Out of all the countries we will visit on this trip there are probably none that are as misinterpreted or held in such high suspicion in the west, than Iran. With the exception of China perhaps.
For this reason, along with China, Iran was the country I was most looking forward to travelling in.
Being from Britain perhaps adds an even greater weight to my time here. Due to the diplomatic relations between our two countries over the past 60 years the Iranian people have had little contact with British tourists, compared to say French, German and other European nationals.
Instead of treating you with suspicion and fear however the general reaction from Iranians tends to be exclamations of delight. Firstly, the majority of Iranians are incredibly well educated and open minded people. They know exactly how they are portrayed in western media and are eager to dispel any negative opinions you may have. Secondly, lots of younger Iranians already speak, or are learning to speak English, so meeting a native speaker is really exciting for them.
There’s no point ignoring the difficult diplomatic relations but since reading up, I’ve spent most of my first week here feeling guilty that my country played such an embarrassing and illegitimate role in Iran’s recent history. Just research the British organised coups of 1921 and 1953 and you’ll begin to ask the question: ‘just how much of the current situation in Iran is our fault?’
I’m not going to forget or ignore the censorship and human rights abuses which I know take place here but I want to spend my time finding out how the rules and laws of the country affect real people and what they think about them.
I want to know more about Sharia Law and the Shiism pillar of Islam and how it plays a key role in cultural, social and political life here and what normal Iranians think about it. Is the obligatory wearing of the hejab the biggest problem for Iranian women or are there more important causes to get behind?
Having spent a week here, it feels as if we’re just beginning to get an insight into contemporary life here. Understanding the causes and events following the revolution in 1979, the domestic and foreign policies which followed under Khomeini, and how an Islamic republic functions day to day have been important to this.
And of course, as well as this complex and fascinating chapter of Iran’s recent history we also have all the ancient stuff to explore too. The great Achaemenid period and Persian’s epic empires which followed.