Two Stories from Iran

It is easy to forget that the people of Iran are just that, people, ordinary normal people.

Ordinary normal people that have no real interest in geopolitical issues but instead just want to live their lives.

We also tend to see Iranians like this;


But in reality, Iran is a very diverse country with a great deal of potential to be a stabilising power in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, the Iranian people have been plagued by two regimes that ultimately, have very little legitimacy with the vast majority, the Shah and Islamic Revolution.

So whilst not ignoring the Iranian government we would be wise to also try and understand the Iranian people.

These two stories are quite interesting and illustrate that blind obedience to harsh rulings and total acquiescence to the current regime may be subject to a softening around the edges.

Ordinary people doing ordinary things.

First, from the Commentator on whether epilation is Haram, or not, no, seriously.

A huge controversy started in the Iranian town of Qazvin last week, after a group calling themselves “Social and Cultural Activists of Qazvin Province” published a letter, condemning the practice of epilation, openly advertised in the hair salons.

Just reading the advertising notice, “We do epilation here”, in a hair salon shop window, prompted the titillating image of a female having her hair removed, enough provocation to lead a faithful Muslim youth into temptation, vice and debauchery apparently.

The expected reaction to this religious concern would be expected to be the stereotypical stoning, jailing and general hysteria, but no, ordinary people started to ridicule the authorities;

The issue then became the butt of much humour across the Iranian social media. Some suggested that the Qazvin “Social and Cultural Activists” had misunderstood the word “epilation” thinking it was some kind of a massage like the ones they had encountered in their pilgrimage tours to Thailand.

Another Iranian social media activist asked why is epilation necessary in hair salons? just listening to the Friday prayer sermons often causes one’s hair to fall out!

“In the next ‘elections’ an approved candidate will be presented to the voters who will ask ‘is epilation the most important issue for our youth?’ and the Iranians will think he is more of a moderate compared to the other imposed candidates and they will view him as their reformist saviour and flock to vote for him and so life will continue under the Islamic Republic” — was another amusing statement expressed on the Iranian social media.

Ridicule of authority is an interesting indicator, it talks to a general lack of fear of those in power, always a healthy thing.

The issue went all the way up to the Grand Ayatollahs on the Supreme Council who issued a ruling that shows all signs of being ignored, the ladies of Qazvin will still be able to have their lady gardens styled!

The second story concerns another seemingly ordinary activity, going to a restaurant, with the slight difference of one that sells pork and wine.

France 24 reports on the underground dining scene in Tehran and other large cities that are serving ‘Pork, Wine and a Pinch of Freedom’

According to several of our Observers in Iran, several such hidden restaurants have cropped up in the past few years, in the capital Tehran as well as in other big cities, mainly in the country’s north. These places are unlicensed, and therefore can only be found through word of mouth. The attraction isn’t only the forbidden foods: women there can dress in a relaxed manner and take off their head scarves, which are mandatory in public. Furthermore, in these establishments, young unmarried couples don’t have to worry about the prying eyes of the morality police.

The article explains how the attraction is not necessarily about eating ham or drinking wine but the freedom to do so. Many of the patrons don’t partake but they don’t condemn others for doing so.

I think most of the customers aren’t especially rebellious; they just don’t care about what’s “halal” [allowed by Islam] or “haram” [forbidden by Islam], and this seems to be increasingly true among Iran’s younger generations. For example, the other day at the restaurant, I saw three women at a table: a grandmother wearing a chador, her daughter wearing a headscarf, and her daughter’s niece, who wasn’t wearing one.

The reporter closes by observing that the older generation are much more tolerant of the younger generation being detached from religious conventions.

None of this means Iran is going to stop being a menace to the Middle East by threatening nuclear proliferation and funding terrorist organisations any time soon, am not suggesting that all.

But it is surely interesting that in two very small ways, shaving ones bikini line and having a ham sandwich, the younger generation seem to be less observant of religious convention that forms the bedrock of the regimes power.

Ordinary people doing ordinary things have the power to make an extraordinary difference.

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Andrew Wood
Andrew Wood
May 11, 2015 9:37 pm

I visited Iran for 3 weeks back in 2002 and the ordinary people were extremely welcoming of both us Brits and the one American in our group. Many of the ladies were very careful to show as much hair as was legally permissible and the camping sites were awash in mini-vodka bottles.
I met one older gentlemen who asked me how British film stars like Diana Dors were doing, he loved British films but then it all came to a halt in 1979 when he was cut off from the West
We saw a few young firebrands but in the main the locals were very nice to us and genuinely curious about the West.
Also one of the most beautiful countries I have travelled in, better organised then Turkey with beautiful gardens, well worth a visit.

