Paradoxes Within and Without


Pouneh Saeedi
by Pouneh Saeedi

Iran has always struck me as a land of paradoxes lying beyond political patterns and paradigms. From amidst a plethora of paradoxes, a couple of instances come to mind. For one thing, claiming to be spiritual, the average Iranian can be weight-, fashion- and beauty-conscious to the extreme. In fact, Iran has been labelled the ‘nose jobs’ capital in the world’ where men and women offer themselves up to the beautifying knives of plastic surgeons in record numbers. On the other hand, while alcohlic beverages are banned on religious grounds, drunkenness can potentially be a hallmark of many a party held in Tehran and other major cities. Yet, the paradox is nowhere as clearly evident as in the claims of religiosity made on the part of some Iranian officials.

Traveling across Iran’s political landscape can be akin to “Young Goodman Brown”’s externalized soul-searching sojourn in Salem, where the shocking contrasts between the inner and outer worlds of everyone surrounding the eponymous character, moved him to the marrow. Interestingly, in another work by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter (1850), Arthur Dimmesdale, far from being dim-witted, succumbs to the doubts he has come to nurture regarding his own ‘Reverend’ status in the wake of having committed adultery, a sin which, according to the Bible, merits death (cf. Leviticus 20:10). Dimmesdale succumbs to his sense of sin and guilt, despite having been given the chance to feign innocence before a gullible community of believers willing to blame it all on Hester, the woman at the heart of the crime. If based on Aristotles's Poetics, literature acts beyond history in bringing about a set of concrete universals versus the latter’s entanglement with a contingency of existing social practices, then there are lessons to be learnt from these stories and this begs the question as to how any pious pastor/cleric could claim that his system is beyond ‘fraud’ on grounds of its religiosity?

Another example from literature that could help shed on the discrepancies between preaching and practicing, particuarly prevalent in Iran these days, is The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984) by renowned Czech writer, Milan Kundera. In this novel, which, incidentally, has been extremely popular Iran despite having been subjected to immense censorship, in an article written by the protagonist, Tomas, parallels and contrasts are highlighted between the Czech communists and Oedipus Rex. Both are said to be similar in having been ignorant of the status quo, yet, while the latter decides to punish himself for the consequences of his ignorance by blinding himself, the former, use their ignorance as a pressure lever to fuel further violence. What particularly stands out regarding the case of Iran is that those at the helm of power, despite their claims of religious truthfulness, are neither acknowledging ignorance nor engaging in any type of self-flagellation indicative of remorse.

To reach a better understanding of the situation, one could perhaps take a leaf out of a book by Iran’s own great writer, Sadegh Hedayat (1903-1951) and draw a parallel between the eponymous character ‘Haij Agha’ and some of the country’s statesmen. For, while feigning to have a self-less interest in the well-being of everyone around him but his wives, it is ultimately Hajji Agha’s own vested interests that matter over the lives and liberty of others. Little wonder, then, for him, the world consists merely of the fleecers and the fleeced with no shadings in between. Yet, even Haji Agha, who appears to have been lacking the least compassion for the death of his oldest wife, Halimeh Khatun, is ultimately haunted by recurring dreams of her – a possible symptom of pangs of conscience.

It seems that the men of might in Iran are not only para (‘beyond’) doxa (‘thought’), but also supra leges. It is precisely this arbitrariness of the rule of law that has set the already sizzling tinderbox lying at the heart of the populus aflame, sending shockwaves across our global village. However, being also a citizen of Canada, I cannot help but think that the land which takes so much pride in the prime advocate of the ‘global village’, the one and only Marshall McLuhan, has failed in its coverage of the Iranian cause. As the whole world was watching Iran and news stations such as the BBC and CNN were massively airing scenes of Iranians’ demonstrations across the world, the catclysmic events unfolding in Iran, for all I could tell, took a backstage to the MuchMusic Video Awards on CTV on Sunday night, and this despite the large percentage of Canadians of Iranian descent that account for the True North’s population and the claims of human rights advocacy on its part. Maybe if it had not been for the arrest of Canadian-Iranian Newsweek journalist, Maziar Bahari, there would hardly have been any mention of the latest developments in Iran at all.


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I had a similar feeling

by ppp (not verified) on

I had a similar feeling watching the news in Canada last night.