Iran May Reopen Doors to the West

By Thomas Friedman Copyright New York Times News Service | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), June 16, 1997 | Go to article overview

Iran May Reopen Doors to the West


Thomas Friedman Copyright New York Times News Service, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


I used to believe that there were two Islamic fundamentalist countries that could resist the tug and pull of globalization: One was Iran, because it had oil, and the other was Sudan, because it had nothing. Iran seemed to have the resources to make itself an exception to the rules and Sudan was so utterly devoid of resources, it didn't seem to matter if it was in the game or not.

Wrong - at least about Iran. Consider Iran's latest election. The fact that Iranians sifted through their presidential candidates, identified Mohammad Khatami as the one relative moderate, and then voted for him in overwhelming numbers (70 percent) is remarkable. It says two things: One is how much the Iranian public - urban and rural, rich and poor, men and women - had come to resent the rank incompetence, corruption and suffocating repression of Iran's hard-line Islamic leaders.

The other is that the allure and pressures of globalization are still acting upon Iran, even in its isolation. Iranian merchants know their country's semi-quarantine is limiting their opportunities and Iranian youth clearly understand it is limiting their horizons. The Voice of America has a Persian-language call-in show, in which Iranians from all over their country telephone Washington, long distance, just to chat about their problems. They are knocking on the world's door. They want to be part of the global trends - from open trade to civil society to cultural experimentation - and they demonstrated that by electing the first Iranian presidential candidate with his own Web site (www.khatami.com). In other words, what is happening to Iran is another sign of how globalization - the intertwining of the world's trade, finance and information systems into a single structure - creates a powerful network of economic rules, pressures and opportunities that countries have to either open themselves to or pay a steep price for ignoring. Over time, that network will punish any country that overindulges either its body or its soul. For instance, France is a country that is overindulging its body, by trying to maintain a cushy life style without the resources to sustain it in today's global economy. Iran is a country that has been overindulging its soul. Its leaders have foisted on their people an extreme Islamic fundamentalist identity. …

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