The De-evolution of Iran: Re-claiming a Homeland


Iranian women before the Islamic Revolution (1970s).

A Foreign Love Affair

The last time I visited Iran I was ten, and although I looked eight, I still had to wear a hijab and be covered head-to-toe anytime I was outside. This summer, I planned on returning to Iran to see my grandmother for most likely the last time. I am now 21, and although I look 15, I was still prepared to wear whatever I had to in the 110 degree dry heat in order to see my grandmother. But after a phone call with my aunt last week, it turns out I will no longer be visiting my parents’ homeland. As I sat listening to her explain how it is too dangerous for me to visit Iran, I was stunned. I expected this from my American friends or co-workers, but not from one of our own. I responded as I did to friends who worried if it was a safe time to visit, “But I have dual citizenship, my parents are Iranian, I speak Farsi, and I’ll still have the protection of the good ol’ U-S-of A.”

Aside from the obvious fears of potential war, she emphasized how my visit would fall on the month of Ramadan, an Islamic holiday entailing dawn until dusk fasting everyday for a month. Hence, in about a week in Iran (and many other Muslim countries), there will be no eating, drinking, or smoking in public during the daylight hours. Moreover, the already absurd and oppressive laws will be enforced under a zero tolerance policy. If I wear too much make-up, if my hair is showing a bit, if I am not dressed like a wizard, etc. special police called “modesty squads” will be on the streets enforcing their standards with punishments for violation including lashes, fines or imprisonment. Wonderful.

As I reflect upon my last visit, this is neither the Iran I remember (although not as a liberal haven, a far more lax vision than the current state of affairs) nor the Iran my parents spoke so fondly of, a progressive Iran they were so proud of. Countless times I have sat in the car beside my father as he (un-prompted) began explaining how the “Persians liberated oppressed minorities, invented mathematics” and essentially began the civilized world. His bias pride and thick booming accent aside, he is right about a few things. In his Iran, the Iran of the generations before us, the Iranian government was a beacon of progression and innovation, not an oppressive expression of insecurity and ignorance.  I used to ask my parents why, after living in the United States for twice as long as they ever lived in Iran, their hearts ached for a homeland I did not understand. My mother explained, “Azizam (my dear), things were not always this way…the Iran I love was a place where women wore shorts and were not afraid, where the government, like Cyrus the Great, reflected his people’s values instead of oppressing them.” As a child, I never understood her deep love affair with Iran, but after my first visit, her nostalgic vision slowly became my own.

The Empire That Once Was

Although it is difficult to tell from today’s Iran, there remain  historical symbols amongst the Iranian people that more accurately reflect the people’s priorities, as referenced by my mother’s mention of Cyrus the Great (Iran’s Abe Lincoln). From government rulers to religious tenants to progressive innovations, the country’s past shows us the greater potential of Iran’s future.

Among the artillery of Iranian history my parents’ generation is surely to reference is Cyrus’s Great Cylinder, a piece The United Nations continues to promote as “an ancient declaration of human rights.” Yet, more than a written relic, the ruler’s legacy as a tolerant and progressive figure towards those he defeated and ruled serves to symbolize an origin of  tolerance in Iran that has since been forgotten.

In fact, the issue of modern Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic government falls short of the country’s original religious roots: Zoroastrianism. As one of the first religions of the world, Iran’s foundation of Zoroastrianism held free will, “good thoughts, good words, and good deeds” as fundamentally key to happiness and the maintenance of chaos—quite different than today’s Islamic Republic of Iran.

Lastly, what more reflective of the promise of a progressive and engaging nation than its contribution to man’s innovations, including the first: power windmill, banking system of the world, distillation of alcohol, and the creation of algebra, trigonometry, and of course, ice cream (you’re welcome).

Modern Iran’s Failing Politics and Economy

But what has Iran become today? A theocracy. Oppression. Violence. Torturing and killing political opponents. Quarantined from the global social, political and economic realms. Sexism. Persecution of Bahá’ís, gays, and really anyone who isn’t (or isn’t pretending to be) part of a fundamentalist gang running a nation at complete discord with its own people.

In today’s Iran, homosexual behavior and adultery (for women only) are illegal and can carry the death penalty. If a Muslim woman engages in a relationship with a non-Muslim man, she may be sentenced to be whipped. Men (and only men) can contract multiple marriages at a time (up to four permanently and as many temporarily as desired) and can terminate each marriage at will.  As for custody, under Iranian law, the children always go to the father—even if the father is not present, the children go to his parents over the mother herself.

