Iran is a country desperate for change, not just in terms of the lives of individuals but in terms of its relationship with the outside world. Ayetollah Khomenei’s Islamic revolution 30 years ago was – in the eyes of many Westerners – the start of a downhill slide for Iran’s PR . This was not just a political or religious revolution, it was a cultural revolution that would fundamentally change how the rest of the world perceived the country. Iran went from being seen as a Persian paradise – full of art, history, culture and romance – to being seen as an oppressive society full of censorship, political scarring and angry, grumpy people. Now, to be sure, Iranians suffered greatly under the Shah and there are many who strongly support the Islamic government. And Iranian minorities have suffered discrimination under both regimes. Nevertheless, we need reminding that Iran is still that Persian paradise.
The problem for Iran is the vast divide between its people and its leadership. A rich, colourful world exists but it’s wrapped in a bubble of political and religious rule that prevents anyone from seeing in or out. I recently spent 10 days holidaying in Iran and what was most surprising was the complete disjuncture between my preconceptions and the reality. In no way is Iran intimidating. In no way is Iran dangerous for tourists. In no way is Iran full of miserable, silenced women. In no way is Iran an impenetrable country. I have never visited a country where such warmth just springs from the souls of people. Everywhere we went people wanted to talk to us, take us home and feed us, introduce us to their parents, show us off to friends and proffer all manner of hospitalities. After initial feelings of suspicion (why on earth are they being so nice?) we realised their motivations were completely altruistic. They just wanted us, as foreigners, to enjoy their beautiful country.
What more can I say. I hope Iran’s future involves bridging the gap between the citizens of the country, the government, and the outside world. It is a country to be embraced, not feared. Here are a few photos to
illustrate some of what Iran is really about. But please, go and see for yourself.
Oh, and on that issue of re-branding, perhaps a return to the name “Persia” is a place to start.