Returning to Iran after three years of absence, our Correspondent finds a vibrant society that is building itself through its own effort from the ground up. Far from stymieing its growth, US sanctions have helped spur development.
Against the corporate media, Surah al-Naas (114) is the answer! Being absent from any place for a long period of time naturally creates certain images and questions in a person’s mind. This phenomenon is ten times more intense when the place is under constant 24/7 media demonization as it is the only Islamic state today. No, not the takfiri “state” facilitated by Saudi ideologues at Washington’s behest; it is the state system that came into existence after Imam Khomeini led the Iranian people in overthrowing the unelected US installed brutal monarchy. It is the Islamic Republic of Iran.
As the plane was coming in to land at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport, and my mind was busy figuring out mundane tourist chores, I was also catching myself in brief moments of BBC and Washington Post-beamed whispers about the “dire” situation in Iran. Apart from realizing the power of the corporate media, I immediately understood that the first thing I had to do was to recite Surah al-Naas (114) of the noble Qur’an that warns against whispering conjurers that plant doubts in one’s mind.
Immediately after getting through passport control, my first thought was, “this place is reasonable.” Unlike the GCC passport control’s “security” questions about the number of children and relatives I have, Iranian customs officer asked three logical questions, got honest/logical answers, and then welcomed me to Islamic Iran.
The first thing I noticed was that Imam Khomeini International Airport got another facelift since my last visit three years ago and was a lot busier. Getting a cab to Qum was a straightforward procedure. The view from the top quality Qum-Tehran highway immediately led to the thought, “maybe more countries in the region should ask the US for sanctions.” By now I knew that reciting Surah al-Naas worked, as always. The airport’s surroundings and many parts of the Qum-Tehran highway had significant large scale construction projects underway and the best part was that it was being done by Iranians for Iranians. The cab driver, like most cabbies in the Muslim East, gave a top notch simple overview of the situation in the country, “economically the situation is not great, but it’s not bad either. The government is doing what it can to help the people, but we have big enemies. Alhamdulillah, we did not allow ourselves to be treated like Iraq.”
For centuries Qum has been the center of Islamic learning in Iran. Throughout the reign of the Western-installed unelected monarchy in Iran, the royals on purpose left Qum in a neglected state in order to make Islam seem unappealing to the people. Therefore, in terms of infrastructure, Qum always appeared shabby. I was in for a big surprise this time.
The streets were a lot cleaner, major roads built, monorail in progress and recycling has become a part of daily life. Later as I ventured out of the main area of Qum around Fatimah Masumeh Masjid, I saw newly built vast residential areas in Qum and many new restaurants and shops. At night those newly developed areas made a clear statement: sanctions are not doing what many Western governments wanted. No wonder the Western regimes want them frozen; they are probably in research mode as to how to pressure Islamic Iran through other means.
Another positive phenomenon witnessed in Qum was seeing a large number of Sunni Muslim delegations from various parts of the world. It was clear that Washington’s ISIS project is having the reverse effect. Stuck between the Saudi-Zionist versions of “Islam,” Muslims from all over the world are turning toward the imperfect, but the only working Islamic model of governance present in Iran.
Most Western journalists that report from Iran’s four star hotels using their westoxicated contacts across the coffee table as insightful “sources,” constantly try to push the narrative of how Islam is losing its appeal for the Iranian youth. The second Thursday night proved this to be a myth.
Thursday evening in Iran is like Friday night in the West, the weekend in Iran is Thursday and Friday. On Thursday evenings most Iranians try to venture out of their towns and visit relatives and friends in other cities. On the second Thursday, I did not make it to the congregational ‘Isha Salah at the vast Fatimah Masumeh Masjid, but I got there on time for the recommended Du‘a Kumayl. The vast complex was absolutely full of young people from across Iran reciting Du‘a Kumayl. After 20 minutes I barely found space to sit down and join the congregation. Looking around I rarely noticed people over 40. Enthusiastic Iranian Islamic youths were out in force.
Throughout the trip I tried to pray in as many masjids as I could. Every single time I paid close attention to the youth at congregational prayers; they were the majority.
During inter-city rides I tried to strike up conversations with as many people as I could. From my previous trips to Iran, I knew that Iranians openly criticize their government. This is no Western-controlled GCC or Jordan. This time the more people seemed opposed to some policies of their government the pushier I was with my questions. The more secular a person sounded the more frank my questions got, as I did not want to lose time. When inquiring whether these people practiced obligatory Islamic tenets, people seemed offended and made sure to affirm their dedication to Islam in a way that would leave little doubt in me.
Another positive impression was three basic interactions with Iranian policemen. The friendliest police officers I’d met so far in my life were in Toronto; Iranian police outdid their Torontonian colleagues. Basic inquiries were responded with such sincerity and friendliness, which immediately made me think of what Islamic public servants should be like. Of course just like in other parts of the world, there are probably bad apples among the Iranian police force as well.
