Here's a fascinating piece by Peter Hitchens, Christopher Hitchens' avowedly conservative ( don't presume to know what Christopher is evolving into since he bacame a war hawk) and decidely anti-Iraq-war brother, who stayed in England, writing for the Daily Mail. Peter traveled to Iran, which he describes as:
"the country that has been designated as the next official enemy of what is still called "The West." I came away so completely opposed to this silly hostility that I fear I am in danger of stirring up apathy ... I am a Cold War veteran who believes in deterrence and accepts that there was a genuine Soviet threat. I am an incorrogible Zionist. I think my own country has allowed its armed forces to become lamentably weak. But I think the difference between the official account of Iran as sinister menace and the Iran I experienced is so great that it is a sort of duty to draw attention to it."
He wasn't allowed a press visa, so he traveled unsupervised as a tourist, through most of the country. He is far from denying that the regime is obnoxious and that the country has more than its share of religious fanatics. However, "I met anti-regime intellectuals in fashionable cafes, ordinary provincial people in their own homes, devout Muslims and fierce skeptics, regular consumers of illegal alcohol, religious zealots, students, and feminists facing prosecution." He maintains that "Despite a still fearsome formal repressive apparatus, which swiftly and disgustingly punishes formal open dissent in newspapers or in street demonstrations, private conversation is quite unregulated, deeply irreverent, and totally fearless."
Hitchens says the Iranian regime is "stupid, oppressive, cruel, lawless, and intolerant." However, "I would like to give pause to all who imagine that Iran is a place of undifferentiated evil, malice, oppression, and fanaticism, or our natural and rightful enemy."