Socialist Worker reporters, Linda Kehoe and Dave O’Farrell are visiting Iran. They sent us this report about how their actual experiences conflict with the stereotypical image so prevalent in the media.
The image many have in their minds of Iran is often less than positive. A country of Ayatollahs and fundamentalists, intent on developing nuclear weapons and infused with a hatred of “the west”. The facts on the ground couldn’t be more different.
Travelling around Iran people are friendly beyond any normal expectations. Someone is always quick to help with directions or advice but the welcome extends well beyond that. It is not uncommon for people to invite you to join them for food, whether you have simply wandered past them picnicking in a park or met them in the courtyard of a mosque after prayers. The practice of Taarof where you may have to insist on paying for something up to three times would put Mrs Doyle to shame.
Beyond the welcome and helpfulness Iran is also very safe, from busy tourist areas to late night in Tehran it is hard to not feel completely at ease.
When you encounter those with better English they are quick to ask what you think of Iran and are keenly aware of the image of Iran that is prevalent in the world media and will enquire as to your views on the subject. The phrase “Iranophobia” may even be mentioned.
This is not to say that Iranians are not – justifiably – critical of their government. Many are envious of the freedoms they see in the West yet stories from Ireland of cronyism in government and business often chime uncomfortably.
A common subject of conversation with female tourists is the wearing of the headscarf and it is clear many Iranians object to the compulsory nature of the policy.
Iran is often criticised – often quite rightly – for its poor record on women’s rights yet it is no Saudi Arabia and Iranian women are often shocked when they hear of Ireland’s past and recent history in this record. Our blanket ban on abortion is particularly shocking for many, along with the difficulties of obtaining a divorce.
Many in Iran are familiar with much western popular culture and speaking with school girls can easily lead to a discussion on Justin Bieber!
Iran is a very different country on the ground from what many might expect and we should not let the difficulties of governments clashing colour our views of an entire country or the increasing tide of Islamophobia lead to a negative view of Iranian people.