A note from the Editors
Some honest introspection: when The Region has covered Iran, it’s been from the viewpoint of the boardrooms, conferences and the occasional prison-cell. It’s as if, in our new incursion into the bewildering universe of Journalism, our readers are only to understand the Persian Gulf as an in-between space. A cold-war battlefield pitting the clerics of Persia, against the statesmen of Saudi Arabia.
For, as far as the post-colonial world is concerned, West Asia can only be understood as cyclical. The Sunni’s, we are told, are in perpetual war with the Shiite’s. The cold war with the Gulf States on one end, and Iran on the other, is merely a dramatic and modern re-enactment of the Ottoman and Safavid Imperial rivalry in earlier times. Iran, it is to be understood, if at all, only as a conniving puppeteer. And thus, Iran is Houthi, Iran is, as of late, Qatar, Iran is Hezbollah, and if we are not too careful, Iran could become nuclear.
But what about the Iranian people? Even when we try to get to the ground – a difficulty in the absence of a correspondent–we have found it hard to cover stories that go beyond the occasional human rights appeal. We haven’t been to the mousques, the schools, the intersections on the highway, and the weekly Bazaar. We’re new, and we’re just not there yet.
And while we don’t discriminate in West Asia, usually siding with any who struggle, wherever they maybe, we only get to know activists and dissidents after their incarceration and solitude. The Region is of course, burdened with the truth; political prisoners need our urgent comradely help and the least we can do is tell their stories. But we are also painfully aware that neo-conservative vultures would want nothing more than for us to promulgate an image of Iran that is nothing but repressive.
This is why we are privileged to introduce this three-part series on Iran. It is a travelogue by Belen Fernandez, but not any random one. This is not just another piece written to appease, a “clichéd desire to convey the humanity of a nation that had for so long occupied US crosshairs and suffered attendant vilification” and it is not another declaration of Iranian Humanity. Part I, is rather, a narration of contradiction interweaved into Iranian space and time. We move from the conference room, to the mosque and Bazaar. Every single one of these spaces carries multiple stories. In every space we visit, there is a secret protocol between the generations of the past and that of our own. We are not only taken to the Bazaar, but we are made to feel the pain of past generations within it, and the piety of its presence. In return for its acquiescence to the ruling regime, embodied in pictures of Khomeini adorning many stalls, we walk into markets of Isfahan which thrive vibrantly. And while the shopkeepers love for the founding fathers of Iran’s Islamic revolution could very well be authentic, who is to fault them? There would be no Bazaar under the Shah, whose intelligence agency almost eradicated the market on the basis of its supposed medieval backwardness.
And this is how you, very briefly, meet the characters of Belen’s story. Each one, somewhere in between two different worlds sharing only the same coordinates. What she lacks in access, she makes up for with historical situation. In times like this, the outsiders eye is paradoxically revealing, even if, with Belen’s humility (and humor) you come to realize that orientalism is an unavoidable facet of every outsider narration.