October 23, 2000
In the eyes of others
Thanks for running the thought-provoking and informative article by
Elaine Sciolino ["The
twelve rules"] and her analysis of Iranian society. Like the overwhelming
majority of Iranians and Iranian-Americans, we are very conscious of how
we appear in the eyes of others because we consider this as a major means
of improving ourselves. In this case improving the cultural ties between
America and Iran.
I consider it my responsibility to encourage and help the very few Americans
like Ms. Sciolino in their noble mission. It should go without saying that
I should not refrain from constructive criticism if that is what it takes
to help her continued service to the cause.
With all due respect to Ms. Sciolino, I believe that what she puts down
as twelve rules of surviving Iran do not only apply to Iran but to every
humans society in the world. I see these as common sociological and cultural
threads that have their toots in human nature. Further, I do not agree
that these are hard and fast rules and written on stones. They could at
best be termed as general guidelines with minor modifications as they apply
to Iran. In order to be objective, I find it best to go over these rules
briefly one by one:
Rule one- "Iranians by habit operate in two worlds." This
is like saying that all other nationalities live in one world! As self-conscious
creatures, human beings always live in more than one world. If we consider
this as two worlds, one world is presentable and the other is not for a
variety of reasons. In fact, in its healthy context living in two worlds
is a means of preserving oneself. As an example a housewife is not happy
to entertain guest unless the house is ready and she is dressed. Neither
is she comfortable for others to taste her cooking until it is ready. We
all do not like to face the outside world unless we are well-groomed. We
may even resort to little lies as defense mechanism to preserve ourselves.
These may all be called a healthy dose of hypocrisy with long-range purpose
of improving our self-image.
On the other hand, some people become pathologic liars and full-fledged
hypocrites that will always pretend to be what they are not and say what
they do not mean in order to exploit others. We have no shortage of such
people in our "modern world" including America. Therefore, it
is not only Iranians who live in two worlds, we all do.
Ms. Sciolino is surprised that she was told in Iran that the best Bijar
carpets are really found in Bijari homes and not at bazzars. I wonder if
she knows about exclusive shops in America that make and market special
products and services that one cannot find at supermarkets. She finds a
great difference between being invited for lunch in two countries in that
in Iran, unlike America people have to be asked more than once before they
accept an invitation. Here in America I have often found Americans asking
me if I mean it when I invite them for coffee or lunch. I find about the
same reluctance and modesty in both countries.
Rule two-"Concealment is part of normal life in Iran." Here
she refers to the way in which Iranians live behind walls as opposed to
American homes with no walls. She emphasizes that concealment makes Iranians
very different from Americans. Here again it is in human nature to guard
their privacy and the only difference is how this privacy is guarded in
Iran and America. The reason most Iranians live behind walls houses was
security and privacy and the fact that a lot of housework was performed
in the yard. In America where walls are less common privacy is provided
by curtains, sometime double, venetian blinds, etc. It is interesting that
higher crime rates are forcing more Americans to put walls or solid fences
around their homes. She refers to trust and the fact that in Iran as in
old Italy people trust their family first and then the outsiders or foreigners.
This trait, too, is very much universal.
Rule three. - "Rules exist to be changed and almost anything can
be negotiated." There is an old British saying that is very much true
about the Western world. That is "Organization of society is like
a cobweb. Only the weaker flies get caught." This means that the unwritten
rule is that whatever you can get away with is legitimate. Almost all revolutions,
including American and French, have been fought to do away with such vigilantism
and rule of jungle and lack of respect for the rule of law, and we know
that some have not been successful for various reasons. Negotiation has
been as old as humanity itself and is not exclusive to Iran. Negotiations,
especially the secret ones, have been the way to do business between people
in the world between individuals, businesses as well as governments. She
mentions that Iranians, like water take the shape of the container they
are in. The fact is that this applies to every people especially common
or majority of the people. Only a handful of people have resisted this
trend and have effected all great changes in every society. God forbid
if this trend continues and forces us to live under one rule.
Rule four-"Being a woman sometimes makes things easier especially
in Iran." She really hits the nail on the head on this one. This is
also very true in most other societies or wherever the women relatively
free. As we know, women have a long way to go to be equal to men even in
Western societies including America where, unlike some developing countries
a woman has never been elected President or vice president nor has she
had equal pay for equal job.
Rule five- "Seeing is not believing [in Iran]." I am glad
Ms. Sciolino approves the condemnation of British George Curzon who in
1892 unjustly characterized Iranians as deceptive. This happened to coincide
with atrocities of the British colonial rule in Africa, Middle East, India
and the Far East after having been defeated by American Revolution. Obviously
Iranians were branded as deceptive because they fought tooth and nails
to resist the official colonial rule.
