Monday, August 06, 2007

One step forward, five steps back

A post from Kamran:

He was sitting in front of me telling me how relaxed I look. "Last time I saw you, you were so worried", he said.

This friend of mine normally would never listen to news from Iran, but he told me, "Every time I heard news about Iran, I would just stop doing whatever I was doing and would yell Sshh, Sshh to my wife so I could hear the news". He also could not imagine that I would take Tori to Iran. Taking an American-Jew to Iran is something. "BEN JE GEK"? which means ARE YOU CRAZY?

He had hundreds of questions about living in Iran, which I could not answer in the short early Friday afternoon lunch appointment. His most amazing comment was still in my head even after couple of days. He said, "It sounds to me that Iran is taking one step forward and 5 steps backwards".

When I left to get some fresh fish for Sushi on my wobbly bike I was still looking for a response to his comment.

I am amazed at how much Iran has progressed in the last 28 years. Iranians who visit Iran for first time after the revolution of 1979 are shocked by how Iran is at least visually changed. They all know if we had a democratic government where the people could use all of resources that Iran has to enjoy, we would have a wonderful and modern society.

For me the most important reason that I can imagine at this point to explain why Iran is taking one step forward and 5 back is that Iran almost never ever had a democratic movement/government/ or institutions.

In the history of Iran you can always find people who think they know better what is best for the rest of Iranians. We have been always been looking for leaders who will fix our nation's problems and not developing institutions that could be the center of change and developments.

During my sushi dinner with the son of my best Dutch friend who came to Iran as a boy when he was 16 and left Iran as a man after 3 months of staying there, we both agreed that Iranians who live in Iran are amazing and we could not believe how they can survive there.

My young friend’s rite of passage to manhood is an interesting story: on the afternoon of his last night in Iran, we went to many shops to get him an 80gb hard drive for his computer back home. It was a cold winter day 2 years ago, we both were in good moods. He was ready to leave Iran. He told me that the first thing he would do would be to have a beer and drink it in public.

That night we had a good dinner and after watching a couple of hours of movies I took him to the airport and waited until he got his boarding pass. When I returned to home, Tori took the telephone out of the wall since the next day was a holiday, and we went to bed thinking, Oh man we are so happy he had a good time and that he left safe.

Two hours later he came back and looked awful, it turned out that he had a visa for only one month that he could use within 3 months, instead of a visa for 3 months that he could use within one month. It was very clear, but almost everybody who looked at his passport missed it. So we had to go to court. He wanted to get out ASAP. He had had a bad night. Looking at the video interview I made of him minutes after he came back in the house, I can only see how desperate he was to get f**k out of Iran.

Next morning after visiting two different government offices in two different sides of the city and seeing 17 different people (because I decided not to give any money to get the work done) we finally landed in the court room right before offices were closed.

After explaining everything to the weird looking massive judge, Kian (Persian name that he chose for him self in Iran) got permission to leave Iran within two days.

During all this time Kian was asking me so many times what was going on. Since I paid no money, I had to walk 4 floors more than 20 times and the only time I could keep Kian quiet was when he asked me "What is the judge saying?" and I told him that he is saying that you have to go to the army and serve 2 years. After he come down from being so panicked, he asked me, "How can you guys stay here"?

"This is a mad house". Kian told me.

Kian became a man in that one day. His parents were surprised to see how much he was changed in 3 months. So Iranians are supermen.

Last night after having lovely sushi and couple of beers with Kian, he agreed that we Iranians should have better lives in Iran.

I also found out that Kian's family (still very good friends of mine) see that video I took the night of his ill-fated visa snafu very often. Kian is still very angry with me because I could not stop laughing during that interview with him.

That day in Tehran I became 10 years older. Everybody I knew was surprised that I could get all of that paperwork done in one day. I could never forget Erna, Kian's mother, telling me “Don't worry, this is good for him”.

For the past 4 years I had always many different plans for when things would get nasty. Since everybody could also think of my plan A, I had to have plan B, plan C, and finally plan D.

Not having all those plans and not living in Iran, I would say my friend was right. I am relaxed, I am happy; I am free, but I am still looking for answers to my friend’s questions, particularly, why Iran takes one step forward and 5 back? Any ideas?


Marie said...

