If one could apply one rule to describe a the social behaviours of a whole nation, I suppose this would be it, for us. For us Iranians.
You can find articles describing Iranian foreign policy by disgruntled Western analysts using words like “sophisticated”, “tricky”, “deceit”, “manipulative”. I would like to assure the Gentle Reader that these are not just apt descriptions of our nuclear policy. Our entire social discourse is marked by our gentle ability to say “yes” when we mean “no”. By our slippery smooth wriggly skin, impossible to grasp or clutch. By our obsession with “face”. By our meaningless yet vital courtesies, repeated again and again during the course of each day, between friends and enemies and colleagues and relatives – “may I sacrifice myself for you…” you are my soul…” “I swear on the spirit of my father…”
Hypocrisy is a national value and an art, as well as a tool of survival. Children are schooled in it from their first days at school. The necessity of saying something while doing something entirely different. The necessity of pretence. A lot of it is driven by brute force: women have to cover up in public whether they believe in it or not; they will be prosecuted and punished if they don’t. You have to say prayers in schools, you have to be drilled in religious and theological lore as a believer. In the morning, you are required to say that you think Fatemeh the daughter of Mohammad is the true and only role model for women, and then you go home and watch Madonna and Britney for the rest of the afternoon.
Women especially- the cover is not just literal, but metaphorical and spiritual. They cloak not just their hair and bodies, but their thoughts and desires, their actions and their comings and goings too. It is an ongoing, sad joke: Western men marry their girlfriends, Iranian men marry other men’s girlfriends. It is not funny- it is too true. Every young Iranian girl I knew had a boyfriend, if not several. Every single one of them hid it from their families. All of them invented elaborate lies and fantasy characters to conceal their doings.
And even sadder and trickier: their families know perfectly well what is happening. But it is not to be discussed. Everybody buys into this huge joke of respect, virginity and religion. So long as it is not spoken out loud, what is happening, then it doesn’t exist. If we keep repeating that everybody is virtuous, a believer, religious, then everybody is. The mother of a friend of my mother taught them, a hundred or so years ago, when they were young girls, “a lady does whatever the fuck she wants (har ghalati…) only no one ever sees her do it.” This was years before the revolution.
A culture of courtesy, of deceit and hypocrisy, infused with religiosity and cheap mysticism. Our birth right, our heritage.