About the double identity of Iranians
The Big Lie of Iran
4 May 2010
■ Ann De Craemer
‘So tell me,’ he said, ‘what do you believe is the essence of Iranian identity?’ He was stirring his cup and coffee and looked at me with a smile that was both amused and nervous. ‘The essence of Iranian identity’, I told him, postponing my answer somewhat by taking a slow sip of my tea, ‘is lying.’ The sound of his roaring laughter filled the entire restaurant. ‘Unbelievable,’ he sighed, acting as if he was deeply shocked, ‘finally a European understands the Iranian soul.’
I was in Iran for three weeks in June 2009, and although I had thoroughly studied the country before I finally got there, I was only able to understand something about the Iranian identity once I had actually been there. I do not want to start a lengthy exposé about the problem of identity and I do realize that a question about the essence of an identity might have multiple answers. But to me, and to my deep regret, lying is definitely the essence of Iranian identity today.
Never have I heard people telling so many lies as in Iran. Never have I myself lied so much as in Iran. And never have I felt at times so torn between personalities as in Iran.
In the train from Qom to Arak, I met four young Iranian women who unveiled part of the Iranian identity for me. Maryam (19) lived in Qom and was wearing a chador, but she hated it. ‘I’m only wearing it because I have to. My heart wants something else entirely. The chador actually sums up the essence of Iran: underneath it, many women wear sexy lingerie – just as Iran looks Islamic on the outside, but if only you knew how things are really like underneath. All Iranians have a split personality.’
If only you knew, Maryam said, and I do know now. During my three weeks in Iran, I spent a lot of time in people’s houses, and I came to realize that a double identity is indeed the essence of daily life in Iran. The Islamic Revolution lead to a theocracy but also to a widespread way of life that goes against Islam: lying is the absolute condition for survival. Most Iranians lead a double life. There is the private life inside the house and there is the public life outside. In the streets, you can hear people saying that yes, they do attend Friday prayer, don’t listen to western music, have no satellite television and love ayatollah Khomeini. Behind closed windows and doors, I have heard people cursing Khomeini to death. Schizophrenia is not only embedded in the structure of state government of the Islamic Republic – a theocracy that wants to be a democracy by organizing elections – but also penetrates countless aspects of daily life.
The first time that the big lie of Iranian life hit me really hard was when visiting the grave of a descendant of Iranian Prime Minister Ghaemmaghami Farahani at Arak’s countryside. An Iranian friend accompanied me to the grave. He was an atheist and had ventilated his anger with Islam and the Iranian regime many times already. While we were standing by the grave next to some other Iranians, my friend put his hand on the Quran that was on the tombstone and loudly recited an aya from ‘his’ Holy Book.
Schizophrenia penetrates countless aspects of daily life in Iran
I could not believe what I had just witnessed. It was an amazing theatrical performance. When I told my friend how uncomfortable it was to see a friend so blatantly lying, he laughed: ‘This is Iran. We all lie. And we all know that we are lying, but we don’t know exactly when.’
I myself have found it at times very hard to lie in Iran. In Tochal, the police briefly arrested me after having interviewed an Iranian journalist wearing a green scarf. They asked me what I thought about president Ahmadinejad. Obviously, I did not tell them the truth, because I knew it meant I would get into trouble. I hated myself for this lie. That was the second day of my stay in Iran. Some weeks later, I had gotten used to lying and did not feel so guilty anymore – a realization which shocked me.
It is dangerous if lying becomes a habit. Fiction and reality constantly blur into one another. If you partly live in a fabricated world, then the switch to the real world can be very hard. I have seen many Iranians lying even when it was not really necessary. If you learn at a very young age that lying can help you achieving your goal, this influences your psyche. You forget that lying is wrong – on the contrary, it turns into something that makes life better and easier. Whereas children in democratic countries only have to worry about learning how to ride their first bicycle, Iranian children have to worry about how to tell their first lie as convincingly as possible.
I believe that the schizophrenia this has caused is the biggest crime of the Islamic regime against its people. It is tragic that all Iranians have to create a fake copy of their true self. The Islamic Republic is very far from the ideals of King Darius I, who is the author of the following inscription at Naqsh-e Rostam:
By the will of Ahura Mazda, I am of such a sort, I am a friend of the right, of wrong I am not a friend. It is not my wish that the weak should have harm done him by the strong, nor is it my wish that the strong should have harm done him by the weak. The right, that is my desire. To a man who is a follower of the lie I am no friend.
King Darius and King Cyrus would turn in their grave if they saw what a big lie the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran has become. Their theocracy is a lie. Their democracy is a lie. The most blatant lie of all is that under the banner of Islam, they have been forcing Iranian people for 30 years already to be fulltime liars. I have given away my robe for a lie, Rumi once said, I would give my life for the truth. One consolation for King Darius is that today, Iran is full of people who think the same.
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