October 13, 2000
American authority on Iran
Tonight, as I was driving home from my office -- which is only six blocks
away (yes I am living the Los Angeles life), my ears perked up when I heard
"Iran" on National Public Radio. I raised the volume and listened
intently. The woman being interviewed was Elaine Sciolino an American journalist
who has covered Iran for over two decades ["The
twelve rules"]. She was on the Air France jet with Khomeini and
has visited Iran many times to cover the news for the New York Times
and Newsweek. You may remember that she was interviewed on the
Peter Jennings program "The Century" (she's a brunette in her
50's). She has often been referred to as the reporter who knows the most
about Iran and Iranian culture. She is an American authority on Iran, if
She has just released her second book "Persian
Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran". What I love about her is that
she does not go the route (at least in her interview and the parts of the
book I have read) of most Western journalists. Most pieces about Iran I
have read often include the obligatory "After work people come home
and drink whiskey, listen to Madonna, and watch Sharon Stone films."
While this is true for a certain part of Iranians, this lifestyle is only
available to the affluent.
The wealthy have their TVs, whiskey, and CD players. The only people
journalists ever interview are the rich. Because the rich are the ones
connected with the artistic community and the media. Those are the only
people journalist's encounter, so they're invited over and that image is
presented for Western consumption. They almost always ignore the poor and
religious people. They always ignore the "middle class" those
people who work in offices and have normal apartments -- those who home
every day to their children, and eat their food and go to bed. And spend
their weekends in the parks.
What I don't understand is why it is such a shock that certain people
enjoy alcohol, pork and Western films behind closed doors. Beating ones'
spouse is illegal in the U.S., if one were to do it in public they would
most likely be arrested for assault. But would it shock anyone to hear
"Behind closed doors in America men hit their wives"? Now I know
that, that isn't the best example and that Iran has this image in most
Western eyes of being a terroristic state, and that anything contrary to
that image is heralded as an amazing feat. But to not include all those
religious and truly hardworking people is a spit in the face for all they
have worked for and all they have sacrificed.
So it came as a huge surprise to me to hear this woman discussing how
she became close to religious women in Iran and frequently enjoyed dinner
invitations from the so-called middle class. She also mentioned that the
Salman Rushdie situation was not a big deal in Iran. That perhaps the Ayatollah
passed down a fatwa but it did not affect the day-to-day life of
the general population in any way. And neither the book nor the fatwa
was not a big deal to them. She also made the remark that contrary to the
myth, not all Iranian women wear the chador. That, in fact, most
of them wear the manteaux and roosaree.
She came across as a very accomplished journalist and a very intelligent
woman. I was leafing through the book at the Borders bookstore and her
prologue starts off very well. There are two questions people ask her when
she tells them what she does for a living. Isn't it dangerous? Don't you
have to wear a black veil? The answers she gives are no and no. She said
that she actually feels safer in Iran than in the U.S.
I hope you all have the opportunity to read this book and I look forward
to hear your comments. The one thing I must caution is that sometimes journalists
and authors may write or say something that you believe is contrary to
your observations and beliefs. Don't get angry and discount the validity
of the book or report, often people only see certain things and can' get
everyone's viewpoint. And all reports and books have inaccuracies, no matter
how accomplished the journalist or author is. All cultures are portrayed
negatively or inaccurately at times, it is not exclusive to the Iranians.
In fact I believe we have received a much fairer treatment compared to
other races and ethnicities.
And all media outlets around the world have their problems (oftentimes
people believe the BBC is an example of flawless reporting; it has many
more problems than its American counterpart). We tend to take offense,
of course, to the comments that affect our culture and heritage. And we,
at times, become irrational or belligerent in response.