Hard-line clerics in Iran tried to prevent it. But on Sept. 11,
2001, as the ruins of the World Trade Center still smoldered,
sympathizers half a world away mourned the victims with spontaneous
candlelight vigils in Iran - the only Islamic nation in the Middle
East to witness such spontaneous solidarity with America.
This solidarity, in a region filled with intense anti-
Americanism, is an irony that Louise Firouz has seen evolve in her
45 years as an American living in Iran.
Mrs. Firouz has lived through much of what has made the US-Iran
relationship one of the most extreme and enigmatic in the Middle
East. She was witness to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the US hostage
crisis, and the birth of the chant, "death to America." In the past
decade, she has watched students and democratic reformers butt heads
with hard-line clerics in a battle that still rages daily. And now,
she has seen President George W. Bush label Iran as part of an "axis
After spending more than half her life in Iran - one of very few
Americans to have done so - this horse breeder from Great Falls,
Va., embodies the seemingly contradictory feelings that many
Iranians here share: admiration for the freedoms the US represents
juxtaposed with disgust over hypocrisy and imperial attitudes
emanating from its government.
"I'm still referred to as the American," Firouz says at her horse
farm - a leafy green patch of paradise 25 miles west of Tehran, with
a sign on the gate that reads: "Private Property: Entry by
Invitation Only." She offers carrots and apples to a handful of
Turkoman and Caspian horses, the latter an ancient breed she
rediscovered here years ago.
"The official view now is very anti-American. We walk over
American flags on the streets, but I have a feeling there may be a
lot of negotiations going on behind the scenes," says Firouz. "It's
two different worlds, what is in the newspapers and on TV, and what
is really going on."
US values respected
While deep respect remains for the values that Iranians see in
America, she says - freedom, justice, and equality, the values that
were the focus of the Sept. 11 candlelight vigils in Iran - they are
under strain as never before.
"There was an enormous sympathy for the US" as the Twin Towers
fell, Firouz says. But the reasons why that goodwill is eroding is
simple, she says, listing grievances commonly cited in Iran: the US
conduct of the war on terror, the virtual lack of American
involvement in Middle East peace efforts - bar giving Israel an
apparent blank check in dealing with Palestinians, and concerns over
the looming war with Iraq.
This is on top of widespread incomprehension here over why Iran,
which helped the US military with critical intelligence during the
war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, rated
membership in Mr. Bush's "axis of evil." Election results last
November that gave Bush and the Republicans a resounding vote of
confidence confused Iranians even more.
"People tell me: 'If this large portion of the American people
are going to vote for Bush, they deserve the next Sept. 11,'" says
Firouz. "It's amazing, America's backing of Bush and all this war-
mongering. Do you think Americans have done this because they are
"As empires come and go, maybe this will simply hasten the end of
the American Empire. It's beginning to look a bit like the last days
of Rome," Firouz says. "Iranians think - they are hoping, anyway -
that Bush is a passing wonder, and maybe the US will recover from
this, one way or another."
The horse whisperer
Firouz first traveled to the Middle East during a junior year
abroad from Cornell University - she was forced to give up dreams of
becoming a veterinarian after failing physics. …