It set out to prove just how much danger Iran presented to America and its darling Israel. Scenes of Iranian crowds marching in the streets chanting "Death to America and Death to Israel" faded in and out of the screen like a needle knitting all the stories together. By the end of the 2-hour documentary my mind surrendered to the message that Iran is America's number one enemy.

It is the conclusion that any western viewer with an average education will reach. Koppel was laying the cultural foundation for the inevitable military confrontation with Iran. He began his story by saying: like any other country I visited which was ruled by an authoritarian regime...freedom of expression is almost non-existent...and women have to adhere to a repressive code of conduct. He interviewed political dissidents and people who'd been jailed by the Iranian regime and demonstrated how opposition views and newspapers were disappearing under the current president, Ahmadinejad. But he also showed the obsession of younger Iranians with the internet and western culture. They see American movies, dance to rap music and hold mixed sex parties at underground locations. The Iranian regime is obsessed with censorship and it shuts down numerous internet sites and spends lots of energy spying on its people.

They say that good things are either illegal, immoral or fattening. Iranians search for fun in breaking such prohibitions and doing naughty things in secret. "We used to drink in public and pray at home. Now, we pray in public and drink at home." This is what Koppel heard everywhere he went in Iran. They are beginning to taste the fruits of peace and prosperity and women are teething for a sexual revolution. His photographer told him that her sister and the younger generation do not even know the name of their own president. Younger women in Iran today are mostly concerned with finding a career and having fun. Many of them are getting educated and rebelling against the rigidity of traditional customs. These are the signs of an affluent society in the making.

The brightest personal moment for Koppel in this episode happened when he clasped the hand of a young man who told him that he liked George Bush. A large portion of the documentary was devoted to the question of Iran's nuclear energy program. But Koppel also reported that the price of Gas in Iran is 30 cents per gallon; people hardly pay any taxes; electricity and water services are highly subsidized, and education and healthcare are almost free. This was made possible by the skyrocketing oil prices.

Most Iranians believed that their nuclear program was peaceful in nature and that's why they supported it. It was a matter of national pride to them to develop a home grown technology. Nuclear research sites are scattered all over the country and enrichment facilities have become numerous. Ahmadinejad announced last week that 30,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges will be installed within the next year. He also brokered peace between Syria and Iraq thereby making a goodwill gesture to the American negotiator indicating that Iran has something to offer in the way of stabilizing Iraq.

Koppel's documentary closed by stating that the US had to negotiate with Iran over the Iraq issue, but at the same time it has to keep its military options open. That seems to be the current conclusion of most senior statesmen like Henry Kissinger and James Baker. The idea of national pride attached to the nuclear program is the easy explanation offered by most media. But the matter is more complicated and the Iranian regime is dealing with two vital issues regarding the nuclear program. The first one is called employment and the second one is called development of an industrial base.

More than 50% of Iran's population of 70 million is under the age of 25 and about 800,000 people will be entering the job market every year. The nuclear program with its massive facilities under construction, provide employment for hundreds of thousands of people. This can not be simply shut down. It is like the nuclear construction boom of the sixties and seventies in America. Iran's program has been set in motion irreversibly for the next 20 years.

Iran realizes that within the next 20 years there will be alternative sources of energy available to the industrialized world. Oil producing nations will be left in the cold if they do not use their current revenues to develop a real industrial base. Iran is building car factories, a defense industry and a home-grown technology base. CNN reported last week that Iran was making a breakthrough in embryonic stem cell research.

In the nineties Clinton worked so hard to complete the human genome project which produced the human genetic map in 1999. Stem cell research would've taken off in America if Bush had not slowed down the program because he "respected the sanctity of human life." Iran, as well as the rest of the world, benefited from Clinton's work and it had its Mullahs issue a religious Fatwa in 2002 that embryonic stem cell research was Halal and sanctioned by the Qur'an. They ruled that the "spirit" entered an embryo at the age of 121 days. Thus, aborting a fetus up until that point does not amount to killing a human life. Iran is bringing questions of religion and technology together in a way that is surpassing the Vatican's pace.

Iran's research program brought back movement to a rat's paralyzed limb. Its stem cell research is more advanced today than America's. Iran is in a hurry to build a solid home-grown technological base with scientists that can champion inventions in every field from electronics to medicine. This will provide opportunity to build factories that can employ millions of people and fuel a robust economy.

In the aftermath of the 1979 revolution Iran suffered from a massive exodus of scientists, educators and thinkers. In the eighties it suffered from the enormous toll of death and destruction imposed on it by Saddam Hussein. Today's Iran does not look like a nation preparing for war. It looks like a nation hard at work trying to re-build itself and chart a path towards modernity. The erosion of the freedom of the press indicates that it has chosen to follow the Chinese model. These are state-mandated necessities that most people disagree with just like sacrificing civil liberties in America in the name of security.

Iran is trying to make itself look attractive to business leaders who prefer autocracy to achieve fast growth. It is creating a higher standard of living for its people and at the same time becoming the most influential player in the Middle East. Its nuclear program is the most visible symbol of the bubbling technological revolution. It seems determined to make the transformation to a fully industrialized self-reliant nation making it the first one in that region. It will never give up its nuclear program voluntarily. In fact, it is already talking about exporting the technology to places like Venezuela and Egypt.
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Neal AbuNab is a Michigan-based author of "The War on Terror and Democracy"- available on He is a commentator on Arab and Muslim affairs and he can be reached at:
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