Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sulking and other things about contemporary Iran

by Salman Hameed

While we are waiting for some sort of resolution to the nuclear talks (and yes, it will be an absolute shame if the US Congress ends up sabotaging the talks by imposing new sanctions at this time), here is a fascinating Fresh Air interview with Hoomad Majd, the author of The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay.

There are three things that I want to highlight. First, he talks about the "Death to America" chant. He attributes it to the problem of translation. Yes, it does literally mean "death to America" - but it would be more accurate to translate as "down with America". And that this term for death "marg" is actually used quite frequently in colloquial Persian when someone is upset at something (he gave the example of "death to potato").

Second, I'm fascinated by the political use of sulking in Iran. Here is a small excerpt from the interview:
When we were in Iran, President Ahmadinejad — not being able to get his way on one particular thing he was trying to do, which was to fire an intelligence minister — engaged in a sulk. He decided to go home and say, "I'm not coming to work," and he did that for about 12 days. And it reminded me of this characteristic that we have in Iranian culture where people do sulk, whether it's for something as simple as a social sulk or a family sulk, or ... it's political.

And it goes all the way back in Iranian history and, most famously, [to] Prime Minister [Mohammad] Mosaddegh, who was overthrown by the CIA and British intelligence in 1953, who was constantly engaging in sulks in order to get his way, and if he didn't get his way he would suddenly fall ill or faint and cry and take to his bed, and even have meetings from his bed wearing pajamas.
Oh - I have to so adopt it at Hampshire College. Too bad I'm no longer chairing the faculty committee. Otherwise, I would have definitely used a sulk to faculty on board on contentious issues.

And the last point is about trash in Tehran. Hooman points out that Tehran is a very clean city of 14 million people and that trash is picked up 7 days a week. Here is an excerpt about the city of Tehran:
The city of Tehran is a very modern metropolis, and there's an emphasis in the Islamic republic on science and advancement and technology. We see that with the nuclear issue. So you do see there's industry, there's heavy industry; they make everything from cars to refrigerators to electronic goods. So it's a very modern place and very European-looking in many ways. That emphasis is something you don't see in a lot of other Islamic countries as much as you do in Iran...

[Tehran is] superbly maintained, as well as it can be, given that it's a sprawling city of 14 million people. They collect the trash every single day, seven days a week. It's remarkably clean ... even though there's heavy, heavy pollution.
Okay sign me up: I would love to visit Tehran. Iran was actually part of NSF evolution survey. However, because of the tensions after the 2009 elections, we dropped the idea of going to Iran. But if the relations between Iran and the US thaw a bit, I will definitely be seeking a way to visit the country. 

Listen to the full interview here.


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