The Iranian


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Sehaty Foreign Exchange


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 Judaism.

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 day.

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

Ali Parsa


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