Sunday, May 27, 2007

Iran... just what you would expect...


Keivan is on the phone with a friend: "The Iranian government needs no excuse to arrest people. They say that the money from foreign governments is bringing activists into danger. But the truth is that they do not need an excuse to close down ngos and arrest activists."

Well... it is a distressing time in Iran. The past few months have been the worst time for me in Iran. It was the first time in our almost four years there that we saw life in Iran the way that people outside the country sometimes imagine it: as repressive and oppressive. The night before we left for vacation we had kebab in a teahouse north of Tehran. When we left, we ran into a huge roadblock manned by fresh-faced religious police who all looked about 16 years old. They stopped every car looking for alcohol and infringements on morality. People we know have been arrested. Others have heard rumors of their own impending arrest. (These people are not even activists!)

A dear friend who is a teacher complained of rumors in the teaching community of a second "cultural revolution." "I survived the first," she told me, "because I am small, and I could hide so well, but many of my friends were executed."

Young people may dismiss these fears and do dismiss them, but for the middle-aged and older, the current patterns of behavior are distressingly reminiscent of more repressive times.

I leave you with this quote from Shaul Bakhash's article about his wife Haleh Esfandiari.

When Haleh was initially prevented from leaving Iran and the interrogations began, it was principally at my insistence that we did not "go public." Repeatedly I was told by those who supposedly understand the inner workings of Iran: "Don't worry; it's only an interrogation; once they have finished with their questions, they will let her go."

Once Haleh was arrested, however, silence was no longer an option. It is preposterous that she is accused of conspiring to overthrow the Iranian government by organizing conferences and encouraging dialogue between Iranians and Americans. The Wilson Center issued a fact sheet; Lee Hamilton, its president and director, held a news conference; and I began to speak openly about Haleh's frightening predicament.


christopher said...

in the u.s., people rarely use the word 'holiday' when travelling. we usually say that we go on 'vacation'. and i don't know the reason why this is. but it seems people are often more motivated to 'vacate' their daily grind for a few days, than they are to go to somewhere special to celebrate and observe as 'holiday' implies.

so on that note, i hope that you had a good holiday. but, i'm sorry to hear that you may not have gotten a vacation as well.

m. p. said...


I am so sorry that the country you love is changing in your own eyes. And yes, it does seem that you are seeing it as Westerners have for some time. (I could say something about a veil lifting...)

Regarding the flurry of arrests of dual nationals by the MOI, I expect it's a tactic to give them a little insurance in preparation for talks with the US -- something to bargain with. Let's hope the regime will be as 'generous' as they were with the British sailors.

What I'm really curious about is how the proud regime of the mullahs can feel so threatened by the open, academic dialogue of someone like Haleh Esfandiari -- especially when former President Khatami, who still holds positions of prestige and authority, has long been pushing a "Dialogue of Civilizations".

The contradictions within the mullahs' leadership do not suggest to this westerner that there is much maturity at the top!

May you and those whom you love be safe and well.

Anonymous said...

If you really saw Iran thru western eyes, you would be aboard the next plane out.
We wish you the best of luck.

Gurpreet said...

nice blog

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry that you arrived to what seems to be a worsening situation at home after vacation. I always like coming back to the same situation, or an improved one. Best wishes!

Anonymous said...

Iranian regime, especially the hardliners who are presently ruling the country, are longing for a war with U.S. U.S. hasn't given them what they want, so they bring the war to people whom they think are U.S. followers. I can only think of one reason for all these misbehaviors, one reason on which the tenet of Islamic Republic depends on: "war is a blessing" for them. They are nothing but a tumor for the region and the world and more than anything for their own people.

Naj said...


did you read Emad-e-din Baaghi's letter, asking Americans to not pledge unspecified funds to Iran, and making their donations as clear as possible?

I think this is a good time for Iranians inside Iran to start resistance again.

I also think a lot of these "changes" reflect the power play between teh rafsanjani camp and the ahmadinejad one.

things will normalize.

Marie said...

I shed tears for my beautiful Iran. And I salute you, ET. Rock on.

City boy said...

You only realised that you are living under a repressive regime when they arrested an Iranian-American intellectual?!!

Esther said...

City Boy, I think that if you read my posts you will understand what I mean.

I would have had to have been a complete idiot not to know that I was living under an oppressive regime. That said, Iran was never as oppressive as it is imagined to be outside of its borders. In all likelihood it is still not. The combined effect of the hejab crackdown, the arrest of bus drivers, teachers, and students, and the arrest of the Iranian-American intellectuals made the image of Iran and the realty of Iran a bit closer. Sad to say....