This is Iran: do as I say, not as I do!
A boastful lyrical caption published by Mizan news (05 May 2020) for the above picture: Seeing the rice fields and the labour planting them alone can be a tourist attraction, and it’s not without its charms. [Of course tourists love to take selfies with heaps of garbage].
Islam’s view of nature and environment, Ali Khamenei producer of lies, fake news, alternative truth lectured (Jun 10, 2003): In Islam, the most comprehensive view and the most appropriate way of interacting with nature and the environment have been described. […]. The ultimate goal of Islam is to enable all generations to enjoy the divine blessings; and to create a healthy and peaceful society without gaps between various social classes and ready for moving toward growth and prosperity. Thus, the religious obligations are there to maintain balance and equilibrium in the enjoyment of natural blessings while avoiding excessive use and offending others.
This is Iran!
Among Iranians, but hardly shared with foreigners, اینجا ایران است / this is Iran is a phrase many times said and heard during one’s lifetime.
The Iranians are brought up with a set of pre-established dialogues that often operate in a social straitjacket, ending in a catchphrase to put an end to the conversational clichés. Most can hold and enjoy a conversation for hours, using Ta’arofs and idioms, but a closer look reveals a heap of pleasant but hackneyed phrases.
This is Iran is often used to acknowledge the existence of social, political, economical problems that should be accepted as a way of life in the country, and the less it is talked about, the better.
The phrase conveys almost a sense that if one did not discuss it, the problems would go away effortlessly.
People are jailed for publicly expressing their ideas in a peaceful way? Oh well, this is Iran. End of conversation, perhaps they had something to be blamed for.
Singing and dancing teenagers publish their videos on social media as any teen would in the world. Except that in Iran, advocating Islamic values, they will be severely punished for it. Oh well, this is Iran.
Kiss your partner and get arrested for irreligious behaviour. Oh well, this is Iran.
Privately, your chum has spent the night rejecting the public display and rituals of Ashura, calling the participants a bunch of backward idiots, but you see him performing the very same acts of worship the next day. If you asked the reason for his U-turn, he would shrug and say: Oh well, this is Iran.
Does the child ask a pertinent question on a subject that is obscure or embarrassing to their parents? They should be rebuked with a فضولی نکن / Don’t pry, and the question is never answered.
Well then, this is Iran, isn’t it?
Often, the diasporic Iranians use اینجا ایران است / this is Iran with a twist, آنجا ایران است / there is Iran, when they are met with questions for a better understanding of Iran’s conditions about which the contradictions do not shed a favourable light on the subject.
By conveying an underlying pride in a barren nationalistic context, we are different, the phrase reproduces a devastating long term consequence: cutting off the dynamics of a conversation that would lead to a challenge to the individual perception and interpretation.
However, objectively, the rupture in the conversation is consumed. Further, replacing اینجا / this with آنجا / there is the first step of cutting mental ties with the country of origin: there is the place that unsavoury things happen but we should not meddle to try and do some good.
If we wanted to carve out a place for positive conversation, dialogue, dialectic, and debate, Iran is not the place to grow up in and the Iranians among themselves not the best partners in pushing for the common good.
The Enemy Within
The enemy within, the repressive system of Islamic Republic, is well aware of its population’s shortcomings and submissiveness. By playing with the unchallenged cultural clichés, shared by the regime and the people alike, there is an alliance between the autocrats and the population.
Presently, if the theocratic system is shaking on its base, if the government is in great difficulties and the country in a shambles, it is not due to the merits of an active population, organised with determination to demand their rights, and the diasporas that would use their situation to help them achieve a better Iran.
The theocratic system is shaking because of its own garish incompetence and its narrow backward ideology. In their old age, the ayatollahs are taken by folie de grandeur and have bankrupted the country with ventures.
From day one, the Islamic Revolution has been the enemy of its own people, a notion that the population have not wanted to face in four decades, but have bent to the consequences in silence and grumbled in private. When things grew unbearable, many took refuge elsewhere, in general apathy. After all, this is Iran!
