15 October 2006

Ambition shines bright in Iran. Up to a point.

Robert Tait of The Observer sometimes produces interesting articles about Iran and its frequently ugly reality of religious and political oppression. This time, however, he has chosen a light and playful approach. Two different persons, both looking for success in his/her own professional area are written up in the article. The first - an inventive shoe-shine expert with his e-mail address and a cell phone.

Rather than wait hopefully for business, Hasankhani cycles across Tehran to where he knows customers are in need of his services. He plies his trade expertly in cafes and restaurants frequented by well-to-do professionals who have come to rely on him to keep their footwear gleaming. Hasankhani's email address - aliwaxima2000@yahoo.com - and telephone number are proudly emblazoned on his kit box, which also bears the ultimate customer-friendly motto: Have A Nice Day. In a further innovation, he is setting up a website.
While admiring Hasankhani's business acumen, I can hardly see how it revolutionizes the bleak reality of the country. But I wish him success anyway.

The second protagonist of the article is known much better to the international public, it is the Laleh Seddigh, the first woman to be crowned Iran's national motor rally champion.

But her success has never been accepted by the traditionalist male-dominated hierarchy of the racing federation, who, in effect, ensured that she would not repeat it by recently barring her from a race at Tehran's Azadi stadium. Seddigh, however, remains defiant. Certain that right is on her side, she has embarked on a campaign to secure legally binding written permission for any woman to compete against men in motor races. She is also trying to break another taboo - the prohibition on men training women to become rally coaches. That is banned on Islamic grounds, on the basis that unrelated members of the opposite sex should not be alone together in an enclosed space.
No, it is not an opportunity for bashing Islam. Other religions, Judaism included, have their own quirks that treat women not much less unfairly than Islam. However, saying this, at least the West does not adopt this policy on the regime level, as it is practiced in Iran and other Muslim theocracies.

Says Laleh: "We are totally covered. There is no question of breaking Islamic laws."

Dear Laleh, you may be right at that, but here is the bitter truth:

Feet, you see, here is your problem. Quite a lot of years (more than 150, I guess) ago and in some other land the mere mention of the word "foot" where a female was concerned would have been considered a rudeness. Not to speak or dream about showing a foot or a fragment of it to the general public.

Wrapped in a burqah and at home, raising children - this is how many of your countrymen prefer to see (or, rather, not to see) you and all Persian women. It may take another 150 years to dispose of this taboo, I am afraid.

I wish you all the best and hope you will be able to break the walls some little men are raising around you.

Cross-posted on Yourish.com