Iran is far more progressive on social issues than you might think
In 2007, when former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared during a Columbia University appearance, “In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country,” many chuckled. It seemed to verify the average person’s preconceptions of the country as being primitive and socially backwards. Ahmadinejad was obviously wrong and his response spotlighted the fact that homophobia is a major issue in Iranian society. The event wasn’t meant to facilitate a productive discussion on the Islamic Republic’s many failings though, it was meant to reassure Columbia students and faculty of their own progressiveness. Ahmadinejad got a podium. The audience got a way to criticize his ideological beliefs.
Orientalist thinking like this obviously has consequences in how we discuss and view Iran. It isn’t just that we have trouble discussing the many problems that do exist in the country, such as human rights violations. We are also prevented from recognizing when Iran is doing things more or less right. Iran is actually far more progressive than many people realize on a number of issues. This is especially apparent when it comes to: organ donations, family planning, transgender surgery, drug rehabs, stem cell research, and HIV prevention.