Iran is not a typical tourist destination for most North Americans. It is a mainly Muslim country, and to hear United States President Donald Trump and the various talking heads surrounding him describe Islam, all Muslims are terrorists.
I am not much influenced by the rantings of Mr. Trump and his ignorant, paranoid minions. So when invited to speak at the conference, ‘United States, Human Rights and Discourse of Domination’, sponsored by the University of Tehran, in cooperation with Iranian World Studies Association, to be held in Tehran, I readily agreed.
I was able to spend four days in Iran. It seems from my observations there in Tehran over a period of two days that that city may not be exactly what the corporate-owned media proclaims it to be. It is a modern city: the downtown area is crowded, noisy and exciting, like most major cities. Yes, all women must wear headscarves, but they don’t need to cover their hair; many women have hair showing in front of their head. Additionally, all imaginable styles were worn by the women: blue jeans, slacks, dresses; high heeled shoes, sandals and sneakers.
During my two days there, I saw women driving, sometimes alone, sometimes accompanied by other women, and sometimes accompanied by men. Several women with Ph.Ds spoke at the conference; some attired in black with only their faces showing, and some wearing ‘Western’-style clothing, accompanied by a headscarf.
U.S. government officials are forever foaming at the mouth about the sorry state of affairs of women in Iran, yet they are silent about conditions for women in Saudi Arabia. If one were to visit that country, one would not see women driving, or wearing the array of clothing that this writer saw in Iran. Any conference in that country will not have educated women presenting; obtaining higher education for women is next to impossible. And should that be achieved, women finding work in their field of expertise is almost unheard of.
Following the conference in Tehran, I flew to the city of Mashhad in the northern part of the country, for a second conference. Mashhad is Iran’s second largest city, and has far more religious significance than Tehran. I saw more Imams, not unusual considering the sacred significance of the city to Muslims. But in the two days I spent there, I saw no difference in the dress and treatment of women: some women dressed in black, with only their faces showing, and others with a variety of fashions.
Security in both cities was evident from a tourist perspective; this is hardly unusual, considering that Tehran experienced its first terrorist attack in years just weeks earlier. My luggage was scanned when entering my hotel in Tehran, and prior to entering the conference center in Mashhad, my briefcase was put through the scanner. I saw a single armed solider on two occasions, both times in the airport in Mashhad. I saw two other soldiers awaiting a flight at the airport,
One interpersonal experience is worth noting. I had guides with me, associated with the University of Tehran, in both that city, and Mashhad. When leaving Mashhad for the return trip to Tehran, my guide said something to several people standing in line to get on the plane. What he apparently asked was for someone to assist me in finding my contact once I arrived back in Tehran.
Certainly, I could have found my contact in Tehran, but there is something a bit intimidating about looking at the arrivals and departures boards, and understanding nothing; everything is written in Farsi. But I certainly appreciated the gesture. And since my guide in Mashhad had given his contact information to the gentleman who volunteered to assist me, that gentleman was able to call my guide in Mashhad, when I discovered on arrival in Tehran that I had left my wallet and cell phone at airport security in Mashhad. My guide was then able to retrieve those items, and is sending them to my home.
Another thing worthy of note is the traffic. Driving in downtown Tehran or Mashhad takes nerves of steel, quick reflexes and a working horn; each of my drivers’ was well-equipped in those areas. On major thoroughfares, with multiple lanes and speeding traffic, the white lines painted on the road are apparently there only for decoration. As such, they appear to serve the same purpose as the speed-limit signs.
So what does all of this mean? Perhaps, just perhaps, U.S. government officials are lying in implying that Iranians are so ‘different’, and we all know that in the parlance of U.S. Doublespeak, ‘different’ means inferior and probably violent. But perhaps women in Iran aren’t oppressed, the nation isn’t ‘backward’, and the people aren’t hostile to the U.S. ‘because of its freedoms’.
As a disclaimer, I want to state that I recognize that Iranian society isn’t a Utopian one. Much social media is not available there, homosexual activity can be a capital offense, and it’s likely that not all women, even if Muslim, are so devout as to want to wear a headscarf at all times. But unlike Saudi Arabia, with which the U.S. has full diplomatic relations, women can drive, obtain higher education and work in their chosen fields. And it certainly appears that there is sufficient freedom of ideas and speech in Iran for people who want to work effectively for change to do so.
I never expected to visit Iran, but am very glad to have had the opportunity. If more U.S. citizens could have a similar opportunity, continued U.S. hostility toward Iran could not be sustained. And that would be a great benefit for the entire world.