Apathy and Silence: Iranian Diasporas
Whatever the motive behind the settlement of the Iranian in the West – life threatening constraints, economic choices, or any other betterment in one’s life – the exiled Iranian stays reluctant to participate in an organised movement that would bring one’s fellow citizens together. The individualistic motives are primordial. Any consideration that would make a change in the way they perceive the country comes last. This is a characteristic that strengthens the enemy within, the theocracy itself.
There is Iran! The diasporas have accepted the situation and would not involve themselves in it. The country’s problems and the people’s plight do not affect their routines. By uttering such a phrase the Iranian accepts the wrongdoings, lies and injustice experienced by their own citizens.
However, there is one issue that the Iranian, wherever they are, can agree on: the prospects of returning to the homeland once in a while to visit the family.
An overwhelming majority of the diasporic Iranians try to keep a clean slate for the Islamic Republic by being discreet on their public acts in the West. The behaviour of some can be compared to that of a pupil continuously seeking the approval of their strict teacher. Even when they cannot be physically monitored, psychologically the oppression, censorship, and auto-censorship produces its effects in absentia of the masters.
No matter that in unison the Iranian regime and the Western officials shout from the rooftops that the Iranian-origin travelling to Iran is only accepted on their Iranian passport and must abide by the country’s laws when visiting it, as any Iranian must, still, many have not grasped the consequences behind the notion.
They feel safe and secure from the claws of the Islamic Republic since they have done nothing wrong by being apolitical. The dual nationals nurse the fake feeling of being protected from the maleficence of the Iranian autocrats, the enemy within, by the laws of the country of their residence.
But, for four decades, they have been victims to the Iranian hostage diplomacy.
When the double national can serve the Islamic Republic’s demand in fulfilling an international aim, he/she is arrested, put on trial under false and vague accusations of threat to the State’s security, condemned in a monkey tribunal – pompously and officially called Revolutionary Tribunal – to more years of imprisonment.
Hostage taking and petty bargaining have been part and parcel of the regime diplomacy from day one of the Islamic Republic. Year in, year out, hundreds of petitions are signed, ad hoc committees are set up to ask for the release of the prisoner, and the Western governments which de facto have no means to protect the Iranian national are accused of inaction. In this, the voices of the diasporas have almost been mute and their participation slim.
By insinuation in their comments, they voice motives that justify the arrest by the regime.
As a matter of course, the Iranian diasporas show little interest in the process, acting with selfishness and irresponsibility. Either they have not heard the stories, or shrug them off when told: What has this to do with me? or I don’t want to create problems for myself. Therefore, the bulk of signatories to the petitions is made up of an overwhelming majority of “foreigners” (non-Iranians).
Of course, the Iranian human rights activists join in with the demands and follow the stories, but behind them there is only a soundless desert, empty from their own fellow citizens.
Now, if only a fourth of the Iranian diasporas of 5–6 million in the world cared to be updated on the issue, out of which a third actively use social media, petitions and any other means offered over the Internet or physically by civil activism, to clearly and strongly protest and make themselves heard, it would constitute a formidable opposition voice to count with, even in the country.
However, this is just wishful thinking on our part. The average Iranian, inside and outside the country, cannot be bothered to take up coordinated actions. Apathy and compromising silence are vital to the survival of the regime, and the theocracy is swift and cunning to exploit it.
By refusing to join any movement, imperfect in their eyes and mostly based on a superficial and rash judgment often completely without substance, they sabotage and kill it.
No human muster is perfect. Awareness of internal contractions and tensions, readiness to confront them in debates, make any movement stronger to face outside crisis and produce progressive leaders at a great rate.
Visiting the Homeland to No Avail
Changes in the Iranian theocracy’s disposition towards the Iranian diasporas in the 1990s presented opportunities to access Iran at will.
Between 1979 and the mid 1990s, being a dual national was a crime in the eyes of the regime, a treason to the Islamic values. Presently, dual nationality is accepted in the Iranian laws, and maintaining the connections with Iran a matter of routine, especially for those in diasporas considered to be the first class citizens in the country: the Shia Muslims for whom the ethnicity is hidden behind the curtain of Persian.
