Iran

Iran proved to be an interesting trip. I was invited one night to an Iranian house for tea; on a separate occasion I was invited for dinner with a family, and provided a bed to sleep in. One day I was there, a group of university girls approached me, took me for tea, and the next day took me shopping and sightseeing. They made sure I didn’t pay tourist prices for the things I bought, and they paid for pretty much everything that day. I kept thinking to myself the scenario – girls picked me up off the street, paid for everything, and insisted on carrying my bags. Where has Australia gone wrong?

However, my entry into Iran wasn’t as smooth as I had hoped. I had to put up with cab drivers and bus operators whose low level of intelligence was matched inversely by the high level of bacteria in their armpits. I discovered I was not able to get a flight out of the country to my next destination – a crucial assumption for my entire trip (although I did manage to get one later – double price however). And a little more problematic – having two of my $100 US bills being identified as counterfeit – a slight problem considering I had no access to any other means of money, as credit cards don’t work and international links to banks like mine in Australia, don’t exist.

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This money was meant to pay for my trip out of the country. And they say the mafia’s operations doesn’t affect the ordinary person.

My first few days in Iran were marked with me being in an absolutely negative mindset, and I was enjoying myself as much as one would when sharing a prison cell with a big fat sex-crazy cell mate called “bubba”. Fortunately, the moment I left Tehran, my trip changed. Negative experiences, turned into memorable ones. Though memorable does not necessarily mean fun at the time, as I experienced in Shiraz.

I flew into Shiraz from Tehran to save time (flights are cheap), and after finding a room, I started walking around the city. I didn’t go very far before I could sense someone behind me watching my movements. After a few minutes, an Iranian guy approaches me and starts a conversation: he was a little hard to understand (he sounded drunk) but I didn’t think much of it. He was extremely excited to meet me, to practice his English and to learn about Australia – a place he wants to migrate to. So I had myself a guide – Rezer starting showing me the sights as we talked, and after the bazaar, took me to a mosque which is one of the most important to the Shi’ite Muslims. We were inside, with me absolutely stunned by the beauty of the interior (the walls and roof were covered in crystals, and the strategic placing of the lighting gave the room an amazing glow). As I am looking, head up and stunned, Rezer pulls out his hand, and he says slowly: “These are my tablets. I have psychological problems”.

The dude with mental issues who would not leave me alone

The amusing thing about this picture, was that when he looked at the picture afterwards, he was scared of himself. I had to reassure him that his big eyes in the picture did not make him look freaky (when in fact, they were normally bigger, and he looked damned freaky when they were).

It is an interesting moment to be experiencing one of the most mesmerising shrines you have ever been to, and to find out your companion of the last hour is mentally unstable. As we left the mosque, I subtly asked why he needed the tablets. “It’s to calm me down.” I didn’t show any reaction, as if it is an every-day thing for me to find out I’ve got a wacko right next to me. He liked the way I reacted to the news, and declared how much he liked me now. Whoopee.

The tour continues, and en-route to the ‘final’ bit of sight seeing I had agreed to – where we would be overlooking the city – we walk by the local mental hospital. Speaking very softly, and in remarkable detail, he was able to tell me which sections of the hospital housed what type of ‘crazy’ person. “These are the people that are really, really crazy, and can’t live in society by themselves and need lots and lots of help”. A curtain is quickly drawn on the top left of the building. “See, that was a crazy person. In that section that is where the people who shit all over the floor stay and make a mess all over the place”. I was tempted to ask how he knew all this, but I didn’t want to provoke any negative reactions. I insisted we continue, so that I could end this tour as quick as possible. On the way to our final destination – he insists we call his sister so that I speak to her. She was nice, but quickly ended the call, as if this happens on a daily basis. The tour continues.

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The city of Shiraz at night, by the gateway of the city.

When we first met, he asked me about the differences between Australia and New Zealand. Half an hour later, he asked the same thing. After the fourth repeated question – where had I just come from – I noticed a pattern. He had completely forgotten what I had told him 10 minutes earlier.

We get to the top, had some tea, took some pictures, and I showed him my photos. He asked about the difference between Australia and New Zealand, and he asked to see my photos (again). He asked where had I just come from, and whether he could see my photos (for the third time). I told him I have already shown the photos to him. He insisted in taking me to my hotel. I said no thanks. We make it back to the spot where I met him in the centre of the city, and he said just quickly to show me the outside of the castle there. I agreed reluctantly, saw the very important picture he wanted to show me (the devil being defeated by someone) and then I said I really had to go now. He then began asking when I would leave, and if we could meet the next day. I said no. He asked if he could see me at the bus station to send me off. I said no, again. He asked at about what time will my bus leave. I said I didn’t know.

