|We visited the tourist sights, but also mingled with the locals.|
Besides the coexistence book I've been reading and posting notes on lately, I started reading another library book Children of Jihad this weekend. It describes the journey of a Jewish American graduate student as he travels throughout parts of the Middle East and gets to know some of the youth. He spends the first 4 chapters recounting his few weeks in Iran in 2004. Iran is often in the news, but I don't know that much about its people except what is shared in the media. I found his story an exciting way to learn more about the average person on the street.
Jared Cohen was a student at Oxford when he applied over and over and over again for a visa to Iran. He was rejected many times, but eventually his persistence paid off. He tells how he was met by a "tour guide" at the airport. When I told my Syrian friend about this, he immediately said, "uh huh...someone from their intelligence" which was right! Jared, by the way, is someone Samer told me about when the Iranians had their elections last year and there were many protesting in the streets. Twitter was planning to shut down due to site maintenance, but Jared urged its founder to wait as this was one of the only way dissidents were able to have their voices heard outside Iran. I knew his face on the book jacket looked familiar...thanks to Samer, now I know why! Also he was only 24 when he was hired by the US State Department and he worked under both Condoleeza Rice and Hillary Clinton there.
Anyway back to Iran. As I was reading these 100 pages, I was struck many times with how similar it was to Syria. Not everything of course, but a number of things including the words "police state" and "regime." While regime technically is just the government who happens to be in power, it always has a darker sound to it when I read it. Like it's a bad thing instead of neutral. Partway through reading I decided to jot down a few notes on how Iran as described in this book is similar and different than the Syria that I know. "That I know" being the qualifying words since I really know very little of what truly goes on there.
But from my own experiences and listening to others who have lived there or visited, here goes:
Iran is part of the 'axis of evil' according to former President Bush. In fact when we were in Damascus, Samer's twin made us laugh when he said with a touch of dry humor, "Next you will have to visit Iran and North Korea so you can visit all the Axis of Evil."
Iran has a police state and a culture of fear is present.
Iran blocks websites in its attempts to control what its people are able to read. Jared said mostly they tried to block blogs and places where dissenters congregate, but he said "progressive" Dubai does a much better job of restricting websites.
The Iranian youth are glad to see Americans as there are few from the United States who travel there. I recall people being happy that Andrew and I were in Syria and they told us the same thing: we don't see many Americans here.
|We met Ahmed from Gaza while visiting the Umayyad Mosque,|
and he spent the next few hours tagging along with us.
Iranians hate the American government, but love American movies, culture and people.
Most people were very kind and treated Jared with warm hospitality. I can never say enough about how wonderful the Syrians we met were.
Iranian youth want to get out of Iran due to lack of jobs. This perpetuates the "brain drain." I've noticed the same about most Syrian young people who are frustrated because there are few opportunities in Syria.
Iran has a religious regime whereas Syria's is more secular.
|Andrew and Susanne in the Umayyad Mosque|
Iran has a serious drug problem and the youth have bootleg liquor at their illegal parties. Alcohol is not forbidden in Syria. Jared mentioned most parties aren't necessarily for entertainment, but a forum for expression and a form of resistance against an oppressive regime.
Iran has morality police to ensure good Islamic behavior. I never noticed similar police in Syria.
Jared was treated poorly by government officials and intelligence officers who wanted to restrict him to only seeing tourist attractions instead of mingling with the people. In Syria we never had problems with the government and the only people we visited (apart from the few westerners we met at the hostel) were locals.
JUST SOME FACTS
Jared mentioned that cell phones were used to set up dates and social networking websites were a way young people got to know members of the opposite sex. He stated that satellite dishes were the biggest anti-propaganda tools and while they were illegal, they were smuggled into the country and sold on the black market. Even in poor regions, people would pool their resources to buy a dish for a cluster of apartments. He said some Iranian youth watch Voice of America for hours a day to perfect their English.
One area where Iranian youth agreed with the regime was Iran's nuclear program as it was attached to national pride. The Iranian young people saw it as a source of technological achievement and progress and wanted their country to be among the elite countries in the world who already had nuclear weapons. When Jared mentioned acquiring nuclear weapons as a possible way for the regime to hold onto its power, the young people he talked to said they would gladly give up the nuclear power for a true change in the ruling establishment.
One part that made me laugh was when Jared met an Iranian woman, Mariam, who along with her friends asked Jared about America and Americans' impressions of Iranians. Then he said she wanted an explanation about toilet paper's merits (which she thought there were none as it was dirty) over the use of water. Jared really didn't know how to respond finally leaving her with the assurance that we try to shower as much as possible.
When speaking about a reformist president who disappointed the Iranian youth several years back, Jared was told all he did was allow the girls to wear nail polish and raise the marrying age from 9 to 13. She retorted that girls were already wearing nail polish and no one wanted to get married that young anyway!
When asked what three things she wanted people in American to know about Iranian youth, she said 1. We are not Arabs, but Iranians 2.We are not terrorists 3. We do the same things young people do all around the world.
As much as the youth tended to hate their regime and wanted change, they in no way wanted America's assistance and said the minute an American soldier came to their soil, America became their enemy. They realized regime change ultimately had to come from within.
Since I mentioned Syria in this post I decided to include a few pictures from our trip there. I love that place. :)