With nearly 40 years of estrangement between two nations – Iran and the US – many misrepresentations about Iran have been forged. Epecially now, after the killing of Iranian general Qassim Suleimani & the current fueling of opposition to the nuclear deal, people have a majorly distorted view of Iranians and Iran.
I had general ideas about Iran that many who have watched the news in the West may share. I had to see for myself. I spent 2 weeks in Iran, not in the common way that the typical tourist does, but with a unique view into the personal lives of Iranians. I was fortunate enough to have a firsthand experience within an Iranian family home.
My general beliefs about Iran prior visiting were based on ignorance and falsehood (which can only ever lead to misunderstanding). After going to Iran, I gained insight into the misconceptions, stereotypes, fears and worries many foreigners hold – and how many are far from true. I hope that this post is effective in providing a more balanced perspective on Iranian life than is reflected in other mainstream (American) media.
I suppose I began challenging my own misconceptions about Iran even before entering the country – Having fallen in love with a Persian man. Yet, even so, even with the knowlegde of what an incredible person he is, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little frightened at the idea of visiting his country. My experience in Iran surprised me.
What I discovered may surprise you.
Many assume that Iran is a backward nation, filled with squalor and poverty. Though I bared witness to quite a different picture: a thoroughly modern Iran with a large, well-educated youthful population sitting on the precipice of change. Young Iranian population is fashionable, modern, restive, openly critical of their own government and unabashedly welcoming to visitors (even Americans) with hospitality that is close to overwhelming. These young people, who constitute two-thirds of the population, have no personal knowledge of the Islamic Revolution of 1978-1979, the Hostage Crisis or Ayatollah Khomeini. They are 100% literate. Virtually all are college-educated, and they are keenly aware of the world outside of Iran, and want to be part of it.
Iranians love to discuss politics! This is something one can find apparent very early on… I heard about the general attitude toward the government, Americans, and other nationalities. American policies don’t tend to get high approval ratings from the Iranian people. But just as Iranians make a distinction between themselves and their government, they do the same when it comes to America and Americans. With Iranophobic rhetorics of Trump who has gone so far as to label Iran the world’s “Number One Terrorist State” Well, I for one did not see “Death to America” sloganeering ANYWHERE.
Another major misconception is that other religious minorities are oppressed and discriminated against by the conservative Muslim leadership. I did not experience this. The opposite, in fact! My Iranian in-laws happily put up a Christmas tree in their living room just for me, as we were travelling during the Christmas period. This went with a Christmas roast and presents! I distinctly recall a man at an organic market, upon discovery that I am an English-speaking person, eagerly wanting to practice his English, telling me “I love the Jesus; I love Christians”.
Women are opposing patriarchy. They are fully integrated and able to drive, study, work, vote. They are not obliged to wear black from head to toe – though they may do so if they wish. Iranian women are able to express themselves fashionably, so long as they are modest and and couple their outfit with a headscarf. Headscarves can be worn in a very conservative manner, or loosely with some hair still shown – depending on the level of conservativeness of the woman. Make-up and accessories are common-practice. Most Iranian women love expressing themselves with bold make-up and statement jewellry and handbags.
Iranian men treat women like precious gemstones. The wives, mothers, sisters and daughters of Iranian men are cherished and respected.
Iran is not only desert! It is in fact georlogically and climatically diverse. Mountains, ocean, desert, snow… Iran has it all! Many people are unaware that Iran is home to some of the world’s most beautiful ski resorts.
Although they share the Arabic alphabet & practice islam, Iranians are not Arabs. They do not speak Arabic. They speak Farsi/ Persian (an Indo-European language more closely related to English that Scandanavian langauges).
Iranians are not defined by Shia Islam – Iranians have 2,500 years of pre-Islamic culture that continues to strongly influence their identity. Iranians are commonly considered to have finally embraced Islam as a cohesive whole, in the ninth century. Prior to this, Persia, as it was then known, had already enjoyed an ancient and powerful history which started with King Cyrus the Great who successfully conquered huge areas and created a unified Persia. King Cyrus is widely documented in both the bible and related literature as having liberated the Jews from Babylon. He was subsequently succeeded by the Kings: Camyses, Darius, Xerxes and Artaxerxes (all of whom are once again referenced in the bible). Iranians are very proud of their cultural history which predates the coming of Islam.
Iran is misunderstood as an aggressive country, when really, they did not initiate war, but merely respond by defence when Iraq struck. Public executions and flogging are believed to be the norm. I myself did not witness any public executions take place – they were actually banned in 2008! They have very scarecly been practiced since. Iranians generally avoid conflict at all costs. This is a cultural thing that I often witness with my fiance. I was in Iran when Iranian general Qasem Soleimani was murdered. I didn’s see any protests or looting happen in Shiraz – this is all blown out of proportion in the media! You’d think people all round’ would be going crazy over this, acting out their ‘so called aggressive nature’ but no.
Forced marriages are not necessarily the norm in Iran. Individuals are typically able to choose their own spouse, as was the case with my partner. He had choice and free will when it came to picking me. I’m a Greek girl, born and raised in South Africa. We met in Singapore, where we both work. Yes, arranged marriages are still practice in Iran, but only if accepted by the person looking to be wed.
The people of Iran want in some way to show the world that what’s going on in the last years is not the will of the Iranian people but of the Iranian government. The distinction between the government and the people is a common theme in everyday Iranian discourse. Numerous polls show that Iranians overwhelmingly supported the nuclear deal precisely because they are desperate to break free from Iran’s isolation and reconnect with the outside world.
Visiting Iran is highly recommended! You’re likely to enjoy an especially warm welcome from Iranians, as I did.