Born to upper-middle-class Marxist parents in the Islamic Republic, Shay Khatiri learned at school that America was the Great Satan and at home that it was “just as much a dictatorship as Iran,” and that both regimes were equally repressive. But Israel was a country toward which he had no negative feelings:
I never minded Israel. What I didn’t like was the Palestinians’ receiving aid from Iran while Iranians were starving. I had never met a Jewish person, but the regime hated Jews, so I grew to love them out of spite for the regime.
As for America, Khatiri’s attitudes diverged from his parents’ after the September 11 attacks, when he heard George W. Bush speak of bringing greater freedom to the Middle East. If the U.S. wanted democracy in the Muslim world, and the ayatollahs opposed it, Khatiri knew he sided with Washington. He eventually emigrated to Hungary—where he befriended a number of Israelis—and then to America. After explaining his political evolution, he suggests what his adopted country might to encourage the anti-regime sentiments in his homeland:
Democratization must come from within, . . . but it can’t always happen without foreign help. After several attempts by the Iranian people, it is now clear that the regime is too powerful for the people [to overthrow on their own]. We can begin with supporting labor unions and dissidents who are trying to make change happen from the inside.
In their correspondence, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson called the United States an “empire of liberty.” . . . Thomas Paine [likewise] said that the cause of America is, in a great measure, the cause of all mankind. America possesses many powers, but its power as a cause is the cheapest to spend and yet the most valuable, and has the greatest impact. This is something many of my friends and fellow students [in the U.S.] find bewildering. If only they could visit Iran.