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Iran: East versus West in Cultural Supremacy

Updated on August 6, 2017
Sarah Schwartz profile image

Sarah has been writing historical stories since the ripe age of nine. Now, with a Bachelor's in History, she dreams to be a famous author.


Iran is an extremely unique country in the region we know as the Middle East in modern times. While the majority of Middle Eastern cultures are conforming to Western ways, Iran is holding firm to the beliefs, customs, culture, and society of their ancestors. In many ways, this defiance is because Iran is a sovereign state of it's own; they are their own island, but in other ways it is because Iranians see the flaws in forgetting where one came from. The independent nation of Iran, in general, encourages its people to stay Iranian instead of becoming,“west intoxicated” or “westoxified”.

On the other hand, within our own American government, we see a strong urge to possess the ancient land and nation of Iran. For many reasons, our nation and its allies feel that it is right and “just” to protect the people of Iran and for that, we justify the urge to gain possession of this nation by manipulating individuals into thinking that Iran is still a “Third World” country in need of our support, established democracy and innovative educational system (Snow, 1).

Our government, generally speaking, also feels compelled to say that Iran is the only major nation within the Middle East responsible for harboring “weapons of mass destruction”, which, of course, cannot be allowed to happen. Added onto the threat of possessing “weapons of mass destruction”, is also the fact that Iran possesses a large quantity of the international communities oil fields. Moreover, the governmental superpowers also feel that the nation of Iran is without need of their own resources and finds the free enterprise of such resources very profitable as well as believing, just simply, that the nation of Iran is old fashioned in their ways and must “upgrade” to modern society.

Regardless, there are many reasons Iran is reluctant to become Westernized like many other Middle Eastern cultures have already done. Iran has an ancient language of their own completely separate from the Arabic spoken in other parts of the Middle East and it should be preserved to the fullest extent; Shia Islam is cradled in Iran and therefore Iran is the protector of the Shia sect of Islam; the people of Iran descended from the Great Persian Empire and must not back down from outside intimidation; Iran is culturally vibrant, they have something to offer the international community in terms of historical authenticity; and finally Iran deserves a shot at becoming a world leader because of their own accomplishments within the international community instead of continuously practicing defensive developmentalism as a way of surviving within the rapidly expanding democratic capitalistic international sphere (Al-Tamimi).

In the early 1700-1800s, we see in our history and that of the nation of Iran the withdraw of Iran from the Arabic speaking community. This is because Iran has a completely separate language of its own, not related to any Arabic dialect in the world, called Persian. The people of Iran felt, during this time, that the ancient language of Persian (spoken for centuries by their ancestors) was on the brink of extinction with the settlements of Arabs within the Iran/Persian natural borders and the spread of Imperialism from Europe. One influential Iranian leader, Nasr ud-Din Shah, discouraged visitation and Westernization during this same period within Iran (then Persia) based off of his strong beliefs of nationalism for his nation1 (Young, 49). It is here, under the rule of Nasr ud-Din Shah, that we see seeds of Persian nationalism planted and sowed and the denial of many things considered to be “too western” (Young, 50-51). Why, if you have such a unique language, would you want to just let that go and conform to the cultures and foreign ways of strangers? Iranians held steadfast to the language of their founders.

Also, during the 1700-1800s, European businessmen and merchants began to expand their horizons within the Middle East in terms or obtaining “exotic” natural resources2. Many times, these acquisitions were done under the disguise of, “you have my back, I have yours”. When the nation of Iran reluctantly traded with Europe, they thus obtained (somewhat unwanted) Christian settlements and Christian schools of which Iranian children where strongly encouraged to attend. European businessmen, entrepreneurs and merchants looked at these settlements as a way of “modernizing” and “improving” a Third World country. They, perhaps, did not consider that the Iranian people did not want their Christian organizations or education.

Shia Islam is cradled deep within Iranian/Persian culture and Iran is now the most populated region of the Shia sect of Islam whereas other parts of the Middle East practice, for a majority, the Suffi sect. In an American opinion, neither practice is wrong and has little difference in terms of holding the Islamic religion within “the right lineage”. However, if a Westerner were to question an Iranian about the authenticity of Shia Islam, they would be in for a very passionate heated discussion of how Shia Islam is the true and correct form of the religion named after “Peace” (Young, 58).

When Imperialist Europeans came to Iran to trade they also brought with them their altered beliefs and the foreign religion of Christianity. Many Iranians were encourages and sometimes pressured into converting to Christianity. In this way, Europeans came to Iran with the expectation of “doing good by spreading their religion”. If an Iranian subject were to seek employment with one of the many foreign entrepreneurs in their country; more often than not, they would be expected to “share the same beliefs” as their co-workers, supervisors and bosses (which, for the most part, was Christianity).

The pressure to convert to an outside religion from Shia Islam is, in itself, a threat to Shia Islam according to many Iranian people in modern times (Hanson 10-15). The people of Iran are very fiercely loyal to preserving their beliefs. However pressured, true Iranians not the “westoxified” ones, would maintain their Shia Islam beliefs and religion; no matter what the cost was (Al-Tamimi).

