07/06/2008 Iran: Lamb or Lion?
One of her most amazing memories of Tehran is about a circus where she saw a lady with a purple chador riding in circles on a horse. Carolien Roelants, a journalist for the Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad, has made so many trips to Iran that she stopped counting them.
Although she doesn’t speak Farsi, she tries to get a familiar picture of the country and its people as possible. During her trips to Iran, she speaks to a broad range of people: supporters of the conservative regime as well as members of the opposition, young and old, women and men. Roelants work – background stories, reports and interviews – is published in NRC Handelsblad. Last week the publisher launched a new edition of Roelants book: Iran behind the Scenes, Mullahs and Maidens’ (Iran achter de schermen, mullahs en meisjes). The book launch was combined with a discussion in the debating centre De Rode Hoed.
The moderator of the debate started by asking the participants Carolien Roelants, Shervin Nekuee and Arend Jan Boekestijn the same question: what is Iran, a lion, a lamb or some other animal? Roelants compared Iran with a nice animal with teeth, something like the Cookie Monster from the TV series Sesame Street. The Dutch Iranian journalist Nekuee thought Iran is like a cat: you can become its friend, but you can never tame it. The right-wing parliamentarian (VVD) Boeksteijn looked upon Iran as being a very dangerous animal, a crocodile with a voracious appetite. He pointed at Iran’s support to terrorists groups, like al Qaeda, and the mostly vague actions around the enrichment of uranium.
Nekuee, and also Roelants stressed the heterogeneity of the parliament, the clashes between different political fractions, the rationality and the will to negotiate amongst several people in power. Recently the new, mainly conservative Iranian parliament has chosen Ali Larijani to be their speaker of the parliament. He was the main negotiator in the nuclear issue. Larijani is a conservative but not as dogmatic as the current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Larijani is seen also as a strong competitor in the presidential elections next year.
One of the visual intermezzos of the debate was a YouTube videoclip showing popstar Chris de Burgh playing with the Iranian band Arian. Last week the Irish musician appeared at a press conference in Tehran. It was the first time since the revolution in 1979 a western popstar visited Iran. De Burgh – who made hits like The Lady in Red and a Woman’s Heart – announced plans to give a concert in Tehran, although he did not yet mention any date for the concert. ‘People will not be allowed to dance during the concert but that is of minor importance’, De Burgh assured. ‘I know what is happening in this country. This is a possibility to make a difference for the Iranian people.