Furthermore, a recent announcement of 36 Iranian universities closing 77 fields of study (mostly math and sciences) to women only goes to further devolve the great country that once was.  Following the election protests of 2009, the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei blamed universities for encouraging subversive behavior and mandated a greater focus on Islamic principles in universities. How promising.

The Iranian government’s current dismissal of human rights aside for a moment, the recent political actions of the government of Iran are now economically penalizing the entire nation. As a result of the Iranian government’s refusal to negotiate or reverse course on its nuclear program, the European Union (EU) governments have agreed to an immediate prohibition of all new contracts to import, buy or transport Iranian crude oil and petroleum products. Last Monday marked the first day of oil trading under the embargo, and consequently, the International Energy Agency estimates as much as one million barrels of Iran’s crude may leave the market.

Countries such as South Korea, Australia, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, and the United States have also engaged in bilateral sanctions against Iran in hopes of curbing its nuclear program. Iran has a $352 billion, oil-dominated economy, hence the objective of the sanctions to make it harder to obtain specialized resources and equipment needed for the nuclear program. Consequently, the value of the Iranian rial has plummeted since fall 2011 and has now fallen another 10% immediately after the implementation of the recent EU oil embargo, significantly affecting the Iranian people.

Fast-rising prices (the cost of chicken, a staple during Ramadan, has doubled in the last two months) have resulted in recent protests by outraged consumers chanting anti-government slogans like “Death to the looter of public treasure!”— reflecting a popular view among Iranians that public capital is being funneled into bureaucratic pockets instead of benefiting the Iranian public. In response, advisor to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Yadollah Javani, claims “The West is trying to create a divide between the people and the government.”

No, The East is trying to hide a divide between the people and the government for its own manipulative power-maintenance purposes. Iranian currency has devaluated 40% since February; the self-serving political decisions of the Iranian government are having tangible negative effects on millions of citizens all because of a few merciless men who will stop at nothing for power. Not even at killing their own innocent children of Iran. Not even at sacrificing an entire nation’s economy. Not even at demolishing the once great name of an empire.

The vision of Iran from the eyes of the people is not the same as that of their leaders. And more importantly, the promise of revolution lies in the blood of the Iranian people, in their past, in their resume for rebellion, progression, and tolerance–not in its current government’s fundamentalist power struggle. Iran need not remain a nostalgic fantasy, as it is now, a heavy sigh amongst my parents’ generation. After all, as Michael Leeden writes in a recent Foreign Affairs article, “Although an Iranian revolution may seem unlikely to the casual observer, the Iranian people can be said to have revolution in their DNA, having carried out three revolutions in the twentieth century.”

The Future of a Homeland

In summation, although sanctions may temporarily pressure the Iranian government’s economic options for a nuclear program, long-term, the Iranian people need a democracy, one in which their votes are not stolen, their women are not hidden, and their economy is not a gambling chip.

Meanwhile, the government’s intolerance of minorities in reality is really nothing more than a projection of its own weakness and fear; the stricter they enforce their oppressive laws, the more evident it becomes they are losing control of a boiling nation with a dangerously strong youth demographic waiting to be unleashed (60% of Iran’s population are under 30 years old). From the Green Movement to the attacks on Revolutionary Guard Corps last March, tensions grow and patience draws a close amongst the people of Iran, but their sticks and stones fall short when flung against the government’s unforgiving army of machines, ceasing for neither child nor elder. So what will work?

When I last visited Iran as a child, I observed my own temporary oppression and the more permanent bondage of my female cousins as they longed to escape their hijab and wear “two pieces in America.” I resented the government then, at age nine, as much as I do now for its insecure bondage of a people. I asked my father why someone didn’t hire an assassin to take out the top fundamentalist members of the government (obviously I had watched Godfather too many times). Although the idea made my father smile, he explained how that would not actually solve anything—one dramatically eliminated extremist would just be replaced with another. The long-term solution is implementation of a progressive democratic system genuinely created and supported by the Iranian people. It seems that has already begun to some extent. The Iranian people sent a clear message to the Obama administration in November 2009 after the fraudulent Iranian election: “Religion, by the will of the Iranian people of today, has to be separated from the state in order to guarantee unity of Iran.”

Moreover, as Leeden projects, there will be a need for a global union of actions: a call for the end of the regime; airing unbiased, on-the-ground news of Iran to the Iranian people in Iran and America; publicly demanding the release of political prisoners; and implementing international trade unions as a strike fund for Iranian workers.

