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Neda's Cybercafe in Tehran

Far from Utopia
A "select elite" don't represent Iran's youth

By Ataollah Togha
December 29, 1998
The Iranian

"Cyber clash" is the inappropriately chosen title of a well-written article recently posted in The Iranian. The author does not seem to believe in any clash whatsoever between the Western culture and what she calls "the Iranian culture," which she clearly, if not quite explicitly, distinguishes from anything Islamic. The author also refers the reader to less than a dozen of Iranian young men living in Iran who, as she herself is well aware, cannot represent the Iranian youth in any balanced way, and time and again talks to us through "their" words, apparently trying to employ a fallacious generalization to convince the reader of the conclusions of her article, which seem to be, by and large, her own convictions regardless of the flawed data briefly analyzed in her paper.

Unlike the author, I have little doubt that the ideal of the so-called global village is much farther ahead than what we are usually tempted to believe. The Information Superhighway, and in particular the interactive chatrooms may only be a first step in a journey of a thousand miles towards reconciling essentially different cultures, in case we assume that this ideal has the potential to be realized.

Let's imagine we somehow manage to mix the people from all over the world in a melting pot... Or let me be more specific. Imagine the hypothetical situation in which a random sample of one million Iranians, from all walks of life, are transferred and more or less uniformly dispersed in a Western country of your choice -- we may call it Utopia here. The goal of this sociological experiment would be to verify whether Iranian culture is in any sort of conflict with Western culture, and whether these immigrants will have identity problems to struggle with or not. Now, what do you think the outcome of this experiment would be?

Incidentally, this experiment reminds us of a similar, if not identical, event that has happened in our time! (It is not identical, not only because we do not constitute exactly one million people, but also because the Iranians living abroad are by no means from all walks of life; and probably for other reasons, too. But I guess for practical purposes it is close enough to the experiment we wanted to conduct. Although it is clear, but to emphasize the non-randomness of our actual sample just compare the price of a one way Tehran-Utopia City ticket to the income of an "average" Iranian. But still a common mistake is that the Iranian expatriates can be a representative sample of the Iranian population. This has become the source of many non-practical theories about how to reform the Iranian society, for example how to lead it towards democracy, etc.) Evidence is abundant (See, for example, instances of "adabiyyaat-e zanjamoore" (the literature of lament) in the 'Expatriates' section of The Iranian), and to those who have had the chance to experience dislocation it must be crystal clear that although quite capable of co-existing in cultural circumstances which drastically differ from that of their homeland, Iranians abroad have not been free of inner conflicts and psychological traumas arising from the tremendous difference between their Iranian mind set and an alien entity known as "Western culture."

Unfortunately, the ideas concerning the "non-clashability" (if I may term it this way) advocated in "Cyber clash" are overly superficial, even if well-intended. Of course, we all dream of the possibility of not only a cohabitation of people from two cultures on the surface and on social level, but also a peaceful co-existence of Iranian and Western ideas about all imporatnt aspects of life on the level of our inner selves.

Given my background, I am not at all surprised to hear how well Iranian post-revolutionary youth may think of the West, neither do I blame the typical Iranian youth for having colorful images of the West in mind. The fact of the matter is, despite the efforts of the media in the Islamic Republic to present an unrealistically ugly image of Western societies (or shall I rather say because of the very incredibility of this twisted image?), the unrealistically beautiful image of the West present among all layers of Iranian society -- which goes way back before the revolution -- has continued to exist among many Iranians who have not lived abroad, until they get to meet the realities of the West face to face. (At this point, it is worth mentioning that many of us continue to live with and rejoice in our pre-immigration misconceptions about the West long after our arrival to the lands of our beautiful dreams.) Interestingly, the author herself mentions that her interviewees have been "isolated" from the outside world. Therefore it is far from clear to me why a "paper," written in a scholarly format, should base a research on biased data obtained from a very non-random "microscopic sample" of misinformed youngsters.

I would like to emphasize why her sample of students or graduates, who are "proficient or fluent in English" are but a select elite, by quoting her own words: In order to afford to buy a computer in Iran, one needs to be well-off enough to put aside "a year's salary of an ordinary Iranian civil service worker," let alone the fact that one must be one of those "smart young people [who could] have found creative ways [?!] to dial-up and get online access."

Finally, as for the delicate issues of relationship/love/marriage and also some other culturally problematic issues, and the painful confusions born from conflicts and clashes between the fundamentally different attitudes that the cultures of the West and the East -- which are not only simply separated by geography, but more importantly, bifurcated long long time ago in the history -- instill on one's personality, I would like to stress that it is quite simple-minded to solely take the "revolutionary Islamic authorities" responsible for the fact that Iranian youth (and I do not mean just a bunch of smart wealthy computer freaks) do not engage in the type of courtship and mating that the Western culture suggests. A culture as a totality has its own mechanisms for self-preservation which even if overlooked by negligent or biased researchers and not gaurded by governmental forces, will not cease to operate on levels of both public and personal conscience... (To be sure, there is much more to be said by experts on these issues, but just as a warm-up let me refer you to a very interesting series of articles published in The Iranian a while ago, starting with "Loving an Iranian man" which in my opinion very well reflects the common confusions in this area.)

Reply from the author of "Cyber clash" Dokhi Fassihian


* Cyber clash
Conversations with Iranians in cyberspace on the clash of civilizations
By Dokhi Fassihian

* Tehran's first cybercafe: where East meets Web
AFP report, December 9, 1998

* Tehran's first cybercafe: where East meets Web
AFP report, December 9, 1998

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