Possessor of an ancient and rich culture, Iran has undergone considerable change and trauma over the past few decades. For most of the 20th century, Iran was ruled by the a Shahs -- a monarchy with long roots in Persian culture. Iran was a friend and major trading partner of the United States under the Shahs, but this all changed in 1979 when a revolution swept the monarchy from power and a new "Islamic Republic" was pronounced. Under the leadership of the Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran almost overnight became an arch enemy of the United States and claimed to lead an challenge to the predominant Western ideas of liberal democracy and secularism. "Islamism" and Shari'a rules became the law of the land. Iranian militants took 144 American diplomats hostage right after the revolution and held them for more than a year before finally releasing them. Iran has also sought to fight U.S. influence in the region and combat the nation of Israel. Iran has also been accused of helping Islamic fundamentalists from a number of different terrorist groups carry out violent acts. The Islamic Republic has also suffered greatly in a war with neighbor Iraq which raged for ten years and cost approximately 600,000 Iranian lives and an estimated total economical loss of US$ 1.2 billion.
Ever since 1979, Iran has turned away from the Western world in the name of Islam. However, there have been some overtures by some members of the Iranian government to make an accommodation with the West and to move away from its adversarial stance. These overtures, however, have been very controversial inside Iran. More pro-Western reformers are led by moderate President Mohammad Khatami, while the more hard line Muslim clerics are led by conservative leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are engaged in a long struggle over what will be the future path for Iran.
Questions to keep in mind: What was Iran like during the 1950's, 60's, and 70's under the Shah? What were the Islamicist objections to the rule of the Shah? What was the vision of Iran and Islam as preached by the Ayatollah Khomeini? What did the leaders of the Islamic Republic think about the United States and liberal democracy? What alternative style of government did Iran offer to the Muslim world to pro-Western regimes like Saudi Arabia? How did Iran challenge the United States and the West? What is life like in the Islamic Republic? How is life different in Iran as compared to a more liberal Muslim nation such as Egypt? How do young people today feel about living in the Islamic Republic? How do women feel about living in the "Islamic Republic"? What are the moderate and conservative ideas about what Iran should be in the future? How are they competing for power inside Iran? To what purpose does the Iranian government use soccer games against the United States?
Start here and read everything at: Iran at Yahoo! Also check out all the links at Open Directory's Iran section. Get good basic Iranian information at the CIA World Factbook. Range far and wide in search of information over the World Wide Web! This is another good general Iran link.
Check out this excellent series: Iran: A New Opening, and CBC Iran.
This is a good link about the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980's. You can get some good pictures here.
This article about a recent U.S.-Iran soccer game gives a good background to how Iranians living outside of Iran deal with the current government. Read it! Check out the results, too! A Diplomatic Gooooaaaallll: LA Times correspondent Robin Wright; Bahman Baktiari, political science professor from Maine; and Kenneth Timmerman, former director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran; discuss the recent attempts at soccer diplomacy with Iran.
Beyond the Veil is an excellent link about Iran, including a fascinating dialogue between two women, Iranian Sima Daad and American Deborah Whitley. Also check out these links: Islam in Iran: The origins of Islam and its evolution in Iran; The Islamic Revolution: Explore why the '79 Revolution took place and what has happened since then; Women In Iran: Women's rights in Iran, pre-Islamic Revolution through today. Finally, make sure you listen to the NPR Program Women in Iran!
Read this essay on the Ayatollah Khomeini and that one to get a feel for the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and why it was so important in the Muslim world. This "Persian Revolution" link is also excellent.
CNN headline news: Iranians mark 20th anniversary of U.S. Embassy takeover, Islamicist, Jihad, and Iran-Iraq War.
CNN specials: Protests in Iran, A New Dialogue
Check out all these Jim Lehr Newshour reports carefully:
July 13, 1999 -- Protests in Iran Student protesters clashed with government hardliners in Iran's most violent demonstrations in nearly two decades. Three experts discuss the students' motives and the government's reaction.
June 22, 1998 -- Soccer Goals Can the spirited game between Iran and the U.S. heal old wounds?
March 6, 1998 -- Renewing Relations? Does the election of President Khatami signal a change in Iran's policies?
December 15, 1997 --Opening The Door Iran's new president calls for a dialogue with the West.
May 26, 1997 -- Iran's New Leadership Iran elected moderate Mohammad Khatami, a 54-year old cleric, as its new president. Observers called the vote a milestone, saying it was the freest election since the 1979 revolution.