For others, with religious and strong ethnic minority flavours, these connections do not exist.
Over the years, as the exiled families have maintained connections to Iran, rosy social pictures depicted by families in Iran and maintained by parental tales have sharpened the sense of desire for return amongst the second generation.
When asked Why? Why would you go back? the answer is a leap of faith: It would mean so much to visit the land that I came from, the land of my ancestors, the land of my beginning, the land that I know a great deal about, and yet know very little. To visit the people who share my roots, language, and to visit the land always mired in political upheaval, but whose geography and soil yield great beauty and enormous diversity.
But, by returning home, the diasporas, especially those of the second generation, find a high level of negativism and cynicism in the Islamic Republic of Iran well hidden behind the wall of warm welcome from the family for the short visit.
For some, the cultural shock is in the waiting. Disappointment and confusion when faced with the complex reality of Iranian society kills the happiness of the return. Once back in the West, they would not look back or get involved in anything Iranian.
Especially for teenagers born and grown up in the West, the homeland experience is trying. Their weak Farsi, their relaxed behaviour and their gaffes in public are mocked by their cousins of the same age. After a few days, they cannot wait for the return journey home to the West, where their mates are, and where they could act in freedom without being policed every minute and their acts commented upon by all.
Older visitors to Iran, often born in Iran but grown up in the West, in their 20s and 30s, sometimes bitter from disappointing professional experiences in their harbouring land, see opportunities in developing economic ties by running businesses out of Iran, mostly setting up companies involved in importing and exporting goods into and out of Iran. (There is a ramification of it: the regime’s protected dual national involved in breaking the international sanctions for the benefit of a nepotist regime, but we will not go into that.)
These businessmen have been acting in a minefield and are aware of it. Doing business in Iran involves contact with officials, middlemen and banks, all part and parcel of the theocratic regime and the IRGC. Each and every partner in Iran seeks a cut, and if the share does not satisfy him, he could fabricate charges against them.
The traders have acquired a comprehensive understanding of the unwritten rules involved, hardly shared with the public but tainted with cynicism in private.
A number of the diasporas in search of earning better money have an ambiguous relationship short of being incestuous with the officials in Tehran.
There is a third trend: faculty members and researchers who wish to create academic relationships and explore their chosen domain, humanities or science, with their Iranian counterparts. Often, as they claim their contentment with their project’s advancements and local collaborations, they are circumspect when asked about the conditions in which the research is to be carried out. Some have been so wary and watchful that their objectivity and intellectual honesty could have been questioned.
Lately, academics are the bulk victims of the Iranian hostage diplomacy. When and if a deal is cut between governments, they return to the West. For a few days, their time and its conditions in Iran are under the media spotlight before being forgotten. Shortly after, we get another name and another similar story.
Wasted Intelligence and Abilities
Rebellious teenagers, businessmen and academics imprisoned, together with the majority of visitors to Iran, could be a source of information in comprehending the Theocratic system, if the experiences are shared fair and honest, questions asked and the replies serenely discussed.
However, as many return to their homes in the harbouring land, the warmth with which they were received prevents them reporting a realistic view of the daily lives in the society under the glass-dome of the theocracy. One needs to push them to get a more realistic view of the events and the social fabric of the place. It usually starts with a timid I would not go back to live in Iran, followed by a short explanation: We have invested so much in our new home.
Get the discussion going for another hour and something else comes up: Going back to Iran is a big mistake. There, I was a foreigner. After so many years living in a free country, I can speak and think and do without fear of persecution. I have also found the land where I can thrive intellectually.
Today, in the diasporas, the picture of who-is-who, and who-does-what, has been blurred by a threefold motivation:
a) the nostalgic-romantic desire of visiting the homeland;
b) in want of – naively – creating a bridge with professionals of their domain;
c) with a paternalistic view of helping things for betterment in Iran.
These motives are perfectly honourable and well meant, except in the twisted minds of the Iranian authorities, always ready to make a profit from a despicable situation. Over the years, as the number of foreigners and the dual nationals visiting Iran has grown, the Iranian regime has found the travellers most useful in its dealing with the West.
