Relations between the Iranian and Lebanese governments are good -- some would say excellent. But it's hard to say what the people of these two nations actually think about each other. Are they on the same good terms as their two countries' politicians? For now, it seems that both peoples tend to be on different wavelengths with regard to their views of one another. The most prominent sign that there remain significant misunderstandings between the two sides was revealed with the outcries and controversy that ensued after the recent broadcast on YouTube of speeches made by Sheikh Hassan Nasrullah last year, in which Hezbollah's leader designated Iran's current civilization as solely "Arab" and "Islamic" -- not Iranian.
"What is in Iran is the religious of Mohammad, the Arab of Hashemi Maki Ghoraishi Tahami Mozeri; and the founder of the Islamic Republic, father to father was Arab and the son of the prophet Mohammad. What is in Iran is Islamic civilization," Mr. Nasrollah said.
The last thing Iranians want is for someone to deny their identity by calling Iranians Arab or claiming that Iran is not ruled by Iranians.
Why would Nasrollah make such a statement that could, objectively speaking, be considered racist? Perhaps he needed to explain his closeness to Iran to his competitors inside Lebanon. But in attaining this goal, Nasrollah may have actually worsened the standing of his own supporters inside the Islamic Republic. Ordinary Iranians will find it difficult to understand why their government would support an organization with a leader who claims to be close to Iran not because of Hezbollah's 'brotherly' Muslim and Shia ties with Iran, but because he mistakenly believes that both parties are ethnically "Arab."
It may be true that Iranian culture and Islamic culture have lived together for thousands of years and it may be hard to completely separate them from each other. But Islam is the country's religion -- not its identity. Calling Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Ali Khameni Arab rulers is not something that any Iranian -- and certainly not the supreme leader himself -- would ever approve. Khomeini or Khamenei may be called "Seyyed" because of their blood links to the prophet Mohammad, but no one ever heard them call themselves Arab or claim that they were racially different from other Iranians.
So how do both sides view one another? The Lebanese people differentiate between Iranians on the street and the government that rules them. They witness the harsh and often brutal acts of the Iranian government against its own citizens and the regime's suppression of democracy, and are well aware of the continuous arrests of intellectuals and journalists inside Iran. But in Iran, the understanding of Lebanon and Hezbollah's position within it is quite different.
In Iran, the word, "Hezbollahi" connotes people who are politically religious due to their ties to the government. Their job is to pressure and sometimes even beaten people who claim to be reformers, and their primary support comes from the supreme leader. Famously referred to as those with "civilian clothes" because they don't have an official uniform, these " Hezbollahis" are under the unofficial supervision of the supreme leader and the private Basij militia.
It is a coincidence that Iranians who pressure the rest of the population and support the country's oppressive regime have the same name as a very active party in Lebanon -- Hezbollah. Nevertheless, ordinary Iranians have tended to combine both groups of people into one category and as a result, often do not differentiate between politically active "Hezbollah" Lebanese citizens and " Hizbollahi" pressure group in Iran.
In spite of all the Iranian regime's efforts and propaganda campaigns to present Hezbollah as a humanitarian movement with all of Lebanon's support to defend the country against the Israeli threat, not too many Iranians actually believe this, and few approve of the support -- especially financial support -- that Hezbollah receives from the Islamic Republic.
An ordinary Iranian citizen in Tehran will curse Hezbollah and Hamas for receiving Iranian funding while there are so many people in Iran who can hardy can afford to buy meat once a month for their children. Though it seems quite simple, most ordinary citizens believe that most of Iran's national income and resources go to Hezbollah and Hamas in order to bolster political support for Iran's Islamic regime. It is whenever Iranian news channels show or refer to leaders of Hamas or Hezbollah that one will often hear Iranians blaming these two groups for the country's economic difficulties.
For instance, rumors circulated soon after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent trip to Lebanon that Iran had paid millions of dollars to Hezbollah to orchestrate the unique welcoming ceremony for the Iranian president in Beirut. Whether true or not, hearing stories of families in south Lebanon receiving $700 a month in aide because of damages incurred during the country's 33-days war with Israel, when so many areas in the southern Iranian cities of Ahwaz, Khorramshahr and Abadan are still destroyed from the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, confuses and angers many Iranians. How can Iran build many schools in Lebanon to replace what was destroyed by Israel when there seems to virtually no loans or funding available for Iranians to rebuild their cities or send their children to school? This is just one amongst many basic complaints that are often heard in an Iranian shop or grocery store.
During the country's post-presidential election chaos in 2009, local online media reported seeing Lebanese fighters from Hezbollah working with Iran's revolutionary guards in Tehran. Pictures of the alleged "Hezbollah" forces were posted all over the internet. And it was widely rumored that many of the armed riot police clad in black uniforms were Hezbollah fighters who came to assist the regime with street warfare. It was a rumor and there was no proof, but it was a rumor that was nevertheless taken very seriously by many ordinary Iranians. Ironically, Iran's decision to arm Hezbollah and Hamas -- two groups that ordinary citizens believe receive Iran's money at the Iranian people's expense -- against Israel has even caused kind of sympathy towards Israeli people amongst Iranians.
So when Mr. Nasrollah tries to justify and explain his unique relationship with the government of Iran, he is inadvertently encouraging Iranians to not only dislike Hezbollah, but also to despise the government of the Islamic Republic. Iranians are predominantly Shia Muslims, but they are neither as religious, nor religious in the same manner, as the regime. Like so many Lebanese, Iranians want to live in peace and prosperity and have good relations with their neighbors in the Middle East. Mr. Nasrollah's belief that it is his view of Islam, Shiism and civilization that Iranians espouse will be considered an insult by ordinary Iranians. His view of Iran is merely a mirage.
This article has been syndicated from Al-Hayat news paper.