Iran-US tensions: 5 ways Americans and Iranians are actually similar

Despite escalating US-Iran tensions, remarkable similarities between their peoples have prompted some to suggest that the two nations could one day be powerful ‘natural’ allies.

It is a provocative concept, since these very qualities have also made the US and Iran proud and uncompromising enemies since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. But Iranians were among the first – and very few in the Middle East – to hold candlelight vigils after the 9/11 attacks. Here are five traits they share with Americans:

Raheb Homavandi/Reuters
Students hold Iran's flag while attending the anniversary ceremony of Iran's Islamic Revolution at the Khomeini shrine in the Behesht Zahra cemetery, south of Tehran, Tuesday.

1. Exceptionalism

Iran's first-world pretensions hark back to an ancient era, when the Persian Empire was the indispensable nation of its day. It is the sense of national purpose, of national mission – this heady exceptionalism – that today imbues aspirations in Iran, just as it has throughout the much shorter history of the US.

Here lies Iran's steadfast insistence on pursuing its nuclear ambitions, for example – which it claims are limited to peaceful nuclear energy, not bombs. Here, too, is one root of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's claims that Iran is a superpower that has enabled the "collapse" of Western capitalism.

The words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 ring as true in Iranian ears as they have for Americans.

"Roosevelt said the US has a 'rendezvous with destiny,' " Shahriar Rouhani, a Yale-educated physicist in Tehran once told the Monitor. "Iran, too, has a 'rendezvous with destiny.'"

This list is adapted from Scott Peterson's book, "Let the Swords Encircle Me: Iran – A Journey Behind the Headlines." Follow Scott on Twitter.

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