Sunday, September 23, 2007

Iran??? Why Iran???

If all goes according to schedule, in less than three weeks I'll be on a flight to Tehran. People keep asking me why I'm going to Iran or they give me a strange look. I realize that there is a serious verbal war between our presidents. I realize that its certainly a land virtually unknown to our country. I realize its not a "normal" place to go. But for me it seems like just the kind of place I like to travel.

When I was 16 we were learning about the Cold War and the Iron Curtain in school and what I was hearing just didn't feel like the whole story. I went home and told my parents that I wanted to go to the USSR myself and see what it was like. After all, behind the political propaganda, weren't the people just like me? During the trip I realized it wasn't that simple but I definitely learned a lot about the real differences between our countries well beyond rhetoric. I saw that communism in real life played out very differently then it did on the pages of Marx's Manifesto.

When I was 19, I was studying Central America. The big news was about the Contra War in Nicaragua. On one side, I heard first hand about the amazing progress of the Sandinistas from my cousin who went to teach in the literacy brigades and on the press side again, I heard a simplified story of the evils of communism. Again, I went home and asked my mom to go on a trip with me with Witness for Peace to get a deeper understanding of the revolution and just what my country was so scared of. My experience opened my eyes in a way no book ever could. After years of learning about political theory I was able to see it in practice. Nothing could replace that knowledge.

Then last year someone invited me to go on a delegation to Afghanistan to learn about the women's lives after the fall of the Taliban. At the time, I said yes for no particular reason except in my mind someone had opened a door and I felt I should go through it and see where it took me. That trip changed my life. While I have always been surrounded by feminists who were brave to fight for a different world here it the USA, that was nothing compared to women who risked torture and death to teach young girls or to fight for judicial rights. Even just the drives through Kabul, where every building was bombed during all these years of war, changed me. We live with so many creature comforts and appreciate none of it. There people live winters without windows and life with sporadic water and electricity. The simple heroism of the people I met there changed who I am and now I read the paper and understand in such a deeper way.

So... Iran??? When I was a kid, my dad used to do economic consulting for the Shah. We were on his family holiday card list and my dad displayed the cards for years. The revolution was a dramatic change in world history. To me it was a transition from royalty and Western influence (you should have seen those family photos!) to a different kind of power for the people.) Out of it came a new kind of Islamic fervor and fundamentalism that even today we obviously don't understand.

Instead of spending my days being afraid of Islam over the recent years I've tried to travel to Islamic nations and once again see that people have many more similarities than differences. Trips to India, Turkey, Tunisia, Dubai, Kenya and of course, Afghanistan have completely changed my perspective on Islam.

So now, I'm curious about these Iranian people we have so demonized in the press. Can they possibly all want to kill us? How does that jive with the stories I hear about their graciousness and hospitable nature??? Where does the image of suicide bombers fit within such a well educated country? Isn't it true that we in the US have an aggressor president that I didn't vote for and don't support? Isn't that what I hear about Iran too? Are the women really that oppressed when they make up 65% of the university population? The rules are definitely different and certainly some of what we hear about oppression is true. The government is cracking down. Many of the NGOs we were supposed to meet with have had to stop talking publicly, but that doesn't tell the full Iranian story. I want to know more of the story.

People keep acting like I'm going to be in danger. Maybe its so since my nation keeps this bombing war rhetoric alive, but the reality on the streets of Tehran is similar to New York. My risk of getting hit by a car in traffic FAR outweighs the risk of danger related to terrorism. Iran is not Iraq or Afghanistan. Bombs aren't flying through the air. If anything, I read, I might be disappointed that its not exotic. There are no turbans. The streets are clean and orderly. Its a more developed country. And sure, the women are covered, but you know what, I liked covering when I was in Afghanistan. It feels very empowering and our racist Western view of it doesn't make much sense. I certainly believe that everyone should be free to chose and in Iran right now they may not be as free, but they also may not be as coerced as we think they are.

Also Iran is known for its cultural heritage, it's poetry, its breath taking architecture... and as a traveler of the world, these are the things I've always wanted to see.

So... those are some of my reasons. I'm not crazy. I like to understand the world and for me it doesn't come alive in books the way it does from the street. As always, I will do my best to report what I see and share stories from the people I meet and hopefully I will be able to take some good pictures so you can see real Iranians and real street scenes. I hope I am not just naive, but I won't know till I see it myself. Thats how I roll.

1 comment:

JA Huber said...

You're going to have an incredible trip, hope you'll be able to blog from over there.