The Iranian


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Sehaty Foreign Exchange


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 you will.

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.

Yashar Hedayat


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