I believe the last piece of the puzzle, and perhaps the most powerful, are Iranian Americans living in America. With the organization of Iranian citizens within Iran, the support of a global effort for universal human rights, and the tapping of a hugely agitated and patriotic Iranian-American population in America itching to get a punch in at the pillagers of their homeland, I believe there could be a promising and progressive future for Iran. Let us look to Iran’s beautiful past to turn today’s third world shadow of an empire into the bright promise that flutters in the hearts of the generations before us.


Facts and figures from BBC, CBN, and Foreign Affairs.


  • Dear Shadee, you may not remember me but I have been following your mom’s programs and admired her courage.
    Now I am proud of you, and I know this young generation will save our beautiful country. I am interested to have more communication with you and introduce you to some active friends. with love Khaleh Manijeh

  • The author of this article has no idea of Iran’s today society. Not a fair article! (From an Iranian who has lived in Iran for more than 18 years!)

  • Nima–as a fellow Iranian who has lived most of my life in Iran as well, I don’t understand your comment. This author is simply pointing to hard facts that amount to the negative aspects of Iranian society, which, as she points out, are directly counter to the old progressive ways of the country and its method of leadership. If this article is “not fair” because it does not also discuss the positive aspects of modern Iranian society, then you are not understanding the author’s point. As an Iranian herself I think it is obvious that she is seeking to present constructive criticism, and her very elaborate discussion of Iranian’s progressive past, which has shaped the culture that still exists today, makes it obvious that she recognizes the positive of Iranian society that is inherent in its historically proven potential. You cannot deny that the areas of society which the author chose to focus on (religious freedom, women’s and minority rights, etc) are not backwards as she points out, especially when you look at it compared to the ways of the past.

    • arya - crazy about I.R IRAN January 31, 2014 At 1:32 am

      معمولا وقتی یه ایرانی به یه ایرانی دیگه جواب میده فارسی مینویسه نه انگلیسی . بعدشم دعوا توی یه سایت ضد ایرانی ؟؟

  • @Omid: Have you lived in Iran recently or a few decades ago? That makes a lot of difference! I have just came from Iran. Couple of years ago!!! I just point out a few parts:
    -“De-evolution” ???? Really? The title itself is very harsh and destructive! how do you say it is constructive criticism!?
    -Hijab is the Law in Iran, good or bad, every one Must respect the law. And the punishment is not “lashes, fines or imprisonment.” Lashes are punishments for more serious issues like drinking Alcohol in public;(even in those cases you can pay fine, instead of lashes!) In rare cases that they catch you for not having Hijab, you will just be given warnings, and they ask you to respect the law and cover your hairs, and at maximum they arrest you for a few hours! I have to add that the government will not enforce the Hijab law very restrictly for tourists and visiting Iranians!
    – What “Past” are you referring to? Yes, Iran was an empire 2500 years ago, but not during the Shah! During the Shah era, women could wear shorts, but at the same time, many people in the villages did not have even drinking water!!! Shah was himself an oppressive dictator! and I can continue listing for pages many other negative facts about him . So don’t expect a third world country to become an empire again overnight! Iran has been over an 8 year war, 30 year sanctions, etc, and by all these now is a leading country in the region in many fields: Medicine, Nanotechnology, Stem Cells, Pharmaceutical industry (Iran unveiled Factor VIII,herception, and 5 other new strategic medications yesterday, look it up online), Nuclear Energy Technology, Astronomy, etc. And all of this has happened recently!!! It is what I call Progressive!
    -No I clearly has not heard anything about torture or violence in Iran!!! Very peaceful and safe place!! I think violence is much lower than what I have heard/seen in the US.
    -Women’s Right: to be honest, I have just read about it in a few feminist articles, usually echoed by western media! I have 200 relatives (about half female) and none of them ever complained about their rights or any thing. We usually jokes around that we should have an organisation for Men’s rights ( LOL!) as today women have even more right!!
    – Gay’s right: Where in the world they are respected and have full rights that you expect Iran to recognize them?
    – ” 36 Iranian universities closing 77 fields of study (mostly math and sciences) to women ” : Well the fact is that Iran is segregating a few universities that are not even among the Top! I am sure they have closed a few other universities for man! There are 1000s of universities in Iran, and now many of classes have empty seats due to the fact that population growth rate has decreased recently! So I don’t think the government is keeping women away from studying sciences!! In fact, 66% of students in Iranian universities are female!

    well, there a few other points to mention, but I don’t want to go more in detail!!!
    I know very well that Iran has many problems, but criticizing is very different than destroying a face of a country!! Anyway, I respect your perspective but to write an article about a country where you have just visited once at the age of 10, needs more research! Even with researching very well, it would still be defective as you need to live in a country to know the real facts, problems, struggles, etc.

