There is a huge gap between the rigid image cultivated by the regime and the reality of the society, where Hollywood movies and television shows like “Game of Thrones” are readily available for downloading. At the newspaper stands, George Clooney seems to be on the cover of every other agazine. From placemats to socks to the umbrella I bought at the bazaar, Disney is ubiquitous. At the same time, I was aware that the regime executed a teenage boy in the Tabriz prison the day before I arrived. He was 18 and had allegedly murdered another boy when he was 14.
When I came to Tehran, a city of 16 million a few days later, the heavy scent of diesel, mixed with eucalyptus engulfed me, as did the chaotic web of wires and cables, broken concrete sidewalks and banks in every nook and cranny. For two days I dodged urgent, reckless and terrifying traffic to visit bazaars, museums, the treasury, the Qajar dynasty’s Golestan Palace, and the Darband Mountains. I wanted to go to yoga class but was told that “yoga is banned right now.” The women on the buses and bazaars were self-confident, chatty and quick to express love for Americans. Iranians know the difference between Jews and Zionists, they said, and spoke disparagingly about their own government out loud. Sinful Socks? There seems to be a gap between the rigid image cultivated by the regime and the reality of society, where Hollywood, Disney and social media are ubiquitous.
The laws that pertain to women’s rights seem to have no relevance to the lives of Iranian women. Sixty percent of university students are women. Iranian women occupy public spaces; they work, drive and shop. But two days before I arrived in Tehran, a woman was executed for murdering her alleged rapist. No one spoke of it. One woman told me, “The ‘trouble’ with Iran is if you need permission for something, there are at least 50 people to see. If you want to complain about something, there is no one responsible.”
The young are disillusioned, constantly referring to “living under the sanctions” and their desire to shop on Amazon, which they cannot do. “We have nothing to spend our money on,” one woman told me. This money — featuring Ayatollah Khomeini’s picture — is old and torn, and it is almost impossible to find new bills. Surrounded by Western consumer goods and beauty ideals, Instagram, Twitter and virtual networks, private lives are full of what the regime would consider “vice.” I went to beauty salons in Tehran and in Shiraz, and saw walls emblazoned with posters of bleached blonds in strapless gowns revealing ample décolletage while women painted their nails in lurid colors.
My next stop was Isfahan, the 16th-century Persian capital under Shah Abbas, which is crammed with architectural splendors. In the courtyard behind the Masjed-e Shah Mosque I encountered two clerics. They were 30-something, spoke fluent English, and sat in the cloister on the maidan, the central square, for the purpose of engaging with tourists. I told them I was a Jewish American. They began challenging me about the “Zionist media,” my “proof” of the prophets Moses and Daniel, and the Holocaust. I pushed back. My Muslim guide, Malileh, a 37-year-old woman from Shiraz who had joined me in Isfahan, remained quiet but squirmed when they said that women in Iran were free to choose whether they wanted to wear the veil. As I was about to leave, one cleric asked me if I knew anyone who could help with visas. They had been on a wait list for four years to come to study at Fordham University in the Bronx.
2. "fascinating and insightful read - thanks for sharing" In response to Reply # 0
and I think it's very important to understand the pulse of the people - in every region where we are constantly being told that "war is imminent."
Over 50% of Iran's population is under 25, and that demographic will not (and should not) allow itself to be governed by the old guard, particularly when that old guard is hard-line, inflexible, and dangerously ignorant.