April 3, 2015


The Persian Paradox: Iran Is Much More Modern Than You Think (Erich Follath, 4/03/15, Der Spiegel)

The Iran of today has changed dramatically. In more liberal cities like Shiraz and Isfahan, young entrepreneurs have opened small caf├ęs and Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changin," has become the favorite song. Young students hold hands in public and women pull their obligatory headscarves back to the point where their hair is visible (a forbidden act). Tourists are welcomed all over the place and are treated with overt hospitality.

With the exception of Israel, there is unlikely any other country in the Middle East where pro-Western sentiment is as pronounced as it is in Iran. Millions of young people attend university. And even though women are still discriminated against -- laws limit their right to divorce and custody of their children and also stipulate that they can be subject to prosecution starting at the age of nine as opposed to 15 for boys -- they live more freely here than in many other countries in the region. With the help of quick-to-install illegal satellite dishes that can be found everywhere, they also have access to Western news programs.

Only a few hundred kilometers west of here, fanatical Islamists have erected a caliphate in Iraq and Syria. In Iran, however, the role of religion is in decline. People here consider the mullahs to be corrupt and they are the objects of contempt. Friends tell me to avoid standing next to a cleric wearing a turban and robe when hailing a taxi. The drivers, they say, won't stop. And while the many mosques may be empty, the country's consumer cathedrals, its new shopping centers, are packed. Group-think today is scorned and individualism is in vogue.

The disillusionment, of course, isn't new. Already back in 2003, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a former comrade-in-arms of Khomenei's who would later be placed under house arrest as a member of the opposition, openly admitted this failure during a meeting we had in Qom. "We have lost the world's respect through our excesses -- and my dreams are dead," he said. "The religious leader should limit his role to representative duties -- and that is what will happen."

Posted by at April 3, 2015 3:14 PM

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