Ever for the reason that 1979 revolution, Iran has been on the middle stage of controversy — from the embassy siege to the nuclear deal. Right now, the US authorities considers the nation to be the world’s “main state sponsor of terrorism” attributable to funding networks and operational cells globally. So, it’s not stunning that protection of Iran in Western media is much from constructive.
But many unbiased journalists and writers have traveled to the nation to see the each day lives of Iranians firsthand. As they’ve found, life is dramatically completely different from what Hollywood and Fox Information inform us.
One among these journalists is Stephan Orth, a German writer who wrote “Couchsurfing in Iran: Revealing a Hidden World,” based mostly on real-life encounters contained in the nation. The ebook, which was revealed in 2018, particulars his 62-day journey in Iran.
Orth is an award-winning journalist and writer who, for 9 years, was the web journey editor for Der Spiegel in Germany. Within the 304-page ebook, Orth narrates his interplay with Iranians, the intersection of faith and secularism, and the ways in which folks attempt to develop their civil liberties. He notes that Iran is a misunderstood nation with a younger inhabitants that’s at odds with the state’s interpretation of faith.
On this version of The Interview, Honest Observer talks to Orth about his adventures in Iran. The transcript has been edited for readability and the interview occurred on the finish of 2018.
Kourosh Ziabari: You spent 62 days on the street in Iran to expertise the completely different points of life within the nation. I do know it was your second journey to Iran. How did your preconceptions change after visiting the nation? Have been there sure stereotypes connected to Iran in your eyes that had been debunked after your encounter with the nation?
Stephan Orth: Generally, a visit to Iran is the right antidote in opposition to prejudices and flawed stereotypes. For instance, I anticipated to satisfy extra people who find themselves strictly spiritual. I anticipated to see extra males in lengthy robes and turbans on the streets, and extra ladies in conventional black attire. The chador is much less widespread than I anticipated — many ladies have very colourful outfits. And in addition in conversations at house, folks revealed very crucial opinions concerning the state faith to me.
Ziabari: Have been you discouraged by family and friends whenever you first revealed your plans to journey to Iran? How did you assuage their issues and persuade them that touring to Iran could be protected and never a tragic thought?
Orth: One buddy warned me in opposition to trying ladies within the eyes, one other suspected I might meet terrorists on each nook. So, sure, many individuals have an image of Iran that’s removed from on a regular basis actuality. After my first journey, I knew already that touring round Iran is much much less harmful than most individuals suppose, so once I did my second journey, I might inform folks that I knew what I used to be doing. The crucial conditions I had had been related to my job as a journalist and author. I used to be afraid the authorities would discover out that I’m engaged on a ebook, and that might actually have gotten me into bother.
Ziabari: In your ebook, “Couchsurfing in Iran: Revealing a Hidden World,” you write about Iranian politics and leaders who seem like oppressive and uncompromising. What concerning the folks of Iran? How is their universe completely different from that of their leaders?
Orth: First, I ought to point out that I met a particular group of individuals as a result of I used the Couchsurfing web site. Members there are usually extra open-minded than common folks, and most of them [in Iran] are educated, communicate respectable English and have an interest within the Western world. A lot of them informed me how a lot they hate this authorities, how a lot they despise being compelled into a faith they didn’t select for themselves. Greater than two-thirds of Iranians are youthful than 35. I bought the impression that almost all of them need extra freedom than they presently have.
Ziabari: One of many notable discoveries of your ebook is that there are “two Irans” that coexist facet by facet: the “theocracy” and the “hide-and-seekocracy.” What do you suppose has created this dichotomy within the each day lifetime of Iranians?
Orth: In each autocratic society, folks discover their secret methods to be extra freer than the federal government needs them to be and to interrupt the principles when no one is watching. Every part that’s forbidden exterior occurs in Iranian flats, as quickly because the door is closed. Folks drink alcohol, have a good time events, go on dates. They dance and sing and focus on very brazenly concerning the political points. I believe it’s simply human nature: you’ll be able to’t take away primary freedoms from folks — they won’t settle for it and can discover methods to get round these legal guidelines.
