I have just returned from a pleasant trip to the very South of Azerbaijan, right to the border with Iran in fact. When I got back home I announced my return on Facebook and almost immediately, my cousin’s husband Athos reminded me how dangerous it might have been for me, a British citizen if I had crossed the border. Out of interest, I checked the Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice and read that:
“British travellers to Iran face greater risks than nationals of most other countries. There is therefore a risk that British nationals could be arbitrarily detained, despite their complete innocence. Independent travellers, especially if going off the beaten track face greater risk than those in tour groups or business visitors”.
So, Athos was probably right and if I had crossed the border I could have been sitting in an Iranian prison cell right now instead of writing this blog entry… The funny thing is, I thought I would probably have been perfectly safe travelling around the country as an independent traveler, visiting out-of-the-way shrines and Iran’s natural wonders. Call me naive if you like but my previous experiences of Iranian people has been almost universally positive.
Yes, I do read the news and I am aware of the ongoing tensions between the United States and Iran and the concern over their potential nuclear programme but hey, I remember a time when the relationship between Iran and the UK was warm and close [rather like those between the US and President Mubarak’s regime in Egypt]…
To be frank, it amazes me how quickly relationships between countries can change and yesterdays friend can become an enemy any tomorrows friend is my enemy today..
When I was at University in England, something like a quarter of all the undergraduates there were from Iran and I shared a flat with three young Iranian computing students. We went out to the Student Union bar together and they, like me chased the girls who hung out there. They dressed like me, they spoke like me, they behaved like me, drinking large quantities of our wonderful warm, flat English beer. Then, seemingly out of nowhere the Islamic revolution exploded onto the world scene and everything changed.
Overnight, these relaxed, cool dudes became loud, militant supporters of the radical changes in their society, shunning Westerners as much as they could and acting as if they were devout Muslims. They condemned the Shah and his corrupt, repressive practices, they exalted in the idea of an Islamic republic and how much better life was going to be for the poor people of the country in the fullness of time.
This change of attitude to a people was emphasised in my mind by the odd flip that has happened in US-French relations over the past week. Suddenly, those terrible “cheese-eating surrender-monkeys” who condemned US involvement in Iraq are partners in establishing a no-fly zone across Libya. The irony is of course, that neither the French nor the Americans have any stated goals other than to stop General Gaddafi’s planes bombing his own people and who knows how the dice will fall in the long-term… President Obama’s support of the “will of the people” in Egypt and airborne assistance to Libya may well pave the way towards the establishment of two more Islamic republics and at the same time strengthen the budding raproachment between the US and France.
What though, will be the relationships between those notional republics and the West? Will Western powers continue to be seen as colonisers and exploiters or harbingers of a new age of democracy and peace?
We live in interesting times…