    • Dear Nima,
      Allow me to clarify some points for you, as an Iranian woman, as an Iranian whose female cousins cry to me over Skype of their conditions, as a Iranian American citizen who appreciates both the honest faults and beauties of Iran.
      Your first comment on the hijab “good or bad”…let me make something clear, my stance is concretely that the law of hijab for Iran is BAD. This is MY position, that religious tenants should not be imposed by law on the people of the land. Those who wish to wear a hijab should have the right to do so, in a secure and accepting environment, and those who do not, should receive the same benefits.
      As for the punishment, obviously I did not state that every time a woman does not wear the hijab, or is a muslim in a non-muslim relationship, she gets lashes but that punishments BY LAW “INCLUDE” lashes, which as I state is not progressive. (According to official page of United Kingdom government: “ [for breaking laws]…she may be sentenced to be whipped.” And yet again, of course the laws are not necessarily applied as strictly to tourists but the soul of Iran is not in the hands of “tourists,” the regression of Iran affects IRANIAN CITIZENS, most importantly minorities. If you are ignorant of the government’s denial of the Holocaust, denial of the existence of homosexuals, persecution of the Bahai people, or imprisonment and torture of political opponents—few of which are MY OWN FAMILY MEMBERS IN PRISON, and therefore I do in fact Nima joon know first hand—then you are blissfully ignorant.
      As for Iran’s past, no one is denying the nation’s portions of darkness (I myself am deeply ANTI-SHAH) but that is not my point. My point is that Americans today see Iran’s DNA as anti-semitic, nuclear weapon mongering, anti-woman and my goal is to show there is a bright future for Iran by looking at the PARTS of Iran’s past that prove the potential of Iran’s future on the forefront of humanitariasm instead of it’s oppressive present situation.
      Once more, I never stated that the future of Iran could change “overnight,” in fact if it did I would argue it would not be a long-lasting change. My whole point is that THE TRUTH in Iran today is that the people and government are disconnected. There is a theocracy that has constructed a set of laws and policies that are ANTI-WOMAN, ANTI-MINORITY, ANTI-HUMANITARIAN, AND ANTI IRAN’S OWN ECONOMIC HEALTH. These are tangible facts of law, I don’t need to be in Iran writing to you to tell you this.
      If you have not “heard anything about violence in Iran” then I suggest you read more well-rounded news. Just last November, during a demonstration in 2011, the British Embassy in Tehran was ATTACKED AND SET ON FIRE. This is neither socially nor economically constructive for the people of Iran.
      You’ve read about women’s rights in “feminist articles”? I apologize, but the backwards state of humanitarian rights for women in Iran is a FACT. For Christ sake, it is ILLEGAL FOR A WOMAN TO HAVE CUSTODY OF HER OWN CHILDREN.
      “The fact is that iran is segregating a few universities that are not even among the Top!” So, as long as women are being “segregated” and discriminated against in lower-echelon schools it is acceptable? I couldn’t disagree more. HERE ARE THE FACTS: The decision to keep women from going to these universities AS STATED BY AYATOLLAH KHAMENEI HIMSELF (if that’s enough of an authority for you): “universities as the breeding ground for subversive behaviour and called for a greater focus on Islamic principles in universities” IN RESPONSE TO WOMEN PROTESTING FRAUDELENT ELECTIONS IN 2009.
      “Destroying the face of a country?” A realistic, truthful, and well-rounded grip of Iran is THE ONLY way to help Iran, economically and socially. I suppose the protests during Ramadan a few weeks ago were reflective of a content people? I suppose my own cousins crying to me, longing for freedom, are silent tears? Not to me, and not to many Iranians, in and out of Iran.
      Your projections on women’s rights being feminist rants and gays rights not being respected anywhere seem more fit for the same ideologies my entire article opposes.

  • I thought the article was really good and informative. I found another article in the Washington Post that I feel goes along with the author’s thesis:

    After this young girl was arrested for a hijab mishap: “After a brief time in custody, his daughter, Banafshe, was released. “Do you know what her response was to the whole episode?” he asked. “She said, ‘Dad, as soon as I finish high school, I’m leaving this country forever.’ ”

    @Nima, maybe some of the people you know don’t mind the hijab but it seems from both these articles that there are a large minority being excessively abused.

