Iran – The Myths and the Reality
Iran must be the most misrepresented country in the world. Forget everything you’ve read. In the West we believe the hype, the fake news. In Iran the people don’t. It is the most welcoming country I have visited and I was treated with so much kindness and respect. It was also the country I’ve felt the safest. In this article I address Iran myths against the reality. I want to show people the real Iran, the warm, hospitable people with the warm senses of humour, not the government or achaic laws.
These photos show some of modern Iran:
Iran Myths – Burkas & Hijabs
I want to dispel a few myths about Iran. Firstly the burkha is not worn in Iran and never has been. Yes the wearing of headscarves is compulsory. There is a big movement at present to repel this law. It was 2 men who told me about this and who support it. Other men apologised to me for the fact that I had to wear one. Some like wearing the traditional hijab but it should be a choice. Young women use it as a fashion accessory and perch it on the back of their head and use lots of colour.
Iran Myth – Women & Oppression
Second myth – women are totally oppressed in Iran. Women go to university, drive, have careers from architects to business women. The one professions barred for women are judges and Ayatollahs. They can marry or not marry, it is acceptable to be single. Young couples walk around holding hands or sitting chatting on benches. Women walk around alone. For me as a single woman I could walk around anywhere on my own day or night and feel completely safe, for me that is freedom. I’d say that women are treated with respect but it’s more than that, everyone is treated with respect.
Yes there are archaic laws in Iran, especially towards women. Sharia law is in place. Protesters are arrested, there are executions. But you have to separate the government from the people. I can’t imagine what it was like to have so much freedom and then one day have that curtailed. Follow that my 8 years of war when so many died. After the revolution laws were strictly enforced and there were many beatings and worse. Now a vast majority ignore these or push the boundaries to the maximum. A blind eye is often turned. When I’m talking here it is about how society is, not the government or laws.
I was surprised at how much open criticism there was of the government from men and women of all ages. Sanctions are biting hard, the Real has devalued so much, prices are going up and tourist numbers are decreasing. People are struggling and poverty is increasing. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years, especially given that 50% of the population are under the age of 35. I feel that the mood for change is in the air.
Kindness & Hospitality
I’ve seen some fantastic sights but what I’ll remember most is the warmth, kindness and hospitality of the people I have had thousands of welcomes to Iran or the name of each particular city, hundreds of handshakes, hugs, kisses on the cheek and tickled under the chin.
I have been invited to share food, conversation, been invited to people’s homes, been introduced to people’s families and even watched wedding videos. I’ve been on so many photos and selfies. I’ve laughed a lot, Iranians have a fantastic sense of humour. The hospitality was overwhelming. The kindness I experienced is something I will never forget. This is Iran!
To provide an update. After I left Iran in October there were huge protests in most of the major cities. This was sparked by a rise in petrol prices but was fuelled by underlying tensions and resentments. It turned into a major protest against the Islamic state. 1,500 protesters were killed by government forces.
Tensions were escalated recently when the USA carried out the assassination in Iraq of Qasem Soleimani, an extremely important Iranian general. Retaliations caused the accidental shooting down of an Ukrainian passenger jet by Iranian missiles and the death of everyone abroad. This sparked more anti – government protests and the situation remains volatile.