Training business professionals prior to going to Iran gives us excellent insight into the misconceptions, stereotypes, fears and worries many foreigners hold. Here's the 10 most common. Deadly not because they can cause death; deadly in that they are based on ignorance and falsehood and lead only to misunderstanding.
Iran regularly features in global news; bandied around by governments arguing the potential benefits or drawbacks of doing business with Iran.
Although Iranophobic comments were somewhat curtailed with the lifting of sanctions in 2016, this has been reversed by the Iranophobic rhetoric of Trump who has gone so far as to label Iran the world’s ‘Number One Terrorist State’ in a recent interview.
However, efforts to bridge understanding and dispel common cultural misconceptions of Iran continue and it’s in this vein that we present you with some of the most common false Iranian stereotypes that we come across in our Iranian cross cultural training sessions:
1/ Iranians are Arabs – Due to its association with Islam, Iran is often mistakenly considered an Arab state. There are a number of reasons for this. One is that the names Iran and Iraq are similar (Iraqis are Arab), another is that both countries practice Islam. Finally, another reason is that both countries share the Arabic alphabet.
2/ Iranians speak Arabic – No, they speak Persian of Farsi as it is usually referred to. This is an Indo-European language which is more closely related to English than the Scandinavian languages.
3/ Iran is an aggressive country – In the modern history timeline, Iran has not initiated war and has instead only defended itself (i.e. the Iran / Iraq war which was initiated by Iraq). The Iranian leadership cites the defensive principle of ‘no first strike’ and it has the lowest per capita military budget in the Persian Gulf.
4/ Iranians are religious extremists - Although the conception of the Iranian government as religious ‘extremists’ is open to debate, very few can argue that the Iranian people themselves are religious extremists. The diversity of Iranian Muslims presents a landscape in which there are very practicing Muslims, whilst others don’t practice at all. Personal experience of being in Iran is that religious symbolism is very much the norm, but there are a great many people who do not practice and, if they do, they don’t do so regularly or consistently.
5/ Forced marriage is the norm – This is not the case. Although marriage may be forced in some families, individuals are typically able to choose their own spouse.
6/ Women cannot drive, vote and work – Females are fully integrated into Iranian life and able to drive, vote, receive a full education and work. It is notable that the majority of college students are female which is indicative of Iran having the highest female : male education enrollment ratio amongst sovereign nations.
7/ Iranians are defined by Shia Islam – Iranians have 2,500 years of pre-Islamic culture that continues to strongly influence their identity. Iranians are commonly considered to have finally embraced Islam as a cohesive whole, in the ninth century. Prior to this, Persia, as it was then known, had already enjoyed an ancient and powerful history which started with King Cyrus the Great who successfully conquered huge areas and created a unified Persia. King Cyrus is widely documented in both the bible and related literature as having liberated the Jews from Babylon. He was subsequently succeeded by the Kings: Camyses, Darius, Xerxes and Artaxerxes (all of whom are once again referenced in the bible). Iranians are very proud of their cultural history which predates the coming of Islam.
8/ Public executions and floggings are the norm – It is very unlikely that anyone visiting Iran would experience public executions – particularly since they were banned in 2008. However, since the 2008 ruling, executions have continued to be carried out in public for matters which have so enraged the general population that the ruling judge has deemed this necessary. The punishments are usually carried out at 6:00 am and in the area in which the crime took place. Human rights groups have suggested that 5 – 10% of executions have taken place in this manner.
9/ Women are dressed entirely in black – Although women may cover entirely in black, it is not the norm. Most women wear fairly modest clothing coupled with the mandatory head scarf. Make-up and other adornments are common.
10/ Iranians live in the desert – No this is not the case. Iran is geologically and climatically diverse. Many people are unaware that Iran is home to some of the world’s most beautiful ski resorts.
Help with our mantra of increasing the peace. If you know someone who buys into the Iranophobic mantra, then maybe share these points with them. Although we can’t train everyone, we can certainly do our bit to help dispel misunderstandings.