I had to smile reading about your friend's experiences, as it brought back memories.

I do think that a country that has been primarily feudal does not easily make the leap into democracy. European style democracy did not emerge until the feudal order had evolved into capitalism. With the emergence of a strong and educated bourgeoise, democratic idealogy emerged.

I often wonder how Iran would have evolved if Mossadegh and his government had been left to govern as they had been elected.

Anonymous said...

Both Tehran and Baghdad will become world centers of culture and commerce. But when this will happen, God only knows. However if you have had any discussions about time references in any of the Holy Books regarding this part of the world, you realize that a day is not a day, and a year is not a year. So, we shouldn't be too concerned about the when.

As to how this will happen, again God only knows. This mulla institution will probably have to collapse, and I would guess that won't occur any time soon because of a few obvious factors. However given that it will happen, is encouraging. I would guess that the US would have to be out of Iraq for even small cracks to appear obvious.

Who will be a major factor? I am going to guess that it will be the women in the society that become responsible for a shift in power and a collapse of the mulla institutions (is this the same as a collapse of Islam, in the traditional sense, yes, probably so.) You can read many sociological research studies of developing countries, on the discovery of "women power". But actually this was predicted in the 19th century, so I am adding nothing new, only saying that the Western academics are now supporting with scientific verification of a general prophesy made about 140 years ago.

Why should this evolution take place? well, you have already mentioned the median age of the Iranian population, This has to be a factor. The humanitarian ideas and the economic incentives, and the materialistic forces are impossible to withstand the way the noble mullas are trying to withstand it, despite US political cooperation ;-) However I am not so interested in these forces, I regard them as the tail of the dog, not the dog itself (forgive me for using the dog as my reference animal, I am American, and I really dislike cat owners) The basic driving force is as it has always been, spiritual.
regards from Japan,
Edo River

Azadeh said...

I don't think if your Dutch friend had been in a position to complain about that situation. Does he have any information what happens to foreigners in his own country if they make such an innocent mistake? Obviously someone from outside EU and North America.
If Iran had been an organized country like Holland or as he said not a "mad house", he should have ended up in either a refugee camp or a prison.

Tori said...

Azadeh, That's not true. Had he overstayed his visa in the US or Holland, he would have been sent out on the first flight out of the country. They would have entered that info into a database, and it would have been incredibly difficult for him to get a visa to either of those countries again.

That does not mean that other countries don't have their insane bureaucracies... they do. Holland is no exception, believe me. Commenting that one country's system is a "mad house" does not mean that another's is not.

Anonymous said...


I am afraid you are being too optimistic. Until a US Supreme Court ruling in 2001, deportable aliens who could, for various reasons (e.g., lack of diplomatic relations or direct flights) not be easily deported, were held INDEFINITELY by the US government. Thousands were victims of this madness. The court ruled that in such cases, the aliens could be held for "only" six months.

Related article:


Tori said...

GM, I am not talking about someone trying to immigrate to either country, I am talking about someone overstaying a tourist visa.

On the other hand, the supreme court ruling is a nightmare for so many. Look at this horror story of our system gone wild:

K said...

I need to add couple of things. it is not about overstaying too long in a country and consequence for doing that. Couple of times my family stay too long in the Netherlands. I did not have to go to court. I am sure if my 16 year old nephew overstay his visa here in the Netherlands, he could not pay to get his way out. it is a mad house because there is no law. and whit paying some money we could fix get it done most faster. I worked and lived here for more than 20 years in west, never had to pay to get something done. Nobody has ever ask me to pay to get things done will never pay to get my thing done. That is the point.

Anonymous said...


To clarify, before 2001, someone from, say, Iran overstaying a tourist visa could have been held indefinitely. Now it is "only" six months.


Marie said...

Iran has a deep rooted tradition of the 'charismatic leader'. Is it possible that when a people give their power to a singular, charismatic leader, they divest themselves of the power to move forward as a nation? When the charismatic leader no longer exists, a police state is required to continue its legacy of power. When people feel oppressed, do they look for another leader to save them and show the way forward?

Through a sizeable, educated and inventive middle class a nation move toward democracy and self governance. Otherwise, movement has a way of collapsing back upon itself.

Perhaps Iran with all its tribes could find inspiration in Hioawatha and the 5 nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.