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Faces of Iran, an Introduction (and Special Comment)

This account of Iran's people, land, arts, and history begins simply with a collection of faces -- of citizens going about their daily activities socializing at the mosque, crowding the weekend bazaar, selling and trading, and swarming a party of "rare" American tourists. Only one day on the streets of Tehran is enough to suggest that the general urban populace of Iran (named Persia until 1935, Reza Shah) has no quarrel with the "westerner." Iran's youth, true to the very history of Persia itself, are indeed rebellious of restrictions imposed by their elders. However, the young and their parents are also remarkably respectful of their visitors and guests from around the world, and curious about that wider world to a degree that might cause Americans to blush. Their pride in their own nation (flaws and all) is also insurmountable. This country of Iran is bi-polar, religious and secular. Ali M. Ansari, in a small book, Iran: A Short Introduction (Oxford), describes Iran as "at once theocratic and autocratic yet as a succession of visitors will relate -- often with a sense of bewilderment -- it seems to be also possessed of democratic characteristics,...." Hence the nation bears the hallmark of a melting pot that brewed what are today called "Western" values imbued with the pragmatic devotions of Eastern faiths.

Iranian law and custom requires all women in the country (including visitors) to wear the hijab (scarf, hair cover) in public. However, as is evident in the first photograph above, two young women have let their scarf (hair) slip off their heads. Apparently this inadvertent oversight is in fact occasionally intentional and part of the unspoken etiquette of youthful flirtation with the wider secular world. Ansari (in his Short Introduction) refers to the phenomena as "the curious retractable nature of women's headscarves." City dwellers often look the other way when such infringement of rules takes place. No doubt, as will be evident in the photographs, the hijab has many fashionable and attractive uses that do not diminish the beauty of its wearers.

The apparel/shawls (hijabs) here display some of the creative ways that women apply the precious fabrics to their public persona.

This young model of fashion apparently is a member of a special sect of the Islamic populace in southern Iran (Hazara perhaps)

There is a decidedly macho male-dominated culture that still flourishes in Iran, much to the consternation of some westerners and some of Iran's own female population as well. And yet since the Islamic Revolution (the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty under Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1979) the men have been experimenting -- shaving their beards (beards are much rarer except for clerics) or wearing a tie.


At the Imamzadeh Saleh mosque in Tehran, a weekend gathering of Shiite families and devotees of Ali, the purported inheritor of Muhammad's mission, creates a buzz and excitement that also transfers to the astonishingly crowded bazaar nearby. No mall in the US compares to the shoulder-to-shoulder mass of shoppers found in these bazaars throughout the cities of Iran. The faces convey a plain message -- these people are not enemies of the West. The mosque entombs the remains of Saleh, a son of the Twelver Shia Imam, Musa al-Kadhim, and is one of the most popular Shia shrines in northern Tehran.

An American is spotted (me)

The Bazaar, Tehran -- miles to wander

My American party surrounded by inquisitive Iranian students (a phenomenon experienced in many Iranian cities)

Hadi, the official Iranian guide for our tour, stands in the forefront of a mass of Iranians (many students) who desired to be photographed standing alongside members of our American party.

Special Note to Friends and Acquaintances.

I believe a clarification is necessary in this blog (and is relevant to my future comments on photographs taken in Iran). Iran is a nation that has been highly politicized in the western media (especially in the US). Hence it is almost impossible to discuss this country in normal conversation without addressing social and political fears or suspicions, however unsubstantiated they may be. I am not a politician. My photo essays normally celebrate the places and people I associate with, focussing on the best and most aesthetic and beautiful of what our planet has to offer. I also am not an apologist for Iran or any other country or cause.

However, the past and more recent extraordinary behavior of various political and official leaders of my own nation (the US) and rumors associated with looming foreign policy decisions (expected in mid-October) compel me to make a hasty declaration of my firm opposition to expected actions that I believe will be extremely foolish and unfortunate for everyone, Iranians and Americans alike. As anyone knows who has viewed my photo essays over the years, I invariably seek out the best and most beautiful of the places and people I encounter. Despite the always present enigma of flaws and less than satisfactory solutions to social issues, every nation deserves some level of respect and a presupposition that their governments and actions are generally conducted in the best interests of their own people. Admittedly, the supposition is not always correct. But for the most part, in my experience, there is great good intention even in nations that advocate cultural preferences and practices significantly different from the customs of the "West." This is the case with Iran (and other stigmatized nations as well).

Here I must seriously and vociferously protest if the US proceeds to declare or label any of Iran's institutions as complicit with "terrorism" (a "terrorist" entity), and if it reneges even a little on the nuclear/sanctions agreement arrived at only recently by the "Five Powers" and the United Nations Security Council. Many Americans, shamefully, seem inclined to yawn and pay little attention. However, the world is watching the US become an increasingly aggressive nation and a country that can only be regarded with distrust.

The photos I post here, and will add to shortly, celebrate the people of Iran. In their faces, if one looks closely, are mirrors of our own lives in the US and the "West." These are shoppers at the bazaar, devotees to certain religious icons, students of history, inquisitive children and restless teens, builders of great edifices, traders and marketers, shopkeepers and paupers.

One of our travelling party (RW), particularly, but not exclusively, in September, often became the focal point of individuals and even crowds of citizens of Iran who wanted their pictures taken with an American; who wanted to send their best regards to Americans in general; who are proud of their own country and culture ("How do you like Iran?")

I myself, who does not look especially like an American at first glance, was often accosted by residents of the cities I visited in the most welcoming manner and without guile. These people rightly give some credit to their own country's leaders for furthering their prospects for a good life. It became obvious quickly during my visit that the vast majority of Iranians wish to share their good things and, as well, to acquire what good things we as Americans may possess.

Not everyone has the privilege to travel to such novel lands like Persia. But the world is changing very rapidly, as my photos of Iran will demonstrate. Unfortunately, an entrenched US clique/contingency apparently is still mired in the political and economic myths of the last century. Beware when the media starts referring to a country's government as a "regime" instead of a government. That is a clue that something bad is afoot, justified or not. In Iran's case, there can be no "regime change." I did not get the sense that the majority of the people of Iran are displeased with their leaders, their religion or their destiny to rejoin the world's major powers.

There are real issues to resolve, especially between the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia, but viewing Iran as "evil" or a deliberate collaborator with terrorists is absurd and a serious blunder that will have consequences for generations (assuming the US government reneges on its rapprochement).

(Beware of the public discourses sponsored by the likes of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, FDD, positioned in Washington D.C. This organization and several other think tanks like it are neoconservative tanks under cover of the claim they are "nonpartisan" and non-profit. The FDD is heavily financed by a few key wealthy Israeli donors. Just today, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published an opinion piece foisted on the paper by the FDD. The intent of the article is clearly intended as propaganda to steer public opinion firmly against Iran, probably in coordination with the expected announcement this week from President Trump that he his backing away from the Nuclear Agreement. Such blatant and ill-disguised coercion of a newspaper (whether or not some issues raised may be legitimate points for debate) is shameful and unethical. The WSJ should be held to account.)

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