May 12, 2015 6:37 am

Isfahan, If you love architecture and outside spaces- a stunning place and On UNESCO’s register. some of the Mosques are easily a match for the Taj Mohal, funnily enough from the Moghul era too. The latest beautification of the city is the Flower Garden- a stunning public park, botanical garden, research & education centre, completed in the 90’s.

I have to say, unlike those absolute heathens the Taliban, and ISIS the Iranians seem to want to look after, adorn and improve their historical places.

Taking the p**s out of your government seems a good sign too.

…People like that can’t be that bad…..

May 12, 2015 8:39 am

I’ve thought for a while that Iran is a potential and useful ally, the problem is the US sour grapes hangover that inhibits its allies.

May 12, 2015 5:38 pm

, US sour grapes and the fact that Israel is allowed to have nuclear weapons but Iran isn’t. I always get the feeling that Iran gets bullied disproportionately for being different, and that the West, America in particular, don’t want to admit that the country and the regime has come a long way since the revolution.
From what friends who have visited the country say, and the posts here seem to confirm this, Iran sounds considerably more pleasant and relaxed that our dear old allies the Saudis.
What’s more *hushed tones*, you could even say that the Iranians have been rather constructive lately regarding Iraq and ISIS…

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
May 12, 2015 6:30 pm

…whilst I agree with the sentiment, I was a Post-Grad in the USA when their Embassy was seized, and it is difficult to underestimate the inchoate rage felt by practically the whole Country; even amongst those who just a few years earlier had been burning their own flag in Vietnam War protests. It finished Carter, forced the Democrats to fundamentally re-appraise their whole approach to foreign affairs, and steeled Reagan to actually set about winning the Cold War instead of letting it simmer indefinitely…at very considerable risk, and great cost in treasure if not blood (and with our help, as it goes).

I’m pretty confident that the first thing most of the Cousins knew about Ahmedinajad was his role in the attack on the Embassy, and if the new generation of Iranian leaders had such a role they will know about that as well. Not quite a 9/11 moment, but very much akin to it…and in practical terms perhaps even more important, in that it resulted in the USA getting tooled-up world-wide to the extent that GW1, the Afghan Expedition and the Iraq War all became logistically possible…

Getting past it is a very big thing…


Aubrey's Shadow
Aubrey's Shadow
May 12, 2015 9:18 pm

I’ve visited Iran too, and had to contend with taxi drivers proclaiming ‘welcome British; you come to rid us of these f**ing Mullahs ?’, far too loudly and openly for my comfort zone. Our local contact openly kept a pretty young ‘house boy’ for more than making the fire up, I’m sure, and had a liberally stocked whisky cabinet. Absolutely none of this was hidden in any way.

And you know what, these are a clever race. I agree with pretty much all of the above, but particularly the issue of them being future allies.

It’s true that in reality, the Brits are held with some suspicion over historical ‘issues’ but generations move on, and I can’t help feeling that one day, we may very well be cosying up to Persia as a very useful counter-balance to Saudi/Qatari extremism and mischief-making. Diplomacy must anticipate this situation, and the large and highly educated Iranian population in the Uk could be put to good use for the benefit of both countries. Of course the regime in charge has to go, but everything in the article and comments above shows that this will happen at some stage. In the modern world, they hold back youth opportunity at their peril.

Aubrey's Shadow
Aubrey's Shadow
May 12, 2015 9:20 pm

The only drawback to loosening of sanctions, I suppose, will be a reduction in the magnificent fleet of Hillman Hunters and Imps that rove the streets… I think they bought the tooling many years back, as well as for the P405.

May 13, 2015 12:33 pm

Don’t forget that although the US is still the Great Satan, we are still the Little Satan and hated almost as much by the Regime.

May 13, 2015 1:04 pm
Reply to  TAS

it seems we’ve had a long and interesting interaction with Persia over the last couple of hundred years. We did get up to some rum stuff in the good ol’ days.

@Aubrey I work with an American colleague with long standing middle east (commercial) experience. He has expressed a similar view to you.

@Gloomy I’m not sure the US diplomatic footing with Viet-Nam has quite got back to normalization either (let alone Cuba).

May 17, 2015 8:12 am

@Renwick. Israel hasn’t threatened to wipe out Iran, whereas Iran has threatened to wipe out Israel. Having the bomb is a protection Israel needs when surrounded by many hostile nations and movements who want to see the Jews pushed into the sea as surrounding the Arab nations broadcast openly in 1948.