Monday, August 20, 2012

A Tourist's Iranian Surprises

By Alan Caruba

Jamie Maslin is a British travel writer, but when he told friends that he intended to hitch-hike the Silk Road route of Marco Polo, one that would take him through Iran, they warned him against it, fearing he would be arrested as a spy and likely killed. Instead, he ended up writing an amusing and revealing book, “Iranian Rappers and Persian Porn” ($16.95, Skyhorse Publishing, softcover).

Maslin writes mostly of the various sites he visited in that ancient nation, but his interaction with Iranians, rich and poor, reveals that the regime that has been in control since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew the hated Shah and his despotic rule is just as hated by ordinary Iranians. The mullahs that support the regime are routinely subject to verbal abuse in the streets and, in Tehran and other cities, taxi drivers refuse to pick them up.

There is little doubt in my mind that Iran’s nuclear facilities will be militarily attacked at some point. There is much reporting of late that Israel will mount such an attack to defend against the almost daily speeches by the regime’s leaders that they intend to destroy Israel. Less reported is the fact that the United States is regarded as Iran’s enemy. There have been many Iranian-sponsored attacks against our military in Lebanon and Iraq since the 1980s.

In turns frightening and hilarious Maslin tells of his travels through Turkey to reach Iran and his anticipation of a less than welcome greeting when he reached it. “Instead the official brought me to the front of the line, handed his colleague my passport and said happily, even excitedly, ‘Tourist!’ His colleague smiled back, stamping my passport in the process, and said in a similar manner, ‘Welcome to Iran!’”

That was the first of a series of encounters as Maslin discovered that ordinary Iranians, especially if they spoke English—as many apparently do—would seek him out on the street and anywhere else he paused to eat or to stay.

What he discovered as well as that photos of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, the revolution’s leader, were displayed everywhere and that every city and town had squares and streets named after him.

The current supreme leader, Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei’s picture can also be found everywhere as well and not because Iranians revere him, but because it is unwise not to display it. Maslin notes that he met only one person “who openly expressed a liking for Khomeini.”

Reports about Iran suggest that Iranians are fanatically Islamic, but this, he discovered, as not the case. One Iranian friend said, “Look at the mosques on Fridays; they are all nearly empty.”

When Maslin asked an Iranian friend why Iranians did not rebel against the state that is widely dispised, she noted that the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s had resulted in half a million deaths and Iranians wanted no more of such losses. Moreover, “if you stepped out of line politically, you didn’t just get reprimanded, you got killed or worse—which, of course, is a pretty effective deterrent.”

In effect, Iranians are prisoners in their own nation, but that doesn’t mean they don’t love their country. They just hate their oppressors, having traded the Shah for the ayatollahs.

Both the British and Americans played a major role in overthrowing the former government of Iran in order to put the Shah on the throne and it was all about retaining control of the nation’s oil reserves. It was a sordid chapter in both nation’s history involving MI16 and the CIA in a coup. Even so, today’s Iranians, especially its youth, yearn for the freedoms that exist in the West.

For now, the sanctions imposed on Iran to deter its quest for nuclear weapons have caused economic hardship, but there is no indication that the ayatollahs have any intention of stopping, nor has there been any reduction in their threats to Israel and America..

For one British tourist, however, his travels revealed a rich underground life—one that includes booze and other forbidden pleasures—exists in Iran and a cultural generosity that was exhibited by the Iranians he met. Few would allow him to pay for dinner, taxis or other purchases.

As much as I want an end to the regime in power in Iran, I also want ordinary Iranians to be spared harm from what is an inevitable war on its nuclear facilities.

© Alan Caruba, 2012

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