Arts, Culture & Media

What Many Iranians (Unfiltered) Think of a Possible US Attack on Syria


Rana Rahimpour, BBC Persian. (Photo: courtesy of Rahimpour)

In the big heady world of foreign affairs, sometimes it's easy to mistake the statements of a country's leader for the feelings of the entire country.

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Take Iran. It's hard for most Americans to get a reading on what real Iranian citizens think. Typically, all that's available are the subtitled words of Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, or the latest proclamation from the country's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iran is a player in the topic on everyone's mind: A possible US military strike against Syria to respond to a chemical attack in August outside Damascus that President Obama says killed more than 1,400 people, 400 of them children.

Iran and Syria are allies, and the United States sees Iran as a destabilizing influence in the Middle East. The latest statement by Khamenei implies consequences for the United States if it launches an attack.

"The humanitarian issues which Americans say they are pursuing in Syria is not something that the world believes," said Khamenei on Thursday. "This is just rhetoric. We believe that the Americans are making a mistake regarding Syria and they definitely will pay a price if they attack that country."

Sounds ominous and scolding, but what about Iranian citizens? Do they agree with Khamenei?

Rana Rahimpour has the supreme luck (and skill) to know at least some of the answer to that question. She's a bilingual reporter for the BBC World Service and BBC Persian TV. Rahimpour hears from Iranians via email, Facebook, Twitter, political cartoons and occasional calls.

"The Iranian public are also very divided I think like the rest of the world," she said. "They really can't decide whether it's the right thing to strike Syria or not."

Rahimpour says there's a debate raging on the BBC Persian's Facebook page. "We receive hundreds of comments from both sides. Some say it's the right thing to do. Some think it's a Syrian war. It's an Arab war and no one should get involved in there."

Rahimpour also monitors the official Iranian news outlets, those run by the government. She says those channels predictably echo the government line of being against a US military attack, but overall, she's also noted a cautious tone among Iranian officials.

"We hear many advisers of Mr. Rouhani asking other officials not to make any comments, just let the leadership decide what they want to do and so far in my opinion they've been very cautious."