Rule six-"Being polite is often better than telling the truth [in
Iran]." This trait, too, is one of the most obvious human traits and
not only Iranians. In America the answer to "how are you"is almost
always "just fine" no matter how terrible one feels. Putting
up a false front again is a means of self-preservation and a means of doing
one's share in contributing to cheerfulness of the world. This, at the
most is a white lie and an acceptable level of hypocrisy that often makes
a person recover faster from any ailment. The expression of ‘good
liar" or in Saadi's words "doroogheh maslahat aameez vs. raasteh
fetneh angiz" is based on this positive philosophy that is an established
human nature all over. In fact, the reason Iranians are more argumentative
is the sign of their honesty and their expectation of the same from others
plus their urge to learn rather than intrude. It may be a shock to Americans
when they are asked about their religion, their political party affiliation
or their income when in Iran. Most Iranians are issue oriented due to their
cultural habit and their urge to learn rather than talk about the weather
and sports just to kill time.
Rule seven- "Iran is not just the Islamic Republic. It is not just
Persia either." Bravo to her for getting this straight. She must have
read her history very well. She must know that Iran, during some six thousand-year
history and some 400 kings and rulers has maintained its identity. That
is why Persians outside of Iran, while mingling with other cultures, take
special pleasure to enjoy Persian food, Persian talk, Persian poetry and
do things the Persian way. Although this is being erased by pop culture,
we are still doing a relatively good job of saving our identity. It must
not be forgotten, as Ms. Sciolino points out, that Persian rulers in their
quest for establishing their empire have always had the utmost respect
for other nationalities. The most vivid example of that is the granting
freedom to the Jews who were persecuted by the Babylonians some 500 B.C.
by Cyrus the Great.
Last summer when I visited Iran, I noticed that Iranians people have
still maintained that habit and do not take out their frustrations on foreigners
even if the foreigner insults them. This real observation is a far cry
from the way Iranian people are portrayed as terrorists in America.
Rule eight. "Iran is fighting Eleventh Century battle in the Twenty
First Century." Tell me about it Ms. Sciolino! Without taking side
in the battle, we can conclude that people all over the world are resorting
to various means in search of values and meaning in life. How primitive
or how sophisticated their struggles are, is another matter and not for
us to consider here. If this is true that Iran is fighting a Seventh Century
battle, what should we call the First Century battle in America by so many
tel-evangelists who advocate only one way for getting into Heaven and foment
hatred by branding everyone else as anti-Christ who should be avoided by
all means. They secretly recommend deprivation of non-Christians of their
rights if they resist their one-world way of thinking. Among the merits
of true Moslem and especially Shiite sect is the right to dissent and choose
one's religion. In fact this is also recommended by true Christianity true
Rule nine- "A time bomb is ticking and it has nothing to do with
explosives." She gives an excellent account of the plight of over-population
and the burden it is creating not only for Iran but for the rest of the
world in terms of providing them with education, jobs and future. New generations
of Iranians as elsewhere are looking mostly up to America and other Western
countries for help in utilizing technology to make education affordable
to all and educate more at loser cost instead of the present trend of educating
less at higher costs. Otherwise this time bomb will explode and cause more
damage than explosives.
Rule ten- Iran as "The Bermuda Triangle". This indicates Ms.
Sciolino's is awareness of the strategic significance of Iran for the Western
world. Aside from it long historical contributions to the world, Iran was
called The bridge to victory during World War II, and the Persian Gulf
is the life-line of the Western World and Japan for energy and access to
warm waters for Russia. It is estimated that if this region is disturbed
much, the unemployment in the Western world will jump to 40% the following
Rule eleven- "Iran is in the Middle East, but not entirely part
of it." Ms. Sciolino does an excellent job of describing Iranians
as Aryans, mainly Persians and not Arabs and Turks; with an Indo-European
language that is the cousin of English, French and Sanskrit and little
relation to Arabic or other languages spoken in the region or minorities
in Iran. She credits Iran with having espoused one of the oldest monotheism
religions-Zoroastrianism that introduced the notion of good and evil and
influenced the three great religions-Judaism, Christianity and Islam. She
gives credit to Darius for originating 1500 miles of highway complex and
an excellent administrative system for the Persian empire and the most
reliable mail delivery system that later became model for pony express.
Her account of adaptation old Persian motto for mail delivery "that
is not stopped by neither snow, rain, heat or gloom of nights." by
the U.S. Postal Service is fascinating.
Rule twelve- "Iranians like Americans." She does an excellent
job of clearing the popular notion in America that Iranians are not anti-American
or terrorists. Her account of being pampered, entertained and received
well in private and governmental circles are further proof of Iranian love
for Americans. Her truthfulness indicates that not only the Iranians have
nothing against America but hey definitely think their destiny is intertwined
with the latter and the Western World. I could not believe my eyes that
in all my trips to Iran I have found the people in love with America to
the extent that they despise to hear anything negative about America even
if it is true just as if America was their own country. This unconditional
love and defensiveness about America and the Americans is beyond belief.
It is sad that the American public does not even care to learn about Iran,
and instead calling them Eyranians and terrorists.
Over all, I believe that Ms. Sciolino should be congratulated to have
a job well done and I hope that her courage and curiosities will educate
the American public as to who their true friends are and why they should
know that friend.
I firmly believe that the common denominator of all our problems is
in our world is faulty education and ignorance. To me, effective education
is our only hope to save our troubled world and preserve our democracy.
That is why Thomas Jefferson, said "Those who expect to be ignorant
and free, expect what there never was and never will be." To read
more about the issue please visit my website www.educatepeople.org.