|You've come to the wrong place
If U.S. troops landed in the northern half of Tehran
By Jason Rezaian
February 24, 2003
Recently I've been struggling to imagine how the US military might go about effecting
a regime change in Iran. It seems very unlikely that such an attempt would be made,
but given our current administration's strategy in the region, we can't be sure what
irrational efforts will be made in the name of freedom with US tax dollars.
At the core of the Iran problem is a near complete misunderstanding of Iranian society
and politics among American decision makers and some unfortunate opinions about the
United States formed by dejected Iranians.
What I first came to understand in Tehran this summer is that the economic situation
for the average Iranian citizen has become increasingly worse since the formation
of the Islamic Republic nearly a quarter century ago. People are so disenchanted
with their regime and the financial woes caused by years of corruption that the question
most asked of me in the three months I spent there was, "When are the American
commandoes coming to liberate us?"
But the reality is that the circumstances of Iran under the mullahs cannot be compared
to either Taliban Afghanistan or Iraq under Saddam Hussein. While Iran is still accused
of state sponsored repression, censorship and civil rights violations by a variety
of international organizations, no one with any exposure to Iran would claim that
the situation for Women is akin to that of Afghanistan or other neighbors such as
our ally Saudi Arabia. In fact, over the past few weeks, legislation has been passed
permitting to drive public buses and taxis. Furthermore, the Iranian government has
never used weapons of mass destruction, slaughtering large groups of its own people.
On the contrary, Iran is doing everything in its power to promote and improve its
image among the international community and reconnect to former allies and business
partners the world over. Daily reports in Tehran's English language press that initially
seemed to be random acts of diplomacy are actually part of a much grander plan by
President Khatami in his quest to promote a "dialogue among nations." Whether
it is a an import export deal with a struggling Sub Saharan African state or cultural
exchange program with a Northern European one, Iran is trying to emerge from the
self imposed isolation that followed the Islamic Revolution.
So when I ponder a US attack on an ostensibly civilized
nation, I cringe. Perhaps, though, if we were to attack Iran the strike would be
brief. I have a strong feeling that if any troops landed in the northern half of
Tehran, with it's shopping malls and trendy coffee shops, they would turn around
immediately, assuming they'd landed in the wrong place. In essence, Tehran with it's
mountainside setting, throbbing traffic and love of plastic surgery, seems more like
Los Angeles than what it is, the capital of the world's only Islamic theocracy.
The fashionable northern half of Tehran is the domain of the young female. With an
estimated two thirds of Iran's population under the age of thirty, the streets are
alive with color and sound. Eminem was everywhere this summer, bootleg copies of
his tape blaring from car radios throughout Tehran. Just a few years ago even playing
traditional Iranian music at any audible level was a punishable offense, but these
days young traffic cops can be caught bobbing their heads to passing Western rhythms.
But Tehran is a city divided. There is no clear landmark that draws the line between
north and south, but as one descends the city, towards the side of Mt. Damavand,
the realities of "uptown" versus "downtown" become painfully
Southern Tehran is the urban home of Khomeini's revolution.
The massive bazaar, the parliament building and Khomeini Square are the monuments
that define the area. Much of the architecture is drab and it's there, looking upwards
at the mountain that I first felt I was in a mega-polis. The vibrancy of the trendier
northern neighborhoods disappears into the brown air and is replaced by the call
In this section of the city, commerce, as dictated by the clergy-backing bazaaris,
is the focal point of everyday life. Women are rarely seen, because social freedoms
concerning dress codes and inter-gender relations, as compared to northern neighborhoods
simply don't exist.
But increasingly it's the north that dominates this capital's spirit. Until recently
Tehran with its amoeba like sprawl, could easily have been described as an overly
Islamic Phoenix, Arizona. However, as the layers are chipped away Tehran appears
less conservative, or particularly Muslim and gradually more progressive and in many
ways secular, attempting to cultivate a modern Persian character calling on its historical
and cultural roots and perhaps distancing itself from recent monarchial and clerical
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