In spring 2007 I visited Iran as a member of a citizen’s diplomacy delegation. The day after we arrived in Tehran, our meetings with former President Khatami, Grand Ayatollah Saanei, peace activist Emmadin Baghi, and Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi were abruptly cancelled. Our cell phone calls and emails had been (and would continue to be) monitored; our activities were reorganized and were strictly controlled by Ahmedinejad’s faction.
Most of the government officials, citizens, clerics, students, professors and wounded veterans, with whom I was able to meet were conservatives. Our every move was monitored by the Ershad secret police. Big brother was definitely watching. And yet this “curse” turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I confronted and explored the much wider gulf that separated the perspectives of Ahmadinejad’s faction from my western sensibilities. (And of course, I had encounters with many much freer spirits here and there along the way.)
In the process, I learned much more about the Iranian soul than I could have dreamed going in. I encountered the intense spiritual passions of the Shia ways that catalyzed startling insights. It humbled me to see how a vast amount of what is under the surface of contemporary Iranian culture and politics tends be opaque to modern Western eyes.