I knew that I would be away for Norooz this year, but it was ironic and kind of unsettling to spend it in a place whose ideology and indirect “representatives” are working hard to negate everything Parsi about my motherland.
It is interesting to see people’s reaction when they learn you’re going there…”Why?” they ask with a concerned face. “Eh, because I need to go…... because of work….?”
Anyway, the following are my observations and thoughts related to this experience. It is not meant, nor is it written, to offend anyone specially those who feel close allegiances to the inventors of their religion. Although I will be going back and forth for a while, I think that the first trip will naturally be the one that would leave a lasting impression, or may be not! I should add that Iranian.com is blocked there. Gee, I wonder why.
As an Iranian-born person, I could not help comparing everything I saw and experienced in Saudi to Iran and how we believe we are different than the Arabs. In a lot of cases we are and in a lot of cases we are not. It depends on your particular point of view, your values and what you hold dear. I saw that even though Arabestan is where Islam started, in some ways, it is less zealous in pushing its Islamic agenda than some other places we know. Surprised? So was I, but remember I said in “some” ways. The oppression of females and their marginalization in the society is as rampant as it has ever been. However, I also saw the vision that these people have for their land and how they see themselves in the future. While our so called leaders work to isolate themselves from the rest of the world and only mingle with their Third World equals, the Saudis have embraced the wind of change and progress and have aligned themselves to become a diversified entity in a region where oil is the king. They seem to have understood that the days of every king will come to an end, and hence the need not to put all your [oily] eggs in one basket!
I also saw that both Arab and Ajam (reference to Persians) people and countries are equally clueless when it comes to understanding some of the basics that make a society civil: from how to drive to how to treat garbage and pollution.
Although it is a known fact that Iranians are not favored or liked there (just ask any religious pilgrim), I did not encounter obvious resistance to my being a Persian nor did I experience any open hostility or unkind treatment. Perhaps because all those with whom I worked were professionals and perhaps did not want to alienate the one guy who has come to assist them. One of the guys I worked with even mentioned the famous Persian epic love story of Shirin-Farhad and that he had enjoyed reading it as a kid. I smiled and noted that I too had read that story as a youngster and enjoyed it very much. I also did not engage in pointed conversations which would have revealed my inner most thoughts about the subject! So, that probably helped too.
One thing did confuse me I must confess and it was the contradictions. While these observations may seem petty and inconclusive, I believe they bear a deeper message. Here is a country based on the laws of Islam and governed as such, yet the variety of Western shows and movies available on satellite TV makes you forget you’re in a country where women are expected to cloak themselves from head to toe outside the house. A country that admits it is “not yet ready” for women suffrage. A country – or city I should say to be fair - where you do not see women on the streets until after dark, even in grocery stores. A place where the only two beggars I saw were women. I also saw few women without the head covering: the non-Muslims – Yes, in Saudi Arabia! How many non-Muslims can do this in our non-Arab Iran? So, I’m thinking is this the beginning of what they might be trying to do to go beyond superficial indicators of purity and chastity hoping to improve their standing in civil human societies? Can we draw any conclusions between how the Saudis view these choices and the policies of the Islamic regime in Iran? What could that conclusion be, I wonder? It is true that the Saudis have a long long way to go, but what can we say about Iran’s resume with respect to these matters? Our women used to be the most liberated and modern-thinking women in the region. However while at least on the surface, places like Saudi appear to be working to understand how they can reconcile women’s right with Islamic teachings, the Iranian government has worked hard to eliminate the advantage and forward thinking nature of Iranian women in the last 30 plus years. Yes Iranian women are much farther in claiming their rights and exercising them than their Saudi counterparts, but that is not because of the government, it is in spite of it.
Why is this confusing? Well, keeping the points noted above in mind, I was floored by the institutionalized nature of prayers! Yes, 5 times a day the country literally shuts down for prayers, all shops close and no commerce takes place until after the prayers where loudspeakers blast out the call for prayer from ever corner of the city. If you’re in a shop, or a restaurant, then you’re out of luck as you get locked in till after the prayers! I understand that it may be what it takes to “motivate” people and to protect the religion and its doctrine, but man, you’d better schedule your life around prayer times, or you’re screwed. I have always wondered why this god needs so much praying and this has given me new things to think about and challenge from time to time.
On the way to the airport I was thinking about all this; primarily the comparison between Arabestan and Iran. I could not help it. I thought about the monetary concessions that the Saudi government is granting the people in light of recent unrests in the region to help calm people down. I thought about the need for constant checkpoints and guards armed with assault weapons on the way to work, hotel and randomly on the road. I thought about what would happen in the region, and the world, if the Wahabis gave way to another regime there. What would that regime be like and what it would mean for Iran?
As the plane took off and climbed high above the city, I thought that while my birthplace was only a three- hour flight away, I’d have to fly over 14 hours to get to my adopted home.
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