“Can I kiss you now?” he asked. “Excuse me!?” I exclaimed. He continued, “Can I kiss you and hug you?” I replied by saying I did not feel comfortable, because in my culture, men don’t show affection like that. He continued, “But I want to hug and kiss you because I really like you and I love Australia”. Time to leave I thought, and I started making my way, saying goodbye over my shoulder. He waved good-bye, and then he yelled “wait a second, I need to tell you something”. I stopped and listened. He then asked if he could see my pictures again. “You already saw them I cried out for the fifth time. “Can I please hug and kiss you?”, he asked again “No! Goodbye!” I shouted, and I started walking very fast. I could sense he was watching me, so when I made the corner, I bolted and got lost in the crowd.

The Iranian experience
Geographically, Iran is amazing. The locals are very proud of the fact that their country has four seasons. Apparently, at any time of the year, there is a place in Iran that is experiencing one of the four seasons. It quite literally is an all-round tourist destination, because it has amazing deserts, sensational mountains, beautiful forests and waterfalls, and so much more.

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The gutters in Iran fascinated me. This is in Tehran, where it was practically a waterfall.

Historically, Iran is as rich as they get, and it has the infrastructure for mass tourism (everything from cheap and plentiful accommodation to widespread use of English language (in signage and in understanding by the locals), and even tourist offices everywhere that matters. There is no country more suited for tourism, and despite having every reason to visit the country, there are practically no tourists. A lot of people there don’t quite understand how their civilisation – which stands with the greats of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome – has been forgotten by the world. The Persian Empire started as one of the three Aryan tribes to inhabit Iran before it ruled the Ancient world (Iran in Farsi, means “Aryan”). Whilst the Arabs dominated the country for 600 years, something which a lot of proud Iranians resent because it ‘bastardised’ their country, their history stretches into the middle ages and this century – until the Revolution, where the Shah was forced to abdicate. There is absolutely no reason, in my mind, why you should not visit the country – and every kind of reason to visit (with the exception of maybe nightclubbing) .

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The Government-led propaganda effort is very over-the-top. This is at the former US embassy, now known as the Den of Espoinage. It has a set of murals on the southern wall depicting Iran as an American colony, and then images showing a war led by Ayatollah Khomeini, who saves the country

The people in Iran are the friendliest I have ever met. Practically all the people I met in the country approached me on the street for a chat (I stood out like a banana would in a green salad), and those that helped me went completely out of their way. My perception about Islam – now that I have seen it in practice – had made me realise how beautiful the religion is, and how misguided Western civilisation is in its perceptions, especially in the post 9/11 world. I think of the mass media in how it contantly asks questions along the lines of ‘Can Islam and democracy work?’ – I now realise how ridiculous that theme is, and depressing because it just proves how ignorant we are. (Although, why it doesn’t work in Iran is because the clerics are unaccountable – an Islamic democracy is different from an Islamic theocracy – the difference being elections and media scrutinty, both non-existant in Iran for the clerics).
More importantly, visiting the country has made me realise how amazing it is. As an Iranian told me: “We are not Afghanistan!”, which seems to be a good way to summarise how the world sees this country. Yet telling the locals this view, shocks them, and with good reason, as the country although a little rough around the edges, is just like a European country with an oriental flavouring – and at a fraction of the cost. There is nothing wild and adventurous about travelling in Iran – to tell you the truth, it was a little too easy. There is one thing however that made my blood freeze: crossing any road – you’ve just got to close your eyes and hope for the best.

Nomad

A nomadic couple in Southern Iran, near Firuz Ab?ɬ¢d. Couples like this herd their sheep from one green pasture to the other. I am not sure what the correct transliteration is, but it sounds something like Ashel-yer.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is about as Islamic as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) is a Democratic Peoples republic. Whilst the people are religious, the government in Iran, controlled by the clerics, is an authoritarian government thinly cloaked under the veil of Islam. The place is a police state – where military check-points between cities are frequent and security is tight. I went to visit a friend at a university, and was angrily denied entry. Although I later befriended the guards, the fear of my presence was amazing. (Although there apparently were some British students that broke into a university and created a fuss recently…it also didn’t help that I was in Kashan, which has a nuclear reactor neaby and the local authorities and population had been forbidden to admit it existed until it was found two years ago by international inspectors.) Being shown around the city of Tehran on my final night, with a guy who is an registered tourist operator – we were denied access to see the other side of the new Foreign Ministry building – a historic building (I thought it was fair enough, but he doesn’t understand why). Security is tight in the country, enforced by no fewer than three levels of enforcement.

