Every weekday morning I awake to the dulcet tenor of Steve Inskeep‘s voice on NPR’s Morning Edition. (What better way is there to wake up, really?) Those of you who share my love for public radio will recall that a couple of weeks ago Mr. Inskeep was on assignment in Iran to cover the 30th Anniversary of the Islamic Revolution there. As part of that coverage, two writers, Azadeh Moaveni and Azar Nafisi, discussed their memoirs of Iran, Honeymoon in Tehran and Reading Lolita in Tehran, respectively.
Last night, the conversation about Iran continued, as Moaveni stopped by the great DC bookstore Politics & Prose to promote Honeymoon in Tehran and discuss her experiences. As a journalist for Time Magazine, the California-born Moaveni has lived in worked throughout the Middle East. Her first book, Lipstick Jihad, was a look into the youth culture she observed in Iran in the early aughts. Despite the strict moral code of the Islamic government and the threat of enforcement by the morality police, young people in Iran — which Moaveni cited makes up some 70% of the Iranian populace — flouted the rules as if they didn’t exist period.
Moaveni’s new book follows her engagement, pregnancy and marriage in Iran. She shared some of these anecdotes with the listeners at Politics & Prose last night. For example, the practice of gender segregated wedding receptions, where 300 men are in one ballroom, 300 women in another. As if wedding receptions weren’t awkward enough… Apparently, also, Iranian dowry-type practices require that women stipulate their cost, in the case of divorce. The status symbol for this supposedly symbolic statement these days is the ask for the bride’s weight or birth year in gold. Problem being, that in the case of divorce, the dudes can’t pay out and the in-laws can haul their butts into jail, essentially.
The most interesting part of the reading was the q&a, when several people got up to ask Moaveni some questions about the future of Iran and its relationship with the United States, which, in case you haven’t heard, hasn’t been going too swell since Bush declared they were part of the “Axis of Evil.” What came to light via the questions posed and Moaveni’s very patient responses, was the underlying misunderstanding of Iran and the sort of gut-reaction many of us have because of what we hear about most regarding them. Moaveni likened the appeal of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he was campaigning in 2005 to that of President Barack Obama. Ahmadinejad too, at that time, was seen as a candidate of change for an Iran that was undergoing not only a crisis of confidence but real economic struggles as well.
When asked about future relations between the United States and Iran, Moaveni levelled that having great and immediate progress would be extremely difficult, but that talking about shared interests (Iraq? Afghanistan? So much to talk about…) might be a place to start. With Iran’s June elections looming on the horizon and President Obama’s interest in re-engaging Iran, I’m willing to bet that the country will remain in the media field of vision for the next few months at least.
NPR has an excerpt from Honeymoon in Tehran for your reading pleasure.