Iran as a Nation of Nose-jobs is another one of those repetitive cliches that, putting it politely, really gets on my nerves. Since beginning my research into Iranian blogging I have collected a mass of editorials that, like Hitchens, although seemingly attempt to depict ‘Iran’s Other Face‘ or ‘Lift the Veil‘ do little more than mislead its readers into thinking that the only aspirations of young Iranians is western simulation – to listen to western music, to dress in western fashion, to experience western romance (like you find in the movies) or simply to up sticks and seek new opportunities in the west.
Often such editorials only scratch the surface of Iran’s rich cultural heritage, offering us typical accounts of ‘when I told my friends and family I was going to Tehran, they looked at me as if I were taking a short break in Mordor’ and ‘nothing quite prepared me for the dust, noise and being swathed in fabric head to toe’. Don’t get me wrong, when I told my friends and family I was off to Iran for two weeks I, obviously like many others, was confronted with dumb-founded expressions and grew tired of comforting their fears that I might be taken hostage and paraded on Al Jazeera. However I don’t think I was unprepared to be ’swathed in fabric’ – I think that’s just ignorant. I lost count of the number of times I had to explain to people that wearing hejab is the law in Iran and of course I would need to wear hejab to abide by the law. The only way I felt I could describe this to others, with little knowledge about Iran, was by making a poor comparison between state law in the US. For example whilst the legal age of consuming alcohol may be 18 in one state it is quite possible that it may be 21 in another and just because you are old enough to drink in your home state it doesn’t mean you’re old enough to drink it in another state and must therefore stick to soft drinks unless willing to break the law. Tenuous or what!! but you get the point.
I thought that after visiting Iran I might write up my own experiences of life in a ‘closed society’ but to be honest every attempt I made followed a similar route – ‘it’s not what you’d think’, ‘that’s not what it’s like’, ‘it’s so different to how you imagine’. But the final nail in the coffin came as I read Rachel Cooke’s poor ‘Persian Pilgrim’ in the Observer (which I can’t seem to find an online link to). I think just about every third sentence riled me in some way and consequently I came to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter how sincere you try to be in writing about your experience in Iran as a westerner usually you just end up sounding like a complete moron.
I haven’t seen a woman’s forearms, or even a wrist, for so long that my vision has adjusted; it’s like getting used to a black and white television, after colour all over again.
Repeating stereotypical notions of ‘chador-clad Islamists’ or ‘Down with America Friday prayers’ is something I wanted to move away from but in attempting to depict a ‘truer picture of Iran’ these always seem to end up being the starting point of conversation. In attempts to educate people about Iran it seems that we always need to address the media’s misrepresentation of Iranian culture and exaggerated stereotypes, which shape the public image of Iran in people’s mindsets. If I felt like being harsh I’d say that mostly people here are ignorant but that isn’t true. We are just bombarded by terrorist theories and images of brutality to instill fear and subsequently justify supposed preemptive strikes against Iran. In my opinion an attack on Iran is highly unlikely’ it’s just too infeasible. For a start there’s too many paykans in the way, but that’s another story’.
My time in Iran was spent making some wonderful friends, re-acquainting myself with an ex-colleague and inspirational information studies researcher, hunting down traditional Persian cuisine for the less traditional (i.e. veganised chelo kebabs, tadique and khoreshes), frequenting coffee shops, shopping in the bazaars and generally having the time of my life, rather than fantasising about ‘orange blossom and the sound of the muezzin dancing faintly on the breeze’ or ‘camels padding elegantly across sand, crowded but authentic bazaars, and caravanserai with vaulted ceilings and twirling grilles over their windows’. And I certainly didn’t spend as much time as this Cooke woman moaning about my ‘wretched scarf’.