UNIVERSITY PARK — Iranian-born Middle East scholar Meir Javedanfar spoke to a crowd of about 20 students Tuesday night at the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center about the fluctuating relationship between the United States and Iran under the threat of Tehran developing nuclear weapons.
Javedanfar, 40, has a unique perspective. He lived in Iran until 1987 before moving to England and eventually Israel, where he teaches a contemporary Iranian politics course at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. Javendanfar has lectured at more than 20 universities and appears on television regularly, including on BBC and CNN, to discuss Iranian issues.
Javedanfar said that while growing up in Iran, children are constantly exposed to negative messages about the U.S.
“As a child you learned to say, ‘Death to America!’ ” Javedanfar said. “America was demonized. You’re taught that the people are nice but the government is terrible, racist and hates everyone.”
A large part of Javedanfar’s lecture centered on the effect President Barack Obama’s election has had on the relationship between the U.S. and Iran. Javedanfar said that Obama has challenged Iran with more diplomatic outreach than past U.S. presidents.
“Obama is very dangerous to the Iranian regime because he has extended a handshake to them. They’re scared of that,” Javedanfar said. “For years, the regime thrived on the fact that America wouldn’t recognize them. Now we have Obama, and they don’t know what to do. It’s causing a crisis.”
Javedanfar said that despite the Iranian government’s anti-American message, many citizens hold a positive view of the United States.
“People think everyone in Iran goes around hating Americans, but it’s not like that,” Javedanfar said. “The government, on the other hand, needs to have an enemy. The reason the old regime did things like deny the Holocaust, until recently, because it would force America away from Iran. We are very lucky that we live in a generation where some of our enemies are more scared of peace than war.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is more receptive to working with the U.S. than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Javedanfar said.
“The West should talk to Rouhani, but it should be limited,” Javedanfar said. “He is a moderate in his words, but we need to see what he does. We’ve certainly made a lot of progress to be where we are now.”
The event was sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Religious Affairs in partnership with Penn State Hillel. Assaf Levinton, the director of Israel engagement for Penn State Hillel, said he found the presentation to be informative.
“It’s really interesting to hear from someone who grew up in Iran and not just a professor — actually someone who has been there, grew up there and knows what it’s like to live there,” Levinton said. “With Iran in the news now that the United States is talking directly to them, it was a timely presentation.”
Penn State senior Mike Goldenberg, who lived in Israel until he was 10, said Javedanfar gave one of the best presentations he’s attended as a student.
“I thought it was fantastic,” Goldenberg said. “Content wise, I was very interested in everything. This is a very real problem for America if this nuclear thing happens. I’m glad he had an optimistic view.”
Kevin Horne is a Penn State journalism student.