These days I received an email from Amir Massoumi (see pict below), a human rights activist based in Montreal, who was traveling with us on our “Peace Pilgrimage to Syria” a few weeks ago. He is Iranian … he has fled his country in 1984 and came back only once so far … I’ve learnt a lot from him about Iran, the Shah and Khomeini’s return during our travels. Here is what he has shared with us:
Amir with Maired Macguire at the Tehran Peace Museum
“I was greatly surprised by the unexpected positives changes that I saw in my country. I was amazed by the inspiring youth and all that energy and dynamism. This makes me believe that the great Revolution of our generation and its aims: ‘’independence, freedom and human dignity’’, are not dead. It proves that the Revolution is still alive and running, despite of all the attempts to divert it from its path and objectives, after all these repressions, betrayed hopes, sacrifices and destroyed lives, despite of all violence and crimes committed against it and against the Iranian people by the illegitimate clerical establishment and its archaic ideology who took power aftermath of the initial and primary victories against the monarchic regime …. I’m so proud!
This has been said, the issues of the respect of the human dignity and rights in general, women rights and minorities in particular, social justice, equality and freedom are still remaining central and dramatic in this country. The generations of millions of men, women, especially youths, have paid heavily by their lives for a minimum respect for their dignity and freedom, and the sacrifice goes on…. As I said before to you, in this country, apparently ‘’the freedom of expression and choices exist’’, but the freedom of ‘’after’’ expression and choices, no! This is not a funny rhetoric. It’s an unbearable reality of everyday life! We must live in this country, as millions do and for a while, under this suffocating atmosphere, to understand this. To feel it!
This schizophrenic duality, this institutionalized hypocrisy of Iranian regime; generally very progressive in foreign policies but very repressive, reactionary, autocratic and violent in its internal practices, with unimaginable inhuman and paternalistic contempt toward its own people, must stop! They can’t continually pretend to be part of the ‘’axis of resistance’’ again imperialism and Zionism but doing the same things, acting with the same ‘’logic’’ toward their own people. Exactly on the same way that their ‘’opponents’’ in opposite ‘’axis’’ are dong to other peoples and nations.
At the same time, we must remain vigilant. In the ‘’real world’’, the human rights issue is highly instrumentalized, particularly by the must criminals of this world. As you know better than me, the ‘’human rights’’ is now becoming the instrument of war, justification for aggression. And we know that Iran is in sight, since longtime ego. Therefore, while we are working for peace and pushing for resolution, by peaceful and diplomatic means, of all differences between Iran and other countries, while we are opposing strongly to any aggression and military intervention against Iran and Iranian people, we must support, at the same time, the Iranian people’s aspirations, resistance and struggle for their rights, for a free and better life, for a better future.”
I myself experienced Iran again “en passant”.
It was my 7th visit.
First time all on my own – at least for the first days.
And my feelings, impressions and experiences were not always in line with Amir’s words.
Mountains north of Tehran, just a 20 minute drive from the center of the city
I crossed the border into Iran at Taftan/Zehedan, leaving behind the wilderness and beauty of Balochistan, Pakistan. The border of which the German Consul in Frankfurt told me: “I am not sure if this border is under government control!” I wrote him in an e-mail later, that it isn’t.
I was still in Balochistan, the Iranian part of it.
Spending the last (cash) money I had, I bought a bus ticket and went straight to Mashad, Iran’s holiest (the eighth Imam of Shia Muslims – Iman Reza – was martyred here and so his shrine was placed there) and the second largest city of the country (2.8 million).
I arrived at one of Mashad’s so clean and opulent hotels – build for the Arab pilgrims coming from Saudi Arabia, Kuweit, Bahrain … and for Iranians who live abroad in exile. I probably looked a bit “inappropriate” after having spent 4 days with the Balouch tribals in their villages and traveling with them to the Iranian border. When I told them at the reception that I didn’t had have any cash on me and that I need to figure out how to receive some, I doubted that they would ever check me in. But they did! Unheard of in the West.
Because Iran is banned from the international finance circus you can’t get any money with your credit card and you can’t pay with it. So carrying cash around is your only option. And my cash was gone. I ran out of it because I got stuck for more than a week in Quetta, capital of Balochistan Pakistan. The only place where you could stay was the very nice Serena Hotel – but it had its price. And none of Quetta ATM machines was working … So here I was. Cash-less. But the very friendly and open-minded staff trusted me.
After a long refreshing shower I went online to connect with my future host in Tehran. I was surprised by the speed of the internet – and I was surprised how quickly the Iranian government could track my VPN and shut it down (I wasn’t using TOR). So I played the cat and mouse game … And I was enjoying it. Most of the VPNs are blocked for download in Iran … Much worse than in Pakistan, where only Youtube and a few other sides are blocked, but VPNs are available. But nevertheless all young Iranians are connected via SKYPE, Twitter and Facebook … So I found Roohulla, my host, on SKYPE and told him my situation … He laughed and said that in the afternoon a friend of his would come by and pay my hotel bill and provide me with some cash. I’ve never met him before, we’ve only SKYPED so far … but there he was willing to borrow me 350 USD. Unusual I thought. For the second time. In the afternoon his friend came by, we’ve had a cup of tea and everything was set. Networking at its best. Lucky me.
