Iran is losing the battle of modern culture

As the new year begins, let’s take a look at the country that has long been the greatest collective nemesis of the Western world: Iran.

Negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany have started again and stopped again, and have moved from Geneva to Vienna and then back to Geneva. And through it all an interesting development has become more and more obvious: Iran has begun to sway public opinion both at home and abroad.

Iran is orchestrating the entire production – the talks, the agreement, the different interpretations of the agreement, the meetings, the deliberations – and presenting it as a conflict with the West, especially a conflict with the United States. And the truth is, Iran may be correct. And they just may win this war of diplomatic public relations.

Iran is now able to get away with military maneuvers that, until the agreement was signed, would have been met with a diplomatic flurry of censure and even sanctions and that are now simply accepted.

With full fanfare, Iran has announced a new radar system. The announcement was made in all the papers and on television and radio stations. Each announcement contained almost identical information. Iran now has a new, extra long-range system radar that uses UHF, VHF, HF frequencies.

The system is called Arash, named after the Persian mythical figure and archer. According to tradition the Arash resolved a conflict about the boundaries of Persia by shooting an arrow and all the land within the bowshot became Persia. Arash, of course, used a magical bow and shot the arrow a supernatural distance.

According to the reports this radar has a range of 200 kilometers or about 120 miles. It is able to track as many as 100 different incoming projectiles at one time. We in the West do not know if this Arash is actually for real or if it is a sly and well-developed public relations gambit akin to the original mythical Arash – but reports say that the radar system has been unveiled and successfully tested.

Diplomatically the Iranians are wise and cunning. Militarily the Iranians are strong. But on one battlefield, the Iranians are losing and they will continue to lose. That battlefield is the field of modern culture. Here is the most recent – and a very scary – example: Fully 33 percent of Iranians are obese. The state is embarking on massive educational campaigns to combat the epidemic. Private groups are initiating campaigns to combat obesity. But none of their efforts are likely to succeed.

The main culprit is fast food. Pizza, hamburgers and french fries are being gobbled up by Iranian youth much faster than yogurt and fruit. The Iranians are opening their own rip-offs of Western chains. The rip-offs come complete with all the poor nutrients and all the fats of the originals. Iran realizes that there is almost no way to combat this phenomenon. But they should get points for trying and for creativity. For several days during the week, the city of Isfahan has closed city streets to cars in order in stimulate walking. In the end, the youth of Iran will be doomed just as Western youth is doomed to a proclivity for fast, unhealthy food. And we all know what happens next – acne.

The reality is that there is no way to shut out Western influence and there is no way that the Iranian leadership will ever embrace Western culture. Actually, the opposite. The more the Iranian leadership wants to shut out Western culture and influence the more the Iranian young people want to have it.

Iran has already tried to block Western music and movies and social media. But they cannot block them successfully. These technological influences are even more powerful and more effective and corrosive than the invasion of Western fast food. No radar system and no Internet block and no diet can possibly protect Iran from the real secret weapons of the West.

It just won’t work. Freedom cannot be blocked. Here’s to a year free of fear and filled with freedom.

Micah D. Halpern is a columnist and a social and political commentator. His latest book is “Thugs: How History’s Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder” (Thomas Nelson). This commentary is published in collaboration with Featurewell (

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 15, 2014, on page 7.




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