The most important reason Iran feels reluctant to conform to Western principles is simply because they do not have to. Iran is a sovereign country of it's own and it has been that way since before the Persia Empire became what we know today as, “The Great Persian Empire”. Why should a nation bred with the blood of Alexander the Great have to yield to the strength of a superpower? Would they not, themselves, be considered a superpower-incognito? The nation of Iran, in modern times, is looked upon by Westernized society as bluntly and quite biased, “terrorists”. This label only exists because of the persistence Iran has shown to the international superpowers in “standing their ground”.

Since the earlier mentioned, possession of “weapons of mass destruction” is considered a very strong threat to the Realist-Theoretical-Lensed superpowers, it is quite understandable why these super-nations are somewhat intimidated that Iran “could” have or be making, funding or stealing nuclear weapons. Anyone who has taken a course on International Relations knows that Realists “thrive” off of “threats to the international community”. However, our nation also tends to have a Liberal outlook on the anarchic international sphere by maintaining that it is our place as a world leader to “protect the innocent people” of the world.

In the opinion of Iran, they do not have to surrender their weapons (if they even have them) because they are simply: Sovereign. If our nation of The United States of America can come and go freely (this being the general opinion of the Iran government under Ahmadinejad) then why cant any other sovereign nation? Iran does not answer to anyone. Expect Allah, of course. (Nagorski)

After the fall of the Safavid Empire in Iran, the nation had a very far journey to make in order to get back to their former glory but that was extremely hard with the emergence of the Ottoman Empire from the 1300s until the relatively modern era. Iran was once called Persia before it was remained during World War II and before that, the people of that region were Persians from the Great Persian Empire, the infamous foreign and mysterious tribesmen who were defeated by the Macedonian Empire under Alexander the Great. Before Alexander the Great (the reason he is called Great), the Persians were an undefeated nation. In many ways, the people of modern day Iran are the decedents of Alexander the Great because of the interbreeding the different cultures performed but they are also, moreover, the descendents of the undefeated people who came before Alexander.

The history of Iran alone should be enough to support why the nation is so reluctant to become Westernized. Why would they want to forget where they came from when they came from the “Greats”. Just to name a few Persian rulers with the title of “Great”: Abbas, Antiochus, Cyrus, Darius, Shapur II... (Wikimedia, Web) The nation of Iran has far too many Great ancestors to just let go of. As a result of the culturally vibrant history of Iran and the historical authenticity that runs through the veins of each and every Persian or Iranian; it may be understood why the people of Iran are so adamant about not wanting to conform to outside influence. For this reason, Iran strongly wishes to be acknowledged by the international community as a world leader regardless of their religious preference and regardless of whether Christianized Americans can understand their culture (Hanson, 20).

For the world superpowers of the United States, Russia, China, Turkey and Korea they cannot offer enough temptation for Iran to conform to their beliefs. When faced with the authentic history, strong morality to stay true to their ancestral heritage, the right to practice sovereignty within the international community, the need to protect their Shia Islam and the desire to preserve their uniquely rare Persian language; Iranians who have not been “west intoxicated” will always without a doubt choose their nation and their people over change (Snow, 2).

Our American government can try to manipulate the international community into thinking that the intentions of the Iranian people are poisonous but we can see after a clear evaluation exactly why the beautiful nation of Persia will not falter in their ways. In short, if there is any sourness within the Iranian governmental structure, it is because outsiders with different values and beliefs put it there.

Iran, as a whole, may embrace some aspects of the Western world such as modern weapons, modern clothing styles among the youths and the right to to have an opinion within the public sphere regardless of gender but Iran will never support a world where people put their possessions over their family, their religious beliefs or their community and for those reasons and the reasons stated above, Iran and its people cannot and most likely will not encourage the corruption and intoxication of their nation by conforming to Westernization within the Middle East. Perhaps one day soon, we will see the emergence of Iran as a practical and evident superpower operating with all of the other superpowers.

Al-Tamimi, Aymenn Jawad. "Explaining Iran's Approach Towards the Middle East." The Jerusalem Post 25 Oct. (2011). Web. 30 May 2012. < east>.

Hanson, Brad. "The Westoxication of Iran: Depictions and Reactions of Behrangi, al-e Ahmed, and Shariati." International Journal of Middle East Studies 15.1 Feb. (1983): 1-23. JSTOR. Web. 28 June 2012. < Westoxication_of_Iran-Behrangi_AleFd_and_Shariati.pdf>.

Lewis, Bernard. "The Middle East, Westernized Despite Itself." The Middle East Quarterly 3.1 Mar. (1996): 53-61. Middle East Forum. Web. 28 June 2012. < middle-east-westernized-despite-itself>.

List of People Known As Great. Wikimedia Foundation, 1 June 2012. Web. 2 July 2012. <>.

Nagorski, Thomas. President Ahmedinejad Threatens U.S. With War 'Without Boundaries'. ABC News, 21 Sept. 2010. Web. 15 May 2012. < threatens-us-war-boundaries-nuclear-faclities/story?id=11689305>.

Snow, Donald M. "Iranian Westernization a Western Pipe Dream." Atlantic Counsel 22 Dec. 2009: 1-2. Web. 1 July 2012. < dream>.

Young, T. Cuyler. "The Problem of Westernization in Modern Iran." The Middle East Journal 2.1 Jan. (1948): 47-59. JSTOR. Web. 28 June 2012. <>.

Asleep With Wolves: Poems and Essays
Asleep With Wolves: Poems and Essays

A collection of poetry by author Sarah Schwartz with selected essays.


© 2017 Sarah Schwartz


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