After a long sleep and another shower I went off to explore Iman Reza’s shrine, Iran’s holliest place.
Inside the shrine
It was a 20 minute walk from the hotel along the Emam Reza St, Mashad’s promenade. Early spring, sunny skies, slightly fresh air and many people in the streets. I was ready to compromise and wear “my” chador – or at least I was trying to wear it – but wearing it properly does take some practice. So walking down the street I was a bit struggling with this long shawl, but I thought I’d managed O.K. But surprise, surprise!
I wasn’t even close to the inner heart of the shrine when an old woman approached me and without saying a word, she put her hands into my face and was trying to tighten my chador and put my hair underneath. I asked her to stop. But she didn’t. Again she tried. Again I said no. The third time I caught her hands and put them down. This should stuck with me during my entire stay. For most of the Iranians it wasn’t enough to show respect and trying to wear the chador as best as one could – no, there was this constant pressure and demand from all sides to wear it right. One-sided respect – I felt. And I didn’t like it.
From Mashad I took an overnight bus to Tehran – packed with young Iranians returning back to the capital after having visited their families back home for the New Year celebrations. I was surrounded by a bunch of young women in the bus, their English was as good as my Persian. Therefore our conversation wasn’t very “fluent”, but it was nonetheless interesting. We managed and we’ve had fun. I found out that all of them were studying. With the permission of their father or their eldest brother they were allowed to do so. It felt very normal for them to ask for permission, I assume they even don’t have the idea NOT to ask. They shared their food and water with me and explained every village/city we were passing by. They were very proud of their country and happy to meet a foreigner.
Two hours before the official program of the Peace Pilgrimage to Syria started, I arrived at the hotel and met with all the other participants. 4200 km all the way from Delhi land over! What a trip so far!
Before I continue with my travel report, let me add some remarks to Amir’s observations. Yes, it is true that among the Iranian youth there is a good spirit … just like we can see in Europe, the US and other parts of the world. The internet has brought the world together and there are many common causes – especially among the young people. No matter if social media tools are blocked or not. They share it with their own unique spirit and the Web, including mobile, brings it all beautifully together – using its own dynamics. The emerging patterns we see embrace values such as participation, transparency, openness, equality, integrity, (social) responsibility and reputation. In the different countries they may come with a different interpretation and understanding … but the overall direction is the same. This is what makes governments and political leaders so nervous.
I didn’t had the feeling that the majority of the Iranian youth feels deeply suppressed by their government or their religious leaders. They might want to have some things differently, but I’ve had the feeling they know their time will come. Having had the green revolution a few years ago and having learnt from the lost “Arab Spring” – the Iranian youth is just about to figure out their way for “human rights” and a separation of politics and government. They have a playground and they are stretching the boundaries. The winds of change have arrived and the Iranian government is slowly moving. Multiple disruption is evident. The Iranian youth is intelligent, they do have money to a certain extend – and they clearly see and understand the failure of the West. And going along with it their chances. They are proud. They are connected and they know about their situation. They won’t start another revolution. No.
“Our” Iranian delegation at Damascus University
What I wish to see and this is what I’ve heard from the young people I’ve spoken to, is that Iran uses its intelligentsia wisely – just like Khamenei did when he gave “power” to Rouhani, who wasn’t his most preferred candidate. Iran should use its current (international) up winds – they should (and I think they will) encourage their youth and find a peaceful balance. They should not dominate their local allies. They should protect and help Syria WITHOUT asking “What is in it for me?”. They should proudly negotiate with the West but should NOT fall under western influence. They should extend their English news channel Press TV and cherish freedom of press and speech. They should rather establish tight strings to BRICS than to the Atlanticists. They should strengthen their own Iranian way. They should foster (worldwide) pluralism which is so desperately needed and become another “counterpart” in the most positive way to the US.
And I see the Iranian chances are good. The West needs Iran – just think about Afghanistan, Pakistan, Irak … And the Iranian understand this much better than any Westerner does the other way round.
Remarks – after I received Amir’s comment (see below): If what we see today in Iran are the “effects” of the 1979 Revolution – as Amir has written – then wonderful! I cannot judge this … Until I first traveled to Iran seven years ago I only knew that in 1979 the Shah had fled the country and Khomenei returned and brought back Shia Islam … I have and I still have little knowledge about Iran’s youngest history. But what AMit is saying would proof once again that change can’t happen over night, it takes generations.
No wonder Amir was smiling all day long during our trip;-)
And to see the change happening in a peaceful way – even if it might take longer – is even better! We don’t know yet how long it will take to see peace again in Aghanistan, Irak, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Syria … All countries where the West interfered and still is interfering – and which are rather in a state of decomposition than in boom conditions.