Ziabari: What do you consider the portrayal of Iran within the mass media? The whole protection of Iran within the mainstream media revolves round stories about sanctions, Iran’s nuclear program and its tensions with america. The human face of Iran, its wealthy tradition and humanities are nearly absent within the tales run by main newspapers and TV stations. Do you agree?
Orth: I completely agree. Sadly, the wealthy cultural heritage or the hospitality of individuals don’t make a sensational information story. Nonetheless, it’s necessary and proper to report on sanctions and tensions. Information reporting focuses on catastrophes, disasters and scandals, due to this fact Iran is just not the one nation about which individuals don’t get a full image from the massive media retailers.
We stay in a time of data overload, the place each sort of data appears to be obtainable on-line. That’s an phantasm — you continue to don’t get a transparent image of this world until you journey to locations with an open thoughts. I truly see this as my mission as a author: to inform concerning the 90% of a rustic’s actuality that doesn’t get a lot information protection, and to do that in such an entertaining approach that readers understand how attention-grabbing it’s.
Ziabari: You’ve traveled to completely different international locations. What’s the most particular and distinctive factor about Iran and its folks that you just would possibly wish to speak about? Is there something that makes the nation stand out among the many completely different locations you’ve been to?
Orth: I’ve been to greater than 70 international locations, and Iran is probably the most hospitable of them. Assembly the folks was a really touching expertise. At some factors, it made me even really feel ashamed how we typically deal with foreigners and friends in Western tradition.
Ziabari: You talked to many random folks on the streets, in cafés, on buses and trains and elsewhere in Iran whereas touring throughout the nation. What was probably the most transferring and galvanizing story that Iranians informed you about themselves or their aspirations?
Orth: A really unhappy story was a younger man who mentioned that each one he needs is to take his girlfriend to a pleasant bar and deal with her to a elaborate cocktail. How can such a small factor be unlawful, he was asking, and he had tears in his eyes?
A really inspiring individual was a bunch in Tehran who organizes three or 4 conferences per week the place folks recite poetry and focus on concerning the arts. Iran has such a tremendous heritage with poets like Hafiz, Sa’adi or Omar Khayyam, and it’s a beautiful factor to maintain this heritage alive with occasions like this.
Ziabari: Iran is just not the one Muslim nation, or the one nation with an official faith. Nonetheless, it’s known as one of many world’s most closed societies and, for some, the reason being right down to how faith is interpreted to affect the each day life of individuals. What do you suppose?
Orth: In public life, you need to play alongside the masquerade that this Islamic Republic has grow to be, even for those who don’t imagine. Criticism of Islam in public or within the office can get you into severe bother. However moreover that, folks discover their methods to have extra freedoms at house, and Christians or Jews are extra revered in Iran than most individuals suppose. My journey expertise was that, in on a regular basis contact with folks, it doesn’t really feel like such a closed society.
Ziabari: Do you suggest touring to Iran to your folks, household and colleagues? Will you come once more?
Orth: I like to recommend it to anybody who likes to journey and anybody who needs to have some stereotypes in his head rearranged. My father, who’s a college professor for historic historical past, went one yr after me with my mom on a gaggle tour and completely beloved the traditional websites and structure. Sadly, for North Individuals it’s not really easy to get a visa, however they are going to be shocked at what number of new buddies they are going to make on the journey, even when the Iranian authorities is completely anti-American.
I might like to fly to Tehran tomorrow. I’ve so many good buddies on this nation. However after publishing a ebook that talks about many unlawful experiences, a ebook that led to some controversial discussions in Iran, I’m undecided if it’s a good suggestion to use for a visa quickly.
The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Honest Observer’s editorial coverage.