Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Vineyard of the Saker: Discovering Iran: a travelogue

by Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich

Marcel Proust once said: “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” During the past two decades, I visited Iran on numerous occasions staying 10-14 days at a time. This time around, I stayed for 2 months and heeding Proust, I carried with me a fresh pair of eyes. I discarded both my Western lenses as well as my Iranian lenses and observed with objective eyes. It was a formidable journey that left me breathless.

Part I - Women of the Islamic Republic of Iran

It is hard to know where to start a travel log and how to describe a newfound world in a few pages. However, given the West’s obsession (and the “Westernized” Iranians living abroad) to rescue Iranian women from their perceived “oppression” (while simultaneously imposing illegal and immoral sanctions on them!) perhaps it is appropriate to start with the women in Iran as I perceived them.

Western media with help from feminists and Iranians living outside of Iran portray Iranian women as being “oppressed” -- foremost because women in Iran have to abide by an Islamic dress code - hijab. Yes, hijab is mandatory and women choose to either wear either a chador or to wear a scarf. But what is crucial to understand is the role chador played in pre 1979 versus the post Revolution era.

Prior to the 1979 Revolution, the chador was indicative of a thinly veiled caste system. While a few distinguished women of high socio-economical background chose to wear the chador, the rest, the majority of Iranian women, were simply born into the habit. In short, the socio-economically disadvantaged wore the pre 1979 chador. In those days, the chador was a hindrance to a woman’s progress; she was looked down at and frowned upon. She could not move forward or up. She was oppressed. But Western feminists were blind to this oppression. After all, the Shah was modern and America’s friendly dictator.

The Revolution changed the status quo and chipped away at the caste system. A revolution, by definition, is a complete change in the way people live and work. And so it is with the Iranian Revolution. The post 1979 chador is no longer an impediment to a woman’s future. Today’s Iranian woman, the same (formerly) less privileged class, has found freedom in their chador. They have been unshackled and they march on alongside their (formerly) more privileged colleagues. This emancipation is what the Western/Westernized feminists see as oppression.

I myself come from yesterday’s tiny minority of “privileged” women, far too comfortable in my “Western” skin to want to promote hijab, but I will not allow my personal preferences to diminish the value of the progress made because of hijab. The bleeding hearts from without should simply change their tainted lenses instead of trying to change the lives of others for Iranian women do not need to be rescued, they do not follow – they lead.

Complete story at - The Vineyard of the Saker: Discovering Iran: a travelogue

CC Photo Google Image Search Source is upload wikimedia org  Subject is Flag of Iran WFB 2004

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