In this dirty business, the theocracy has a list of countries from which anyone can be accused of spying, of endangering the national security, or of being an enemy of Islam (all three at once is the likeliest scenario). Innocence carries no weight. After a painful process, in which, according to the ups and downs of negotiations, the prisoner’s conditions are improved or worsened, they may be released for a handsome fee. The USA, the UK and France are leading names in such a list.
The second list concerns countries from which the gains are small, but nevertheless helpful. Swedish, German and Australian travellers would best serve the secondary demands, if there is an opportunity and a quick buck can be made for the regime.
The short list of countries with citizens that Iran would not touch the hair of, national or dual national, is headed by Russia, China and Switzerland.
As far as Switzerland is concerned, Tehran is filled with dogmatists, but not fools. They need at least one secure channel for survival in a less dirty world than theirs. Unfortunately, the nature of the scorpions in the Iranian diplomacy is such that even the Swiss get bitten once in a while, and are called by the regime the masqueraders, fake flag-bearers of democracy.
A peculiar sense of the theocratic jocular mood.
There / This is Iran
As we write, Covid-19 is still raging in Iran, but the Iranian authorities are busy doing what they do best: producing lies, fake news, alternative truth … you name it. People are out of jobs, many have not enough to feed themselves, and inflation rages.
Despite the heavy-handed censorship, the state apparatus cannot hide the corruption and the stories of its failure from making the headlines. Individual voices, echoing the population’s demands on particular subjects, are heard occasionally most often by ex-VIPs that their carriers in the Islamic Republic have crushed into the wall and have little to lose by public criticism. However, the never and ever would question the nature of Velayat-e Faqih.
Covid-19 ravages and so does the Judiciary. The Revolutionary judges are working round the clock to sentence people for many years in prison on phoney charges of espionage, blasphemy … and wipe them out for anti-Islamic crimes without providing any evidence.
The investigation of the downing of the Ukrainian airliner (PS752) in January has stalled. Despite the repeated requests from Canada and Ukraine to conduct a comprehensive international investigation in a transparent manner and without secrecy, the Iranians procrastinate over details.
Hassan Norouzi, member and spokesperson of the Judiciary and Legal Commission of the parliament, said: The firing on the plane was not wrong, and the IRGC did a good job. The Ukrainian plane was tampered with in Israel and controlled by the United States. He was comfortably re-elected to the new parliament in February 2020. This is Iran! where Charlatanism, is The Great Iranian Islamic Art.
Hassan Rouhani, the Great Sheik of Theocratic Technocracy, is finishing his second mandate as a lowly pen-pusher, moaning once in a while. He managed to sign the JCPOA because Barack Obama wanted it and the Supreme Leader needed it. His enemies in the never-ending internal struggle among Islamists called him a loser when D. Trump tore in pieces the agreement and Ali Khamenei was left fulminating.
The powerless liar, the Iranian FM, M-J Zarif, commands only a Twitter account and unconvincingly tries to flex the Iranian muscles bloated like balloons ready to pop.
The Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is sensible enough to take cover from the pandemic and preach by video-conferencing. He clowns around orchestrating an anti-Israel wave of propaganda to smokescreen the domestic scene and cover up his failed strategies in exporting the Iranian revolution to the Middle-East. His folie of grandeur has greatly contributed to the plight of the region.
All the monies and resources invested in hatred and wasted in mismanagement could have been used for the betterment of the country, but This is Iran or There is Iran.
In this mess, a bedlam created by the theocracy and in which it has lost its credibility, there is an opportunity for a big change if the people wanted it.
But, this seems like pie in the sky. Sadly, the Iranian rulers and the submissive people have one thing in common: taking the display of noisy arrogance as positive courage.
After four decades, This is Iran is still the phrase that prevails. The nation does not trust itself and prefers collective suicide to betterment, and cannot be bothered to envisage life differently.
Pity the nation! Why have we let the religious freaks run our lives? Why have we not been able to cultivate the things most needed for betterment?
These things may include teaching the next generation the qualities that are dwarfed in our culture: integrity, industry, intelligence, knowledge, braveness and egalitarian spirit.