American Views of Iran–Iranian Views of America: Symbolic Estrangement in Action

William O. Beeman

The United States and Iran have been estranged for nearly forty years. Many people believe this estrangement to be a manifestation of substantive differences that divide the two nations. However in this presentation I will argue that the estrangement is largely symbolic. In the absence of sustained contact both nations have created images of each other that are distorted–filtered through the lenses of each other’s respective cultures. The people of each nation have reacted to those images rather than reality. Returning to more reasoned contact at this stage is especially difficult because once the false images are believed by the public, the public distorts the facts to conform to those beliefs.


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Beeman, William O.    

               William O. Beeman is Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, where he was department chair from 2007-2013, a position he resumed in 2014. Best known as a Middle East specialist for more than 30 years, he has also worked in Central Asia, the Caucasus, Japan, China and South Asia. Recognized for special expertise in Iranian culture and linguistics, he is the author or editor of more than 100 scholarly articles, 500 opinion pieces and fourteen books, including Language, Status and Power in Iran, and The “Great Satan” vs. the “Mad Mullahs”: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other. He has been a consultant to the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the United Nations and the European Union on Middle Eastern affairs. He has also written extensively on music and performance traditions both in Western and non-Western traditions. His latest book on this topic is Iranian Performance Traditions. His co-authored book with Daniel Helfgot, The Third Line: The Singer as Interpreter has been widely used in teaching and research. His forthcoming book: The Meistersingers: Opera Performance in Germany centers on his experience as an opera performer in a leading German opera house.