  • The United States, on behalf of Israel, will demolish Iran if it has a chance. You may disagree with the present regime, you may find it oppressive. But take a look at what has happened in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Do not support Zionist policies which are intended to destroy Iran and to enslave her people.

  • من نمی دونم که تو این پیامو می خونی یا نه.اینم فارسی می نویسم چون نمی خوام دیگران بخونند.تو قبل انقلاب از ایران رفتی و افکارتو از پدرت و اقوامت در مورد انقلاب ما گرفتی.اولا انقلاب ما شهدای بسیار زیادی داد.این شهیدا که تونستن یک انقلاب در دولت شاهنشاهی قدرتمند ایران به وجود بیارن قطعا ار انقلابشون حمایت می کنن.
    دوما…نمی دونم تو مسلمون هستی یا نه اما می دونم مزه ی اسلام رو نفهمیدی.نمی فهمی عشق به امام حسین(ع) یعنی چی.نمی دونی عشق به دین یعنی چی.
    کی میگه تو ایران بی حجابا رو شلاق میزنن؟کی دیده اونا رو اعدام کنن؟تو اینم نمی دونی که امر به معروف یعنی چی.
    ما مسلمونیم.کاری بهادم نداریم.اگه ببینیم کسی برخلاف دین و شریعت ما حرف می زنه جلوش قد علم می کنیم و ساکت نمی شینیم.
    اونایی که یه سال ۸۸ با حمایت غرب بر علیه دین ما بلند شدن الان کجان؟
    تونستن کاری بکنن؟
    تو اگه دلت می خواد هرکسی هر طوری نگات کنه..هر کسی هر طوری باهات رفتار کنه یا هر کسی هر طوری باهات عشق بازی کنه به شاید مریض باشی…شاید مست.ولی دخترای ما اینطوری نیستن.
    زنا و لواط دو کار الکی نیست.زن عفت داره و حیا داره.بیمار میشه اگه حیاش از بین بره
    من تو رو نمیشناسم
    اما می دونم فکرت در مورد ایران و انقلاب اسلامی اشتباس.اگر ۶ ماه بیای ایران و بمونی می فهمی که ما اینجا سخت میگیریم عوضش قلبمون راحته…مثل اینکه برا کنکور خوب بخونیم تا یه دانشگاه خوب بریم.

    • منخوندم ایول…

    • درود بر ایرانی با عیرت
      ما کجا و اخلاق صهیونیستی کجا؟

    • برادر من درسته که ما به فول بعضیاااا اهل فشن ومدیم

      اما اون ور آبیا باید بدونن که ما تا آخرین قطره خونمون پای این مملکت و انقلاب وایسادیم و نمیزاریم یه عده مزدور درباره ما چرت و پرت بگم

      درود بر نژاد آریایی


  • If a man uses knife to kill and murder definitely goes to jail . Had his cousins’ What crime have you know. Whether they have gone in the name of political activists and crime was something else … .
    The state law if a country is about to murder the murderer should be executed could be legally murder if someone wanted to do it and be free?
    In my country there are some limitations for women . Some of privacy that is related to religion , but some restrictions because that culture has nothing to do with religion .
    My country is Iran. Nature beautiful. Those beautiful people . Religion beautiful. Every beauty has its hardships , there are problems .

  • Only to judge Iran living in Iran and remain there in a while.
    The media does not have any right to talk., Even the human family

  • احسنت آقا مهدي
    26 dec 2013

  • arya - crazy about I.R IRAN January 31, 2014 At 1:28 am

    Hey , U don’t know anything about Iran .
    All of the west countries has warned that Iran is anti- fashioned , anti-woman , anti-globalization
    which is absolutely wrong . If you want to know or learn something about my country , U MUST visit it . people have almost no problems with their country . Their little problem is just about boycott , that it is NOT such a big problem that you talked about . Boycott helps Iran to progress and be better . But foreign countries and world’s people do NOT understand this . And it’s because of DAMN USA . it has expressed that Iran is the worst country in the world . ( for more info send an w-mail to my e-mail address )

  • مهدی همه گروه ها با هم انقلاب کردند نه فقط مردم عادی.یعنی تو شلاق و زجه دختران رو ندیدی ؟مهدی مطمن هستم خیل زجر کشیدی و همه امیدتو از دست دادی و همه رفتارهات مثل رفتار حیوونا بر حسب عادت هستش وگرنه همه انسان ها ذاتا آزادی و دوست دارن.برای تو ناراحتم

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