Friday, December 9, 2011

Post #111 - Third Postcard

Another glimpse into current life in Iran, courtesy of Prof. Beeman [my photos added]:

Date: Fri, 25 Nov 2011 16:55:09 -0500

Human Rights faculty, Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran
Our Human rights conference continues in Tehran at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The organizer turns out to have received a Ph.D. from the Irish Center for Human Rights in Gallway, and he has invited many of his former colleagues and teachers to the conference. This makes the entire affair much more legitimate in my eyes. The discussions are genuine, and we had several excellent papers from Ph.D. Islamic clerics on Islamic legal philosophy regarding human rights. This can only be salutary.

I continue my observations of sartorial symbolism. Two female graduate students were wearing red jackets and red sweaters respectively as part of their hejab. Even ten years ago, such a thing would have been amazing, if not scandalous. So I asked them about it. They laughed and said that their mothers didn't approve, but that this was a "little protest" of the dress code. This matches the two flaming red shirts I saw last summer on two middle aged men in Shiraz. They told me the same thing--red clothes on adults as a little protest. The reason for the prohibition is the association of red with the Sunni opponents to Imam Hossein, martyred with the males of his family at Kerbala in 680 CE. The Sunnis are depicted wearing red, while Imam Hossein and his family wear green.

So, when I saw another student wearing a necktie--which Iranian men do not (it is a sign of Western decadence), I asked him about it. Same answer "a little protest." Of course most of the foreign men at this conference do wear neckties, proving that they are foreign.

Out and about in Tehran on a Thursday night and Friday, it is inescapable that the city is distinctly "mellow." A ton of well-dressed young people in coffee shops, eating ice-cream, and looking happy. I talked to a few of them. "What about the Green movement?" A shrug. "Are you getting work?" "No, but my parents are taking care of me." There is the horrible traffic still, but still a relaxed feel. If the sanctions were supposed to make people "rise up and overthrow their government," it certainly isn't working.

Politics: Most people think that Tehran's mayor, Mr. Qalibaf will run for the presidency. He seems to have done a satisfactory job as mayor, and seems competent. Another pick is one of the Larijani brothers. It seems that election speculation is not limited to the U.S.

Every parent tells me the same story about their kids--they are working like crazy at their studies. One man tells me that he is worried about his daughter--"She studies too much. I ask her if she doesn't want to have fun with her friends, and she points to her math book and says, 'This is more fun.'" Everyone asks me about graduate programs in the U.S. and even post-doctoral programs. Iranians were always very intelligent but the conviction that education will improve their lives is on steroids here.

I did an interview on Press TV on the Egyptian situation. Press TV will inaugurate its Spanish language service in two weeks, and the young people there are just bursting with excitement. They are all learning Spanish. I presume this service will beam to Latin America. The entire atmosphere at Press TV seems more relaxed. Last year they were looking over their shoulders a lot, and this year they are much freer and more spontaneous.

Tehran in Winter
It snowed today. Just a little sprinkling that didn't stick, but enough to tamp down some of the smog that even the gas powered vehicles seem unable to alleviate.


William O. Beeman
University of Minnesota

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