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You don’t mess around in Iran.

As well as the police and the military, there are also the Revolutionary Guards, known as Sepah – a parallel secretive military outfit to the actual military, albeit with a different function. Sepah is the personal police unit of the authoritarian clerics ruling the country. They are the people that ensure there is no threat to the establishment. Apparently, you can do anything in Iran now, just as long as it does not threaten the establishment – that is why satellite TV is not a problem (as in it is technocally illegal, but not enforced), but journalism on the Internet in the form of blogs (like this) are heavily monitored. The abuse of power is disgusting: an example was with a friend, we saw about 40 men gathered around having a dispute. Apparently, these men wanted to build a Mosque in their local community. Right next to the proposed site, was Sepah’s local barracks – Sepah was not letting them. The barracks were huge as it was, and this patch of land was useless for military purposes. My friend told me that he believes Sepah was denying the request so that they could have a basketball court. Is this what an Islamic Republic is about? The themes of Orwell’s Animal Farm resonate strongly, the only difference is that the communist party is replaced by Islamic clerics.

Alcohol

Alcohol is not legal (although plenty of people do drink). Heroin is also very popular.

During the Iran-Iraq war – a war that has had a huge impact on the society – a friend tells me fifty percent of the budget was allocated to the military. Whilst the war has ended, I would not be surprised if the figure is higher than most countries during peace time in terms of military spending. It is interesting to see how the state can control the population, through the military, and this is how it was explained to me: A guy I met reckons 70% of the men pre-military service want change, as in another revolution. Another guy I met reckons the figure is 90% of the entire population, and a third person says 80%. Whatever the figure, I think you get the idea – people want another revolution. The thing is though, men can only get their passport after they have completed two years of military service. I was told though that whilst 70% want change, when they do their military service, that figure drops to 30%. Following military service, parents force their sons to get married. Actually, people want to get married because sex before marriage is a criminal act – and all the men I met claim how much it drives them crazy.

But when you have a family to support, revolutionary feelings die down. You just don’t care so much about the oppression, in so much as the welfare of your family. With apparently five million people working for the government (figure unverified), these people also don’t want to stir the pot, because finding a job is hard in the country, due to the weak economy. I short – everyone detests the government, personified by Sepah. But people can’t do anything about it. I find it ironic, that a half dozen separate people told me that they and everyone they know, believe and think the days when the Shah was in power were happier times. I met so many intelligent Iranian’s, both students and academics, who knew the visa regulations of all the countries in the West: Canada, Australia, USA and England. For those that can leave, they are voting with their feet -and figures run into millions of Iranians overseas.

Mosque

Iranians sure know how to build a shrine. Pictures will never do the mosques I saw any justice.

On two separate occasions, from two completely different groups of people, I was told that they believe Iran is a colony of England. The first time I heard this I was shocked – the second time stunned. A joke I heard, was how an Iranian made car, had it parts made in England, and was assembled in Iran, whilst the clerics have the parts made in Iran, whilst being assembled in England. Historically England has used the clerics in the country as a means of controlling the country, and that apparently is a fact, according to a friend who had done a lot of reading of history. A commonly held belief is that the US and English wanted the clerics to control the country (ie, supported the revolution), because with its natural wealth, it had the potential to be a world superpower – but by oppressing the population, the West controls the resources without an overly ambitious Shah challenging their power, which is what it was becoming to look like in the 1970s. Iranians feel betrayed by their government – what other explanation could there be why Iran is not living up to its full potential? I was told 60 per cent of the worlds oil supply has to pass through Iran in the south. (And looking into it, I think he was referring to the Strait of Hormuz, whereby 90% of the regions oil transits, which equates to 60% of the worlds seabourne oil, and an amazing 40% of the worlds total oil.). And it’s not just oil, it’s gas as well.

Esfahan

Esfahan is a relaxed city, and one of the most beautiful ones I have ever visited.

