I just finished reading a book called “The Ayatollah Begs To Differ.” It is written by an Iranian man who grew up abroad but has since spent a fair amount of time in Iran. The book is a fascinating look at both how “ordinary” Iranians view their society and how that society works. If one doesn’t know a lot about Iran, the book is a fascinating read.
The Government, which seems an odd lash-up between civil servants and the Shia clergy, has its’ warts but has evolved to a point where the Author feels comfortable concluding that it works for most Iranians. It ain’t a democracy – not even close – but it seems that it suits their culture and heritage. Yes, that same government causes a lot of headaches for Americans but that isn’t the point of this post.
The descriptions of how Persian society works, the delineation of public and private space and what I call “social dickering” are eye-opening. Imagine if you offered to pay your cabbie and he replied with “I’m not worthy”. I don’t know that many of us would know what to say. The repeated rehash of public/private space descriptions reveals what i believe to be the Authors blind spot regarding his home country: he sees no irony in describing the government as (relatively) lenient and progressive while indicating that people are free to speak their mind and espouse politically dicey opinions – as long as they do it in private. This seeming contradiction may just be an awkward characterization of the situation in Iran but saying people are free to say and do what they like – as long as it is done privately – reminds me of some places that everyone agrees are not so free.
Another crucial concept that is explained at some length is the concept of “rights” or “haq” which is best characterized as a mix between nationalism, ego and a sense of right that is a driving factor for both the State and the individual. I’m not going to even try to explain it beyond that but if you want to understand Iran (in the author’s estimation), you have to understand “haq” and how it relates to the Shia.
btw, Grand Ayatollah Sistani, who has been of assistance to the United States in Iraq, is actually Iranian..