With love and respect to Iranian women who patiently and graciously tolerate us: their argumentative, politically brilliant husbands!
Consider yourself blessed if you haven’t witnessed Iranian men argue politics at a gathering such as your six-year-old son’s birthday party, your daughter’s wedding, or your grandma’s funeral. We Persian men, at least most of us (and yours truly included), do not need differing point of views to disagree; all we need is a political topic to spark a debate. To us, arguing politics is a national pastime, an obsession, and a symbol of our masculinity. To the women who watch us with horror-stricken eyes and slack jaws, our testosterone-imbued mulishness is a viral flu so contagious that an epidemic breaks out the moment we gather in an assembly.
We enter the debate arena like a gladiator and with the aim of proving our superiority by belittling, vilifying, and annihilating our unworthy opponent so that on the way home we can brag to our mortified wives (girlfriends or partners) about our own intelligence while decrying the worthlessness of those disagreeing with us—basically everyone else. We resort to flagrant trickery, which is comparable to kicking an opponent in the groin during an Olympic-style Greco-Roman wrestling match, pulling a Mike Tyson and biting a challenger’s ear off, or trying to shatter the kneecap of a fellow athlete before the Olympic competitions begin. Referencing non-existing sources, fabricating facts, claiming to have read books or articles we haven’t read are just a few of the tools that tilt the scale in our favor.
Iranians are compassionate people; veracity, humility, rectitude, and fairness are values we live by, but not so much during political arguments.
I’m not opposed to healthy dialogue, and admire the handful of males to whom my generalizations do not apply, but I worry for the rest of us who take umbrage with differing political views and see arguments as an exercise in self-glorification. I fear those who grow louder when facing opposition, and become more assertive, more abusive and more intolerant. I grow uncomfortable with people who shout speakers down at public gatherings, and fear those who applaud their actions because it’s their side that’s drowning the other voice.
Democracy cannot be a gift of the Western world imposed on us by forceful means, it’s a way of believing, thinking, acting that needs to be woven into the fabric of our culture, in the way we treat each other, the way we respect and even embrace opposing point of views. Our doggedness in pursuing one-sided arguments makes me wonder if developing democratic values is feasible in a culture in which half of the population, like the regime that rules it,has an egregious need to be right all the time, and aspires, in the course of what should be a friendly exchange of ideas, to a maxim out of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: “A clever fighter is one who not only wins but excels in winning with ease.”
Mahbod Seraji is the author of Rooftops of Tehran.