Fault Lines

Our trip to Tehran left us with many questions which we are unable to answer.

What we are acutely aware of is that is not our place to pass judgement but rather to observe without prejudice.

And remind ourselves that so often perceptions weigh at least as heavily as facts.

And herein lies the conundrum. Iran and its relationship with the rest of the world leaves us with more questions than answers.

So much of history depends on where you start from and the filter you are viewing it through and, in an effort to make sense of this all, a little background.

In the 1970’s, under the rule of the Shah Reza,  Iran was supposed to be on course to becoming a reliable ally of the West. American backing for the royal regime was visible and an Islamic uprising was barely on the radar. Younger city women worked and wore heels and lipstick and regarded their chador-ed sisters in the religious cities and the countryside as backward.

Iranian students in the Seventies

Complete with mullet haircuts and bell bottoms

The assumed trajectory – assumed that is by Iran’s urban middle class, by foreign investors, the UK and Washington – was that Iran was rapidly modernizing and would take its place as a leading, and reliably pro-Western, regional power.

Rolling out the Persians for President Eisenhower in Tehran

Colourful VW Beetles career down tree lined- Pahlavi avenue

The Royal Iranian Shah dynasty

Lived in true royal splendor in their summer home in Tehran

And received foreign heads of state, in this room, such as Nixon and Carter

The Kings ante room

And some of the family’s many cars

The Queeens 300SL

Some of the royal childrens toys

The 1979 revolution saw the ousting of King Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the installment of Ayatollah  Khomeini – a shift that would have long-lasting and far reaching implications.

This is all that remains of the Shahs statue in front of their summer home, post revolution

Few people realize though that the Iranian Revolution came a quarter-century after the CIA and Britain’s intelligence agency MI6 conspired in 1953 to overthrow the country’s democratically elected government and install a police state under the Shah of Iran, to preserve Anglo-American control over Iran’s oil. For the next 25 years the U.S. and UK faithfully supported the regime of the Shah until its overthrow.

Soon after the Iranian Revolution  on Nov. 4, 1979, a group of young Iranian activists broke into the U.S. embassy in downtown Tehran, captured virtually every American working there, and began one of the worst diplomatic crises in American history.

This  hostage crisis was precipitated by the decision to admit the deposed Shah into the US.

The  embassy , labelled the “Den of Spies” by the Iranians,  was the main building stormed by the hostage takers in 1979, as dramatized in the opening of the 2012 Ben Affleck film “Argo.” This was also where the hostages were initially kept captive until the failed rescue attempt prompted the Iranians to separate the hostages at different locations.

Though the 66 hostages were eventually released, the 14 month-long ordeal poisoned the already strained relations between the United States and Iran.

The building now houses the propaganda museum which is only open for a few days in February. The rest of the embassy compound is reportedly used to train members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Here are a few sneaked pictures of the surrounds today:

The ex USA embassy today. Strangely the Iranian flag is at half mast. Note the banners in the foreground, behind the barricading.

Those banners closer up

Within the grounds near the main entrance is a mini Statue of Liberty with a gown that opens to reveal two imprisoned white birds.

Exterior walls and the surrounds of the former  embassy compound are covered with anti-American graffiti. Most Iranians pass by the massive compound and pay it no interest..

The surrounding buildings are no different in portraying the deep fault lines.

and closer up

We find this rather grim, regardless which side of the divide one may be on.

And it gets worse.

Every year the Iranian government stages anti-American protests here to commemorate the 1979 takeover.

Iranian schoolgirls hold up their hands painted with the colours of their country’s flag & writing in Persian which reads, Death to America in Tehran, Iran.

And the obligatory military muscle posturing

Iranians walk past an Iranian Shahed 129 drone displayed during celebrations to mark the anniversary of the Islamic revolution

A Simorgh (Phoenix) satellite rocket at the celebrations

In some of most fascinating, thought-provoking scenes of the rally, people held placards to invite the Americans to Iran, saying that they would be welcome here.

While there’s an undeniable strain of anti-Americanism in parts of Iranian society, these kinds of displays stood in stark contrast to the kindness and curiosity from  the Iranians we met.

We were overwhelmed by the Iranian hospitality which was not restricted to isolated  “one offs” but rather a carousal of kindness that we have never experienced elsewhere.

A guest is considered a gift from heaven and is showered with copious of  cups of  tea, offers of accommodation, help and gifts than we simply could not fit into our panniers.

