When in Tehran...

Dear Inga la Gringa,

so many travel writers are so patronizing — not you, i LOVE your attitude. but here’s the deal — i’m heading off for a muslim land soon and, well, i’ve just got a thing about veils. hate everything i think they represent. what’s the origin of them, and as a western progressive grrrl, am i just inappropriately projecting my own politics on the situation?

Perplexed About Persia,
Toni

Dearest Toni,

Your closing, “Perplexed about Persia,” leads me to deduce that the “Muslim land” you will be visiting is Iran. This is a pretty important deduction on my part, because the religion observed in Iran is not at all the same as that of the United Arab Emirates, which in turn, is vastly different from Islam as practiced by folks in Afghanistan. Compare your statement to someone saying they are going to a “Christian land.” Would that mean São Paulo, Brazil, where Santeria is a very, very interesting incarnation of Catholicism? Or might it be a jaunt to St. Petersburg, Russia? Or Salt Lake City, Utah? If you tally up all the Christians in the world and the ways they observe Christianity, you will have a basic idea of how many Muslims and manners of Islamic devotion exist on the planet.

So… Iran.

Toni, you need to wear a veil in Iran.

If you are going into a jungle in Borneo, you pack the strongest insect repellant on the market. If you are going to Italy to have casual sex with anonymous men, you take condoms. There are certain things you do to protect yourself whenever you stray from your home environment.

The practice of veiling pre-dates Muhammad (Peace and Blessings upon him — get used to saying that every time you mention His name). The veil symbolizes not just women’s modesty, but men’s as well. Men are not tempted to act like jerks when they can’t see a woman’s body, face and hair. The rationale behind this tenet is (in my considered opinion) flawed, but nonetheless, the Qur’an (just like America’s Holy Bible) clearly states that women have a “divine curse.” Thus, veiling.

If you were going to Jamaica, you’d probably wear a bikini to the beach. No one on a Jamaican beach will go out of their way for you if you are attired in a snowboarding outfit. Likewise, no one will be nice to you in Iran unless you wear a veil. If constant rudeness is something you seek out in life, then certainly go without a veil.

When you go to another country, you are, in actuality, asking millions of people to let you into their home. I, for one, don’t much cotton to people who come into my home and disregard the basic rules I honor. I prefer people to take off their shoes, denigrate homophobia and never, ever disrespect the Diamanda Galás album I am probably listening to.

I imagine you, too, expect certain behavior from your guests.

The word “tourist” usurps the word “guest” in our language, and this is a calibrated reflection of American Imperialistic thinking.

Your politics mean absolutely nothing to Iranians.

For one thing, there was a guy named the Shah who ruled Iran until 1979, when he was ousted in a revolution. The Shah let women go without veils, but he also bilked the Iranian people out of trillions of dollars worth of resources by basically leasing his country to American corporations. Unveiled women remind many Iranians of getting shafted by the Shah. Since your family did not suffer under the Shah’s regime, it seems kinda out of place for you to flaunt this in people’s faces.

As an outsider, would you travel into White Is Right territory in deepest Mississippi and walk around trying to convince the folks that we should all practice Eracism? How many nights do you think you’d sleep peacefully in your hotel room?

Thousands of Iranian feminists are valiantly fighting this battle. If you want to be political, then I say sell your car(s) and give the money to the Dr. Homa Darabi Foundation, an organization trying to stop violence against women inflicted in the name of God, religion, culture or family values. It would do a whole heckuva lot more good than blindly subjecting others to your cultural beliefs.

I also suggest you read a couple of books about Iranian women’s experiences:
Daughter of Persia: A Woman’s Journey From Her Father’s Harem Through the Islamic Revolution
The Stoning of Soraya M.
Rage Against the Veil: The Courageous Life and Death of an Islamic Dissident

With Love,
Inga la Gringa
Unveiling Iran?

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