September 6, 2006

"And then their faces would light up..."

Readers of RJ will not be surprised by this, but it's good to see it again. From a good article in the WaPo on a reporter's trip to Iran. (Buried in the Travel Section of course. It should be on the front page.)

...What took place over the next fortnight astonished me. Everywhere I went -- from the traffic-choked streets of Tehran in the north to the dusty desert town of Yazd in central Iran, to the elegant cultural centers of Isfahan and Shiraz -- I was overwhelmed by the warmth and, dare I say it, pro-Americanism of the people I met.

Ponder the irony of that last statement for a moment. While much of the rest of the world seems to be holding their collective noses at us Americans, in Iran people were literally crossing the road to shake an American's hand and say hello. Who knew?

Initially, when Iranians asked me where I was from, I'd suggest they guess. But this game quickly proved too time-consuming -- no one ever guessed correctly. So instead I would simply mumble "American." And then their faces would light up. For better or worse, Iranians are avid fans of America: its culture, films, food, music, its open, free-wheeling society...

I blogged this in 2003, about American wrestlers being welcomed in Iran. Wresting is a huge sport there.

Iran has an evil government, but is, geopolitically, a natural ally for us. When the day comes we send an ambassador, we should pick a wrestler. If Charlene and I had some extra dough, Iran would be high on our list of places to visit...

...What astonished me the most about Iran were its women. I met and spoke with scores of them from all parts of the country. And everywhere they were wonderful: vivid, bold, articulate in several languages, politically astute and audaciously outward-looking. While some men demurred, the women weren't afraid to voice opinions about anything under the sun.

In fact, women in Iran can work and drive and vote, own property or businesses, run for political office and seek a divorce. The majority of Iran's university graduates are women.

But socially, Iran's women still live under Islamic edicts: They must wear the hijab when leaving the house, and they cannot normally associate with any male who is not their father, brother or son, or shake hands with a man. Despite these restrictions, they manage to remain utterly feminine. They are keen on bright lipsticks, nail polish and eye shadow. And they have a passion for imported handbags and shoes.

It's the women who give me the most hope that this once noble nation will one day return to its tolerant roots. Most of the young people I spoke with insist that change is coming...
Posted by John Weidner at September 6, 2006 8:30 AM
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