The reformist/conservative terminology beamed out by the Western corporate media has little relevance in Iran outside of the capital and a limited circle of people that follow the Western press. In Iran things are much deeper and paradoxically a lot more persona centered than the simplistic reformist/conservative segmentation. This was evident every time people talked about the Guardian Jurist, Imam Seyyed Ali Khamenei. People’s respect, admiration and love for Imam Khamenei in Iran is beyond measure. Western attempts to instigate internal strife in Iran and Imam Khamenei’s approach to this ongoing plot have enabled people to see beyond doubt his prudence and bipartisan role.
Seeing what is happening in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, the people of Iran fully realize that what has kept Iran out of this Washington-instigated mess is their unique system of governance based on the Islamic principle of Velayat-e Faqih. Iranians of all walks of life realize that their state system is conspiracy-proof because of the Velayat-e Faqih, which their enemies do not understand due to their arrogance and spiritual incapacity.
Tehran was bustling, refurbished and multifaceted. Iranians in the capital break some eastern stereotypes right away and it is noticeable from the way people dress. People are dressed in eastern, western, semi-eastern, semi-western, northern, southern, you name it, styles. Yet, everybody seems to respect each other for who they are or try to portray themselves to be. Talking from experience, people in Iran are not easy to figure out. A person might appear very “Western” but in reality he would be very eastern. A staunch Iranian Christian might be the biggest fan of the Islamic Revolution. Iran is a multicultural society, but in its own way — a way that is hard for foreigners to fully grasp, especially a Westerner with orientalist views, who would identify Azeris, Kurds, Persians, Baluchis, Bakhtiyaris and Arabs as the “same.”
The most interesting stroll in Tehran was through various Tehran University campuses. It seems Islamic Iran has a specialized research center for every field, from gastric diseases to world studies.
Unlike the corporate media pundits I will not make a claim that my limited visit allowed me to draw a firm conclusion about what the exact situation in Iran is today. Nevertheless, what I can clearly state is that it is nowhere near as “dire” as the BBC, CNN, Washington Post and other Western soft-power tools claim or project. Malls are mushrooming in Tehran, local production is growing, and people are travelling, buying, studying and working. Apart from this, what is important is that the Islamic system in Iran provides socio-political space for constructive disagreements within the Islamic legal framework. Local press and peoples’ conversations are a clear example of this important phenomenon.
The fact that Islamic Iran withstood decades of illegal sanctions does not only have to do with the Islamic dedication of many Iranian officials, but also with the “unconventional” Islamic mentality. Nothing sums this up better than a minor incident in an “upper-class” fast-food restaurant in Qum.
After entering the restaurant and inquiring about the pricy sandwiches, it was clear from my facial expression that it was over my budget. The restaurant owner immediately noticed this and started directing me to where I could go and have similar sandwiches for a cheaper price. I was shocked. All textbook economics of Adam Smith went down the drain right there. Can someone picture a restaurant manager in London, Toronto, or Paris telling a potential customer where he or she can eat within their budget? What an amazing Islamic business manner; how can John Kerry ever outwit an Iranian working with such a mentality? I am definitely going back to that restaurant next time I am in Qum, the manager’s customer care and manners were phenomenal and he deserves to stay in business. I was in such shock over how his counter-capitalist mentality had pleasantly overcome any stereotyping I was carrying with me, that I forgot to remember the name of that restaurant, but I know its location. If you are ever in Qum go to Zambilabad, Falaka-e Bastani, and it’s the high-class sandwich shop that serves nice looking espressos.
Just like any other place, Iran has problems it needs to solve and some of them it needs to resolve quickly. The Islamic state ruled directly by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) also had poor people, fraudsters, thieves, murderers and so on. That is why the Prophet (pbuh) was sent to his locality, to set in motion a system that would solve these types of issues. When it comes to Islamic Iran, there is over-reporting and extreme exaggeration of negatives by the corporate media. Anyone who wants to know the negatives of Islamic Iran should travel there and see the positives and the negatives, so I will not be doing imperialism a favor by starting to list the negatives.
It is important to know that what a foreigner considers negative, an Iranian would not. A German traveling to the US might be disgusted by the amount of guns people own, but for a US citizen it is his/her natural and historic right. What is important is that Iranians are figuring things out on their own and they have proved capable of giving imperialists a bloody nose when they dared to impose their “solutions” on Iran. So let them figure it out on their own; that’s all they want.
You probably noticed by now that the author’s name is absent from this article. Why? Well, I work in a Western institution; not writing negatively about Iran could be the end to one’s career through subtle methods. I might not go to prison like in the GCC, but the management might start paying attention to the fact that my lunch breaks are often 20 to 30 seconds longer than they are supposed to be. Now go figure.
So much for freedom of thought in the West!