Iran accounts for ten percent of the worlds oil, as well as a large amount of natural gas – the energy of the future. However those are the figures of today; there are also the figures of tomorrow. The Caspian Basin, to the North of Iran, apparently holds 200 billion barrels of oil – second in size to Saudi Arabia – with the potential to increase global oil output by 25 per cent. And of the three proposed routes, Iran is the cheapest, and shortest. Iran is one of the most important countries for oil (and gas, they are second only to Russia) in the world – for actual oil, and its positioning for transport – both now and increasingly for the future. In the light of those facts, I think I understand what the Iranians mean.

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The Internet is censored. Search engine results of “hot sex porn”, “Salman Rushdie” and “How-do-I-get-out-of-this-bloody-country” were randomly blocked

The country receives five billion dollars of foreign investment a year – Iranian officials believe they need double that amount to have the country develop fully. But I wonder how much of that figure goes to the energy sector. Not only does the country need a hell of a lot more money, but it needs it to help invest in civilian industries, not just energy which benefits the regime. There are sanctions on the country, and it is the ordinary people that are hurt by them – not the ruling dictatorship.

People want a revolution. But will there ever be one? People, on the whole (as I am told by everyone), hope so. But it looks unlikely. Hope is in the actual democratic aspect of the government, whereby reformist representatives are battling an uphill fight. However with the recent election of the hard-line Mayor of Tehran as President, this will be a huge set back to the reforms by the previous President. More cynically, as I was told by one person, is that it won’t make any difference: whenever someone gets elected, they shave their beards (symbol of the establishment) and claim to change and improve things, when in reality they are just as bad as the previous people.

Blue Bridge

Iranians sure know how to use lighting to enhance their structures at night. Esfahan has a selection of bridges that look magnificent at night.

I really feel sorry for the Iranians. The world, due to the mass media, has got a completely wrong perception about the country – although a little rough around the edges, it is a safe and developed (but poor) country. The people are being oppressed by a power-hungry regime, that has interpreted the Koran to suit them (apparently, there is nothing in the Holy Book requiring women to cover their heads – all women have to wear headscarf’s, and not doing so is against Iranian law – although faces are allowed to be shown). The economy is crippled by the power games being played by their government, where the ordinary people pay for any hardship imposed by the international community, but the regime receive any benefits – especially in the wealth generated by the energy sector. (For example, if an Iranian finds oil on their property, the government owns it, giving nothing to the Iranian.)

Artist

One of many artists, who painstakingly hand-paint their creations, with small brush strokes

An interesting thing I noticed about the Iranian economy, is how it is growing. Whilst China, for example, is getting foreign investment to grow, Iran (like India) is growing internally – which in the long term, is a lot more powerful. The Iranians are developing industries, from automobiles to airplanes as well as tourism (arrivals by March 2006 will see 25% more tourists, according to officials). They are, for example, creating energy trading markets to compete with the US controlled exchanges in Europe – actions which give it global influence. The recent decision to value its oil in Euros, not only will change the dynamics of global oil but also global economics, by weakening the might of the US dollar. However, there still needs to be a lot of work to be done: the airline manufacturer complained in a newspaper report how Iranian airlines don’t want to use their planes, citing credibility and reputation with going with Airbus. However, when explaining why they should use the Iranian-made planes, the manager says that although the plane holds less passengers, and takes longer to fly – they state the benefit that “it takes seven minutes less time to load the plane” as a good reason to buy the plane. For some reason, I think there is another reason why the airlines don’t want the Iran-made planes (they suck). But I think it is still impressive, that there are even attempts to develop industries like this, which are dominated by the Americans, Europeans and Russians. If Iran grows its economy to the levels of the developed world, one thing we can be sure of is that it will be puling its own strings – and possibly of other countries as well.

Carpet

Carpet makers in Firuz. This carpet is three by six metres, and will sell to a carpet shop for 900 Euros. This is the final week of the three month project. How do they know when to put what coloured string to create the impressive design? It’s done by memory of an image, apparently.

How to overthrow the government
In Iran, it costs ten 800 Rial for a litre – that’s about ten US cents. In Australia, we pay at least 100 cents for one litre. Despite the fact that the cost-of-living is very low (a pricey meal for three in a classy hotel restaurant costs $15), even the Iranians admit that the price for petrol is dirt cheap. With petrol prices increasing, something needs to be done. I am really keen on buying a V8 sports car, which consumes a lot of petrol. And so in a bid to ensure I get cheaper petrol, I advocate we invade the country and open up the oil there, so that I can afford to run my car. I don’t really care who gets the honour – heck, I’ll even help the French have this one – but something needs to be done for my energy needs. And so, I present to you, my plan on making sure I get cheaper petrol.

