APRIL 10, 1959
NEW YORK —As I flew out of Israel after my recent visit I was trying to analyze in my mind what makes the difference in atmosphere between Israel and its Arab neighbors and the great country of Iran.
Iran is not Arab, but many of its problems are similar to those of its neighbors in the Near East. It has a history going back thousands of years. There have been many conquests but also many victories. Great men have lived and dominated this country and its neighbors. Culture has reached great heights and it is very possible for scholars and even for politicians to live in the glories of the past and try to forget some of the difficulties of the present.
Basically, I think in any country the loss of the fertility of the soil and of the forests, which once clothed the mountains, is the key to a basic economic instability. Physically, this is demonstrated in Iran in bare mountains, devoid of soil, and in deserts. The mass of the people have become poorer and poorer. The health of the people has deteriorated.
A few very rich people still exist, but partly because the community problems become so difficult a national characteristic seems to have developed. I was told over and over again the Iranian has no community responsibility. He takes care of himself and his family. He feels quite justified to build a high wall around his house and garden and to shut out the scene beyond that wall. This may be a natural development under the circumstances, but the problems will not be met if the attitude does not change.
The Shah is trying to give leadership. He has divided some of the crown lands among some of the poor people, and he and his ministers have made the plans and have succeeded in getting them accepted both by the United Nations and the United States for a fairly comprehensive rehabilitation of the land and for a development in transportation and communication and production of water and electricity. All of these things are essential to a modern nation. This is, however, a tremendous undertaking. It will move slowly, and, basically, one of the main requirements will be the training of administrators and leaders to head local projects.
Women have to play a part in this rehabilitation, and this means a change in the attitude of women themselves and in the attitude of men toward women. How are living conditions to be changed in the villages, in the slums of towns and cities, among the free tribes unless women are given a new position of importance and the opportunity for education?
I was told by several of the people working with Iranians that the natives were quick to learn new concepts and new skills. So, the optimistic outlook is that there is a bright future for this country because it can develop its vast resources, but it will take time and patience and cooperation.
What is true of Iran is probably true of many of the Arab countries. And I think King Hussein of Jordan was absolutely sincere when he told the National Press Club in Washington that the three fundamental aspirations of the Arab people were (1) freedom of the Arab people, (2) unity of the Arab people, and (3) betterment of the Arab people. To achieve these ends requires all the cooperation that the U.N. and the U.S. and other countries can give, but with an absence of exploitation.
Can the countries of the West rise to a statesmanship that will ask only for fair returns on invested capital and which will truly and unselfishly devote itself to the development of the Arab states and the improvement of the life of the Arabs?
(Copyright, 1959, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)
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About this document
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, April 10, 1959
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