Iranians, we learned, revere their Persian heritage and culture; they want you to know that they are not Arabs. They speak Farsi, not Arabic

They describe in vivid detail how their country has been invaded by Greeks, Arabs, Mongols, British, and Russians, but prevailed with their culture intact.

They are Muslims, and overwhelmingly Shia Muslims, but they celebrate ancient Zoroastrian holidays and accept other  religions.

A 2014 poll conducted by the US Anti-Defamation League left the pollsters stunned: It found that the most pro-Jewish people in the Middle East, aside from Israelis, were Iranians.

Here is a mere snippet of the type of  friendliness one encounters wherever one goes in Iran.

Linda will do a post on this shortly

We remain conflicted. What we thought before arriving in Iran is by no means what we encountered in its wonderful people.

We cannot remake the past, but we can help shape the future if we are well-informed about Iran, a nation some governments and media portray in a negative light.

Iran is not perfect . No country is. More so for some of their governments.

More than ever, we need an era of diplomacy and understanding that emphasizes compromise, not more rounds of demonization.

We all are, at the end of it, ordinary people trying to make our way through life as best as we can.

Or to put it another way – the stuff of life.

14 Responses to Fault Lines

  1. Anonymous


    Such a terrific piece and enlightening. Thank you

  2. Anonymous

    Some more colourful cars love the beetles, thank you for info on the people and pictures are amazing go well. Debbie – Durban

  3. Les Penny

    Very interesting read, makes me think there must be deeper issues than can be seen on the surface. Politics and religion.

  4. Naude.K

    Wow, very interesting read indeed and well articulated Harry. This trip is far more than a motorbike adventure. Keep us posted. Travel safe. Nods

  5. gail van der mey

    By Jan – Yes, late 1950th The Sha and his Queen Soraya, a renowned beauty, who had problems to become pregnant, I seem to remember, visited The Netherlands. They were received as an important promising independant contact on which trade and other relations were to be built. This was spececially so after the irrisponsible, unpredictable very anti- Brittish Prime Minister Mosadeq by hook and crook was disposed. Mosadeq incidentally traveled around the world carried on a bed ! Iran, like Emperor Haily Selassy of Ethiopia and also President Tubman of Liberia were seen by The Netherlands government as promising countries on which florishing relationships should be built ! All fell on desastrous times . My best ever Director in South Africa Dr Joubert also paid an extensive visit to Iran to look at possibilities of future co opration in the gricultural field. The fall of the Sha in South Africa led to the building of SASOL II at Secunda !
    As far as I remember the Sha went into exile in Egypt where, I thougt hedied of cancer.

  6. gail van der mey

    This is fantastic a great and well done simplification of the very complex situations as you met them. The contrast is scary but I am glad you had such wonderful friendship and kindness. Thankyou for the unravelling of the recent past!!

  7. Jim and Muriel xx

    Such a wonderful view of Iranian way of life in Tehran now ———top marks for the way you have been able to paint this picture so well——-in no small part due to how well you engage with people . Again, thank you you lovely people with love as aye Jim and Muriel xx

  8. MvdMey@T-online.de

    Yes, Linda and Harry, I had similar experiences good and dissapointing ones. Basicly they remain Persian and remain proud of that. I met an Iranian, who told me, before the coming of the Islam we were a worldpower, since then life only got worse.
    Moreover there is not only the antithesis Iran – America, but also and even more dangerous the antithesis Iran – Saudi Arabia, as this has everything to do with religion, which is ouside the “lifestuff”. Beautiful impressions I hope to share more with you in Kleve or in Amsterdamhoek

  9. Colin

    A very misunderstood country with all the hospitality given by their people. Interesting post.
    All the best Colin from Durban

  10. Anonymous

    Lovely write up about another country where ordinary people just want to get on with the ordinary things of life. Looking forward to hearing more. What’s the food like now you are out of the mountain region? Love, us two.


    Thank you very much for such a lovely and informative description of a country very few people know about or understand. I wish that I was your age and could go to all the beautiful and interesting places that you have visited.
    Your emails are almost as good as being there. Thank you !!

  12. Derek Lubbe

    Thank you ?

  13. Anonymous

    WOW! Great post. More please…..

  14. Mike

    Interesting, you sure did your research on this country but who can blame you, I think I would have been very apprehensive as well. Makes you wonder why so many third world countries hate the Americans.
    Nice report, thanks for sharing.

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