It is simple, and it doesn’t require any invasions. Complicated diplomacy is unnecessary. And best of all, it’s guaranteed to work because it is based on history. The answer, my friends is tax.

The Persian wars started because of high taxation. The French revolution, started because of tax. American revolution? Tax. That’s right, it is all about tax, and there are plenty more examples. So for the next Iranian revolution, we need to make the clerics tax the bullshit out of the average Iranian – afterall, it was a rotten economy that ruined the Shah. The people will revolt, and I will get cheaper, western-controlled petrol.

So how do we do such a thing? Again, very simple. We need to make ordinary Iranians rich, and the government broke. Because when you are rich, you have wealth. And when you have wealth, you want to keep that wealth. Any attempts to tax it or take it away, is going to piss the Iranians off. Especially when it is going to fund something you don’t agree with.

Shiraz bazaar

Standard issue bazzar shot

How do you make the government broke? Through war. Iran is part of the unrecognised Kurdish region. If the Kurds in Iraq breakway to form a Kurdish country, and take a bit of Turkish Kurdishtan, they will also go for the rather large bit in Western Iran. Iran has a better-then-you-think military, so best not to get the overstretched Americans involved with this one. Europe will support the war, because a Kurdish country will weaken Turkey – making it less of a big, poor Muslim nation entering the EU. A smaller population will make the Turkish admission more bearable and less threatning. The Russians will also support the war privately because Iran is enegry competition. But also it will push up orders for Russia’s defence industry, as Russia and China supply Iranian military needs (funny how dictatorships around the world, no matter the ideology, can find friendship).

There is nothing like a good old border war to send the government broke, pressuring the governemnt to raise taxes to fund its activities. There is a 10% Sunni minority that are also a little pissed off – for example, they can’t hold government positions or even become university professors. A Kurdish war, and an internal war will do wonders. And what about those islands in the south that are disputed territory with the Gulf States? Back to history, empires always end when they can’t control their borders, and haven’t got the means to defend them (for lack of cash). Let’s get the boys in Bahrain and the UAE to stir the pot down south.

Now the harder bit, how do we make Iranians rich? Afterall, you can’t tax the poor.

Drop the sanctions – they are making the Iranians poor, and are not affecting the regime. Develop tourism, because it is a industry with huge potential, and will enrichen the people, not the regime. Tourism will also help what the US-government controlled Internet and world wide web will do: inject foreign influence. A B-Grade movie I saw on a bus, which was a prison version of fightclub, actually came from America. Although it was poorly dubbed in Farsi, there is one thing the propaganda office can’t control outside snipping sex scenes: the images themselves.

When an Iranian girl sees a western movie, with western women in their new fashions – or the women visiting the country – do you think it doesn’t have an impact? There already is a revolution in Iran – socially. Whilst the men don’t grow beards if they don’t support the regime, and sport short-sleeve shirts which were previously frowned on, women are being a lot more daring with their fashion. When the revolution first happened, all women were covered head-to-toe is this black garmet with only their faces showing – called the Chador. However not any more. Whilst that outfit is still popular, a good fifty percent of women are quietly non-conforming – and this isn’t restricted to any age either. I saw women wearing pink coats, that although fulfilled the modesty requirements, I can tell you now it was a very creative interpretation of the requirements. A modest fringle is allowed with the headscarf – however the definition of modest seems to mean half the head with most Iranian women! Sometimes the women were being so “extremist” I almost felt obliged to say something!

Social revolution

Times are changing. Whilst mosques and universities mandate women to cover up a bit (this girl is most likely on the way to uni, as her dressing is inconsistent), most when they can, shake off the bland black and satisfy the law with the absolute minimum. And it’s not just in fashion: vanity is also on the rise. The amount of women I saw who had just had a nose-job was ridiculous.

So there we go. For cheap oil and gas, the stage is set. People want a revolution – they just need some help. Whenever someone criticises the regime, they are pulled down for being “Anti-Islamic”. People need an excuse to revolt – high taxation is the answer. The current international policy of isolation suits the Mullahs, because it keeps the people poor and dependent. Let change it to suit the people – visit Iran as a tourist and encourage the revolution.

Hope

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