OPINION

What Iran Can Learn From Gwyneth Paltrow

It’s time for Iran’s President Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to take a page from Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin — and “consciously uncouple.”

10.24.14 5:40 PM ET

I have some advice for Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani about his conflicts with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

It comes from an unlikely source. Normally I might look to Samantha Power or Madeleine Albright or Hillary Clinton for foreign policy wisdom. But this time, wisdom comes from an unexpected place.

Gwyneth Paltrow.

Now, bear with me here – I’m not recommending that Rouhani or Khamenei sign up for GOOP emails or change their children’s names to Apple. Rather, the idea came to me when casually browsing the news about Gwyneth’s separation from musician Chris Martin.

Here’s how Gwyneth put it: “It is with hearts full of sadness that we have decided to separate. We have been working hard for well over a year… to see what might have been possible between us, and we have come to the conclusion that while we love each other very much we will remain separate. We are, however, and always will be a family, and in many ways we are closer than we have ever been.”

She called her post “Conscious Uncoupling” – and it’s exactly what President Rouhani and Ayatollah Khamenei need to do. Here are my top reasons these Iranian leaders need to follow Gwyneth’s example and consciously uncouple.

The Good Cop, Bad Cop Routine Is Getting Old

In a speech in late May, Rouhani boldly asserted that, “We ought to see (the Internet) as an opportunity. We must recognize our citizens' right to connect to the World Wide Web.”

Great! But then just a few days later, six young Iranians were arrested and forced to repent on state television for the crime of making a YouTube video of themselves dancing to Pharrell’s song “Happy.”

This doesn’t sound like a happy union, now does it?

Failure to Communicate

Nothing wrecks a marriage faster than communicating through middlemen: At a conference in May, Rouhani admonished conservatives (aka Khamenei’s BFFs): “Do not interfere in people’s lives so much, even if it is out of compassion. Let people pick their own path to heaven. One cannot take people to heaven through force and a whip. The Prophet [Mohammad] did not have a whip in his hand.”

An ally and underling of Khamenei, the influential conservative Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, promptly responded to him this way: “They say let people be and don’t take them to heaven by force. Fine, we’ll suspend [the religious duty of] commanding the good and forbidding evil. To the thief, and to the girl and guy with bad veiling, we’ll say, ‘Be a good child.’ Is this Islam, is this having the concern of implementing religion?”

“They say”? Now that’s cold.

Irreconcilable Differences

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Need I say more? We all know that term spells: “The End.” During a Women’s Day speech this year, Rouhani criticized “those who consider women’s presence society as a threat” and said Iran still had “a long way to go” to ensure gender equality. He went on to say that “we will not accept the culture of sexual discrimination” and “women must enjoy equal opportunity, equal protection and equal social rights.”

Sadly, Khamenei couldn’t find a single thing to agree with, instead saying gender equality was “one of the biggest mistakes of the Western thought.”

Now that’s an irreconcilable difference if I ever heard one. And that’s why I’ll say it again: President Rouhani and Ayatollah Khamenei—it’s time to follow Gwyneth’s example and consciously uncouple. For the good of Iran.


Nina Ansary, Ph.D., is a historian and expert in the women’s movement in Iran and one of the top influencers on Iran on Twitter. She is the author of the upcoming book The Jewels of Allah (Revela Press/July 2015), which shatters stereotypical assumptions about women in Iran and highlights the accomplishments and the powerful female voices in Iran’s past and present.