For all of us who have been observing and supporting the Iranian protests from afar, there are two useful things we can do: send the protesters our encouragement, and spread useful information.
So in the spirit of educating my fellow Americans and other non-Iranians, I thought I'd give you a primer on why most Iranians dislike the ruling mullahs. It's because the mullahs are missing some essential elements of being Iranian:
1. Iranians have style. If you have any Iranian friends, you may have noticed that they're quite fashion-conscious. Sometimes they may take the labels, gel and sequins to excess, but you can't deny that looking good matters to them. And the traditional provincial costumes are all lively, colorful and elegant.
Contrast this with the shabbily-clad mullahs in their turbans, threadbare robes and pseudo-pious megabeards. As a kid in Iran, I couldn't believe these slobs represented us and that all these sophisticated, educated European dignitaries would shake hands with them on TV. What was the world coming to?
It's almost as if the mullahs and their followers take pride in their slovenliness. It even reflected in the clumsy way they rigged the election numbers: "Everyone voted against the opposition candidate -- even his own family. Yeah." And you know what? That has zero style and ain't very Iranian. In fact, a Persian term of derision for mullahs and their fans is 'rishoo' - bearded people. And we are so through with rishoos.
2. Iranians are neighborly. Hospitality is one of the central tenets of Iranian culture. If you've ever been a guest at a Persian home where the host stuffed you with food beyond your burst capacity, you know what I'm talking about.
In Iran, a guest is considered a gift from heaven, and stories of locals fighting over foreign travelers for the right to house and feed them are legion. And during the current unrest, private homes have opened their doors to take in the wounded, keeping them out of hospitals (where the authorities routinely arrest them).
So by the rubric of Persian hospitality, drive-by beatings of unarmed people on the street with electric batons, shooting at them indiscriminately, and arresting them in hospitals -- as the mullah's goons have done -- are not very neighborly acts. So I'm calling them un-Iranian.
3. Iranians are fun-loving people. If you have any Iranian friends, you know what I'm talking about: we like a good party. We may be second only to Brazilians in our fondness for a raucous good time. And our parties tend to be vast, excessive and, uh, spirited.
Outsiders may think that as a Muslim nation, Iranians don't like to drink alcohol. But you would be mistaken, dear outsider: the love of mey (wine) and aragh (booze) is a cornerstone of Iranian-ness and enshrined in immortal Persian poems, religious edicts be damned.
So the whole idea of Iranians needing to hide their parties for 30 years and live in a perpetual tremble lest the authorities barge in and find their stash of moonshine and consequently ship them off to jail untried is pretty intolerable. And the mullah-imposed austerity of no short sleeves, no party music and no socialization between the sexes is a load of un-Iranian bullshit. If there's one thing that's going to foment revolution eventually, this is it.
4. Iranians are god-fearing folk. From over 2500 years go, beginning with the Zoroastrians and Mithraists, the Persian people have believed in a (mostly) benevolent higher power. The name may have changed from Ahura Mazda to Allah, but the concept is the same: said power is fond of good deeds and less fond of mean ones. Since then, Persians have adjusted their behavior accordingly to stay on Higher Power's good side, just in case.
Therefore I state without further proof that mullahs who think it's okay to shoot indiscriminately at innocent unarmed civilians are not god-fearing. The only thing they fear is the loss of their own entrenched, illicit power, and they have demonstrated their willingness to resort to any number of ungodly acts to preserve that power. They are therefore godless and un-Iranian.
5. Iranians are largely secular folk. So I just said Iranians are god-fearing. And there was this popular Islamic revolution thirty years ago. But you know what? For the vast majority of Iranians, religion is not the centerpiece of life.
Yes, there are super-religious pockets here and there, especially in the provinces (think blue states and red states). But for most of the city folk, especially the under-30 population comprising 70% of the headcount, life is about getting by. Like most other places on earth.
So the whole idea of the corner mullah being in charge of your whole life -- the guy whose job it was to show up for circumcisions, weddings and funerals and sing an occasional off-tune dirge for the Prophet's grandson Emam Hossein -- is inimical to the Iranian spirit. And frankly ridiculous. Theocracy is as Iranian as sachertorte.
6. Iranians are tolerant folk. In 539 BC, Cyrus the Great, King of Persia, created what amounts to the first universal declaration of human rights. The Cyrus Cylinder, on display at the British Museum, enshrined freedom and religious tolerance as the law of the land.
The live-and-let-live ethos has been an overarching feature of Iranian culture since then. The mullahs' hard-line theocracy, religious intolerance, suppression of free speech and general bullying flies right in the face of this ethos, and is thus categorically un-Iranian.
7. Iranians revere their Iranian heritage & culture. If you ask an average Iranian what makes her Iranian, she will most likely launch into a long-winded story involving the poets, kings, philosophers, and scientists of Iran and her kinship with all of them going back to 539 BC.
She will also talk about how the country was invaded by Alexander the Great, the Muslims, the Mongols, and the scheming British, and prevailed still. As the superb National Geographic article 'Persia: Ancient Soul of Iran' chronicles, all the invaders were eventually expelled or assimilated by the greater Persian culture -- a thread that has carried through unbroken since Zoroaster.
Contrast this with the mullahs who have perennially attempted to supplant Persian words with Arab ones, suppress traditional New Year (No Ruze) celebrations involving bonfire-jumping, and tried to raze Persepolis and all mentions of Iran's 2500-year imperial past.
This, my friend, is not just un-Iranian, but anti-Iranian. And the protesters can no longer tolerate anti-Iranians ruling them. That's why the mullahs' time is about to end. May history prove once again the ascendancy of the Iranian people's will and the triumph of their resilient culture over unjust and unwelcome rulers.