by Rasool Nafisi
Traveling to Iran, the land I left in anger 30 years ago has always caused in me a mix of ambivalence, confusion, and nostalgia. It took me years to reconcile with my country of origin (I have always refrained from calling it "my old country") enough to be able to go back and forth like a tourist/researcher. Iran today is and is not the country of my memories. I still become bewildered in this new country, which has doubled in population since I left, and where every familiar street name has changed. I know a number of people abroad who would not go back just to keep the memory of their "old country" intact.
The recent trip to do research on the Iranian judiciary carried extra weight for me. Most of the people I needed to see were classmates and friends of mine at Tehran University, Faculty of Law. This made my work easier. On the other hand, the judiciary in Iran is the most sensitive branch of the government. It is the machinery of the "Guardian Council," making sure that "real" power is controlled by the hard-line clergy. I was not sure of how much cooperation I would receive, or how much I would be a target of suspicion, but things worked out better than I thought they would. The Judiciary seemed to be siding with change and reform, and, in fact, many, including the Chief of Family Court Complex, wanted to show me their strides toward a more egalitarian system. More than on any previous trips, officials invited me to lunch. I take that as a measure of success!
Unlike previous trips, I stayed in Tehran throughout my stay to conduct my interviews. The first news I heard upon my arrival was the death of 40 junkies sleeping in the open. One angry reader of a Tehran paper commented "Then why do we have so many mosques, if people are not good enough to sleep in them? Folks, I announce unequivocally, that as of today, I am an apostate, an apostate, if this is your Islam!" The last news when I was leaving the country was the wholesale destruction of the city of Bam, where I had spent a summer many many years ago, enjoying its dates, bread and yogurt, and recording the speech and songs of this city of sand storms, smugglers and opium which borders on unforgiving desert. I didn't go to see the ruined city, so I could keep and cherish the old picture I had of it in mind: the warmth and friendship, the skies filled with stars and the proud citadel looming over the city, now ravaged, now gone.
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