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Published on November 18th, 2012 | by Usman Butt
Image © [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="555"] © Örlygur Hnefill; Tehran Taxi[/caption]   Tehran airspace- 2:30am - “Ladies and gentleman we will be shortly arriving at Imam Khomeini International Airport. Passengers are reminded to remain in their seats as we prepare for landing”. The announcement goes out and right on cue, the women on the flight pull out Hijabs (headscarves) from their bags and begin to wrap their heads up. Everyone onboard braces themselves, as the Islamic republic awaits us. We land at the airport where stern looking revolutionary guards patrol the airport and we go and wait in long lines at passport control. A huge portrait of Ayatollah Khomeini hangs on the wall and next to it an equal-sized portrait if the current supreme leader Ali Khamenei hangs. As I clear through passport control and jump into a taxi, the politics of the place begin to kick-in. From the airport to the city-centre we see a series of signs, all the signs have pictures of Ali Khamenei on it and it read’s “We stand united with the peoples of the world against racism, intolerance, oppression and colonialism”. Iran ‘leader of the non-alignment bloc’ the sign reads. Already the Islamic republic’s political ambitions are made clear to any visitor. The sign triggers a discussion between me and the taxi driver; to my surprise he was quite open with his political opinions. He declared “I don’t like the regime. But I think Ayatollah Khomeini is a good man. He wanted good things for the Iranian people and in his heart he was pure.” I asked him “Is Khomeini still popular?” and the driver replied “Oh yes, he is. The leader we have now Khamenei, nobody likes him. Did you know that when Khomeini died, over 2 million people attended his funeral?” The openness in which he spoke was to be replicated time and again throughout my stay. Iranians from all walks of life would express their opinions on a huge array of topics. Their opinions were not monolithic either, every opinion I heard was diverse and different from the last one. In the north of Tehran known for is wealthy and culturally secular residents anti-Ahmadinejad opinions are common. I heard personal insults against the president being expressed openly, from ‘he is crazy’ to ‘he is stupid and low-class’.  Most people in this part of town believe strongly that the 2009 presidential election was stolen. One young man that I met in a café told me that he believed Ahmadinejad could not have won the last election, as nobody here supports him. He told me that many Iranians don’t feel the regime represents them and that they are a foreign implant, a ‘culturally Arab’ regime. He then told me that when he learnt of the election results in 2009, he went out on the protest for the green movement. But he stopped going as he claimed that “during the green uprising, I realized that I was on my own. My friends would sell me out and betray me. Iran is like a car going forward and a revolution is like the car stopping and going backwards. What is the point of going backwards! That’s all another revolution would do- send us backwards”. On another evening out in the cafes on North Tehran, whilst having a conversation with a mixed gender group of Iranian youths, the topic of an Israeli strike came up. A week before Netanyahu went to the UN general assembly and held up a diagram demonstrating Iran’s nuclear enrichment progress, I asked if anyone is concerned about an Israeli attack. The conversation really took off and one girl said to me “Israel can do nothing; It doesn’t have the will to take on Iran. We are not concerned about Israel”. A young man interjected and said “It all about America. If America wants a war, then there will be one. Israel can do nothing. It all talk, they don’t mean it.” The group seemed to believe that Israel is too weak to take action against Iran and that it would be suicidal for Israel to do so. Some in the group, believed that Saudi Arabia was a greater threat to Iran, due to their anti-Shia and Anti-Persian rhetoric. Most discussions on foreign issues seem to comeback to a feeling of frustration that Iran was maligned in the world. A general belief that Iran is a great country, a historical country, surrounded by new ones was present. But perhaps more disturbing, for Iran’s Arab neighbours is the desire that Iran should become a great empire again. I heard one girl say “the Arabs look down upon us. But we are a great country, one that should realize its great past once again (rule the Middle East)”. During a taxi ride to Central Tehran I started a conversation with the taxi driver which turned political. The Taxi driver was from the largely working class Southern Tehran. I asked him “who did you vote for in 2009” and he answered without hesitation “Mr Ahmadinejad, all my friends to voted for Mr Ahmadinejad”. Taken back by his response I said “So you don’t believe that the 2009 elections were stolen? I was talking to young people on Valiasr Street and they said Ahmadinejad has no support”.  The Taxi driver responded angrily “No. It’s all a big lie, these northern Tehranis live in Europe. Ahmadinejad has lots of support, especially in the rural areas. This whole green movement was a foreign conspiracy”.  After our intriguing discussion we arrived at our destination, Tehran Central Synagogue. Iran has the largest population of Jews outside Israel in the Middle East. One seat in Parliament is reserved for Jews. I was curious to see what a synagogue looks like in the Islamic republic. The Rabbi invited me in and I watched people pray. On the way out, I wished worshippers entering the synagogue “Shabbat Shalom. (Hebrew for Happy Sabbath)” Here I was in the Islamic republic, where the president has been cited threatening to wipe Israel off the map, and I am giving my greetings in Hebrew to Jews, this moment, and the political discussion that I had really stood out to me. It is clear that this place is politically complicated and no single article can cover the sheer diversity of the politics here. I aim to continue with the political theme is the next instalment.

