Home/Daniel Larison/Iranian National Rights and the Nuclear Program

Iranian National Rights and the Nuclear Program

Speaking of Hooman Majd and Iran, his book The Ayatollah Begs to Differ includes a valuable explanation of why most Iranians support the nuclear program:

The reason Iranians, even those most opposed to their government, seem to support their country’s nuclear program, despite the hardships they may have to endure in order for it to achieve success, is put forward by many analysts as pure, fierce nationalism and excessive Persian pride, as if Iranians have rejoiced in their scientists’ ability to overcome technological hurdles as much as their presidents and other leaders have seemed to. To accept that conclusion is a mistake that betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the Iranian psyche and of Iranian society. Iranians are indeed proud, sometimes to the point of arrogance, but pride is not what is driving the nuclear issue as far as the majority of Iranians are concerned. The often-mentioned nationalism and pride that Iranians exhibit, much to the discomfort of other Middle Easterners, are mostly related to their history, and the pre-Islamic one at that, rather than any “made in Iran” sentiments. No the nuclear issue is another matter of haq, basic rights that deeply resonate for a Shia people that has long suffered from inferiority and superiority complexes, often simultaneously.


While the Iranian government has indeed pushed the pride button, most often at rallies and in President Ahmadinejad’s speeches…Iranians by and large focus on the other aspect of the issue that is also touched upon by government officials defending their obstinacy on the nuclear question: basic national and, by extension, individual rights.

The question of rights is fundamental to Shia Islam, the very founding of which was a struggle for rightfulness. And Shia Iran, with a history of centuries of perceived injustice towards its religion and sect, and the trampling of its sovereignty by foreign powers, cannot easily accept any attempts to deprive its people of their rights. The sense of rights and justice is so deeply ingrained in the Iranian psyche that when Iranians mourn Imams martyred fourteen centuries ago, as they do during the month of Moharram, they are consumed by paroxysms of weepong, not necessarily for the dead, but for the cruel injustice perpetrated on their saints and, by extension, on them still today. The Iranian government plays up the injustice of the Western position on Iran’s nuclear program (which is viewed essentially as to arbitrarily deny them advanced technology), and unjust it is as far as the people–who consider themselves nor even their leaders particularly aggressive or violent–are concerned. (p. 117-119)

Majd also discussed the importance of haq in this 2009 NPR interview.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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