The first stone
How could I promote Iran as a destination for tourism?
July 3, 2001
I just got two emails from the same address with the subject heading:
"Iran needs your help!" I, of course, automatically opened them
thinking it may be from one of our political, cultural or charitable groups
that spring up with the best of intentions, and are passionately active
for a few months, before they self-destruct with the kind of venomous infighting
that would make the worst internecine tribal wars seem like child's play.
Or, I thought, it might be from another young Iranian, stuck without
a job in Iran, who has just discovered the Internet and is tickled by its
capitalistic promise. One young man kept writing emails asking for money
so that he could marry -- to the horror of the many addressees who found
his plight preposterously not that dire.
But this email was claiming something I had secretly wished for, but
never really believed, since the revolution. That my country, which had
exiled my family and looked at my "type" with contempt, would
actually "need me".
It was morning and my thoughts were blurred with the previous night's
dream which is a recurring one. In this dream, that used to be a nightmare
but is now just a dream because I have had it for so many years, I am running
-- totally naked -- in an Iran that is green and mountainous like Switzerland.
I realize I am naked and can be arrested. In panic I wake up. Nowadays the
dream comes very rarely and in it I don't really panic anymore I just feel
uncomfortable, run away and try to hide.
So this morning when I opened this email telling me that my beloved Iran
needs me, I opened it with eagerness -- half hoping it was true. I read
it and it was from some Iranian touring company asking me to help promote
tourism in Iran. My immediate reaction was," how idiotic." These
people should research their email recipients and omit people from their
marketing list who, like me, have nightmares of running naked in Iran afraid
of getting caught!
I travel to Iran and love to see more of our beautiful country. Even
when we lived there, it seemed my mother preferred the shops of Oxford Street
to the archeological sites of Fars. I, shamefully, grew up more familiar
with the boutiques that stud Faubourg Saint Honore and Bond Street than
the natural and architectural wonders of my own country. So I love the idea
of tours to Iran.
But how could I promote Iran as a destination for tourism? I, who have
just woken up from a bad dream again?
These days when I hear or think of Iran, the only image that comes to
my mind is that of a woman buried to the neck in the ground ready to take
the first stone. A great promotional image don't you think? I can see a
poster of it in the travel agency of my mind: a head of a beautiful woman
with olive skin and large brown eyes waiting in the sand against a backdrop
of Persepolis splendid and ancient. Do they have to have something covering
the woman's hair for the stoning? Is she buried to the neck so her breasts
don't show? Or so that it would be harder for her to get out than a man?
Or is it to render the adulteress sexless and easier to kill?
Who casts the first stone? How could he and I be from the same place?
Speak the same language? Was he told, like I was when growing up, "mayaazaar
moori keh daaneh kesh ast keh jaan daarad-o jaan-e shirin khosh ast?"
(Do not harm an ant who is bearing a seed for he has life and his life is
sweet) Who throws that first stone and what is he thinking? These are the
questions swimming in my mind these days as I drive the kids from one summer
activity to the next.
My dear tour agency friends, I am the worst person you can target. What
do I tell these foreigners who want to pay our country a visit? "Iran
is beautiful but if you happen to have an affair with a married person and
get caught you will be buried to the waist or neck, depending on your gender,
and stoned to death!" Or, "There is a bustling social life in
Tehran but if you are unlucky enough to be invited to a party that is raided,
you will find yourself in a prison waiting for hours, maybe days, to pay
a big fine or face lashings just because you where in mixed company and
having a beer." Or, "Things are much better now that we have a
reformist president who is so powerless that he cannot stop the arrest of
members of parliament whose only crime is voicing their opinions. He is
a scholarly type, a man of dialogue and debate not of action. Our president
got 76% of the vote but has to turn a blind eye to the stonings, murders
and arrests. Which are very rare, I assure you."
My dear compatriots of something-something tours, I am the wrong person
for the job. When I think of Iran these days I hear the thump of the stone
on a young woman's head. Blunt and dull but somehow lasting forever. My
questions are not about hotel prices in Isfahan. I want to know what that
person who throws the first stone thinks. I want to know why is it that
-- in Sharia Law -- if a person can climb out of the hole and run away,
he or she is exonerated? Are you less of an adulterer if you can survive
a stoning and are strong enough to set yourself free? Or is surviving the
ordeal considered punishment enough? How are the crowds put together for
the stoning? Do there a community announcement asking all who are interested
in killing a soul to show up at the town square?
These are the questions crowding my mind as I drive down route 270 to
pick up my children from "Fun Theater Company Camp". These are
the questions that have bothered and numbed me to the point where I can't
even conjure up the will to research them because I know that the answers
will leave me feeling even more numb and helpless, even more unable to "help
So my dear friends of the tour agency, you need someone who does not
suffer from recurring questions and nightmares to help you. I am not the
person for the job. I am sorry that Iran needs me to promote tourism and
that I am under-qualified for the job. But do tell me: Are women amongst
the stoning crowds? Is it true that the stones have to be small and smooth
to assure a slow death?