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Strange Times in Persia Part 2- Politics: A Travellers Account

© Örlygur Hnefill; Tehran Taxi

 

Tehran airspace- 2:30am – “Ladies and gentleman we will be shortly arriving at Imam Khomeini International Airport. Passengers are reminded to remain in their seats as we prepare for landing”. The announcement goes out and right on cue, the women on the flight pull out Hijabs (headscarves) from their bags and begin to wrap their heads up. Everyone onboard braces themselves, as the Islamic republic awaits us. We land at the airport where stern looking revolutionary guards patrol the airport and we go and wait in long lines at passport control. A huge portrait of Ayatollah Khomeini hangs on the wall and next to it an equal-sized portrait if the current supreme leader Ali Khamenei hangs. As I clear through passport control and jump into a taxi, the politics of the place begin to kick-in.

From the airport to the city-centre we see a series of signs, all the signs have pictures of Ali Khamenei on it and it read’s “We stand united with the peoples of the world against racism, intolerance, oppression and colonialism”. Iran ‘leader of the non-alignment bloc’ the sign reads. Already the Islamic republic’s political ambitions are made clear to any visitor. The sign triggers a discussion between me and the taxi driver; to my surprise he was quite open with his political opinions. He declared “I don’t like the regime. But I think Ayatollah Khomeini is a good man. He wanted good things for the Iranian people and in his heart he was pure.” I asked him “Is Khomeini still popular?” and the driver replied “Oh yes, he is. The leader we have now Khamenei, nobody likes him. Did you know that when Khomeini died, over 2 million people attended his funeral?”

The openness in which he spoke was to be replicated time and again throughout my stay. Iranians from all walks of life would express their opinions on a huge array of topics. Their opinions were not monolithic either, every opinion I heard was diverse and different from the last one. In the north of Tehran known for is wealthy and culturally secular residents anti-Ahmadinejad opinions are common. I heard personal insults against the president being expressed openly, from ‘he is crazy’ to ‘he is stupid and low-class’.  Most people in this part of town believe strongly that the 2009 presidential election was stolen. One young man that I met in a café told me that he believed Ahmadinejad could not have won the last election, as nobody here supports him. He told me that many Iranians don’t feel the regime represents them and that they are a foreign implant, a ‘culturally Arab’ regime. He then told me that when he learnt of the election results in 2009, he went out on the protest for the green movement. But he stopped going as he claimed that “during the green uprising, I realized that I was on my own. My friends would sell me out and betray me. Iran is like a car going forward and a revolution is like the car stopping and going backwards. What is the point of going backwards! That’s all another revolution would do- send us backwards”.

On another evening out in the cafes on North Tehran, whilst having a conversation with a mixed gender group of Iranian youths, the topic of an Israeli strike came up. A week before Netanyahu went to the UN general assembly and held up a diagram demonstrating Iran’s nuclear enrichment progress, I asked if anyone is concerned about an Israeli attack. The conversation really took off and one girl said to me “Israel can do nothing; It doesn’t have the will to take on Iran. We are not concerned about Israel”. A young man interjected and said “It all about America. If America wants a war, then there will be one. Israel can do nothing. It all talk, they don’t mean it.”

The group seemed to believe that Israel is too weak to take action against Iran and that it would be suicidal for Israel to do so. Some in the group, believed that Saudi Arabia was a greater threat to Iran, due to their anti-Shia and Anti-Persian rhetoric. Most discussions on foreign issues seem to comeback to a feeling of frustration that Iran was maligned in the world. A general belief that Iran is a great country, a historical country, surrounded by new ones was present. But perhaps more disturbing, for Iran’s Arab neighbours is the desire that Iran should become a great empire again. I heard one girl say “the Arabs look down upon us. But we are a great country, one that should realize its great past once again (rule the Middle East)”.

During a taxi ride to Central Tehran I started a conversation with the taxi driver which turned political. The Taxi driver was from the largely working class Southern Tehran. I asked him “who did you vote for in 2009” and he answered without hesitation “Mr Ahmadinejad, all my friends to voted for Mr Ahmadinejad”. Taken back by his response I said “So you don’t believe that the 2009 elections were stolen? I was talking to young people on Valiasr Street and they said Ahmadinejad has no support”.  The Taxi driver responded angrily “No. It’s all a big lie, these northern Tehranis live in Europe. Ahmadinejad has lots of support, especially in the rural areas. This whole green movement was a foreign conspiracy”.  After our intriguing discussion we arrived at our destination, Tehran Central Synagogue. Iran has the largest population of Jews outside Israel in the Middle East. One seat in Parliament is reserved for Jews. I was curious to see what a synagogue looks like in the Islamic republic. The Rabbi invited me in and I watched people pray. On the way out, I wished worshippers entering the synagogue “Shabbat Shalom. (Hebrew for Happy Sabbath)” Here I was in the Islamic republic, where the president has been cited threatening to wipe Israel off the map, and I am giving my greetings in Hebrew to Jews, this moment, and the political discussion that I had really stood out to me. It is clear that this place is politically complicated and no single article can cover the sheer diversity of the politics here. I aim to continue with the political theme is the next instalment.

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About the Author

Usman Butt

Usman graduated in 2012 with an MA in Palestine Studies from the University Of Exeter. Before that he read Arabic Language and International Relations at the University of Westminster. Amongst his proudest achievements include winning a muffin for public speaking, winning a Lego set at age 5 and helping Palestinian refugees learn English. Usually writes about genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, Israel/Palestinian politics, Iranian/Syrian/Lebanese politics, the Arab Spring, philosophy, religion, British politics, Foreign Policy, history and social issues. He enjoys writing as he sees it as an outlet to express his opinions about the public discourse on these issues. He believes writing is a good way of keeping productive and teaching yourself new things.



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