Happy new year, islam-style

When Mood Music
2006-03-21 19:48:00

Apparently at midnight last night it became the Islamic new year. I hope it’s a good one for muslims and infidels everywhere.

Mr Iran
I got back to the hotel after this morning’s marathon cyber-session to find that it was lunch-break in the cricket. By the time play resumed, the usual afternoon power-cut was on and so I ate lunch (vegetable pilao rice and a small Kingfisher lager) and chatted with Mr Iran.

I’m beginning to have more sympathy with him: he was married at age 23 to a woman he’d met once after their parents arranged the marriage. I knew only too well that arranged marriages occur in many cultures but I hadn’t associated this practice with Iran. Whatever, being forced to spend life with someone you don’t love can’t be fun and so no wonder he has a girl-friend! Unfortunately there are children involved* and the look on his face when he answered my question made me feel utterly horrible – I must have really hit a nerve. However, conversation moved on so I think we’re still on side.
*I don’t understand this bit – physical intimacy with someone I don’t love (or at least like at the time) is utterly repulsive to me.

He also told me that Islam allowed his grandfather 5 wives and asked me to confirm that my system only allowed me one at a time. I did so and told him that for me, one partner at a time is more than enough, so that there is no way I’d want a wife and a girlfriend at the same time. Even if I didn’t like my wife any more, I’d still feel bound to the marriage and so would feel pulled apart.

He’s not at all impressed with the mullah-ocracy or the current loony in charge of Iran (whom he describes as having been a jumped-up former henchman/assassin for Khomenei), nor with the ‘Islam-system’ (his description) that denies people the chance of finding partners with whom they can be happy. He seemed open to my description of the faults of the ‘western’ system, namely that you can make wrong choices (for which you only have yourself to blame) and that, in my opinion, we’re not expected or taught how to be good, life-long partners.

Of course this is largely based on my own experiences and opinions of myself. However, other UK people who have been in relationships with Asian women have mentioned that they seem much more marriage-oriented/trained. Mr Iran mentioned this opinion too. I’m not sure how I feel about it. In ways, it seems sexist and racist, but if it promotes the happiness of the people involved and the stability of their children’s lives, who am I to criticise?

I admit to exploding with outrage at the mention of the burkha – to me it’s dramatically unfair that women have to cover themselves up because men can’t control their lusts, and a bit of a slander on men too. I suspect most men can’t control their thoughts and wondering eyes but they can be unobtrusive and wouldn’t act out anything without actual permission and/or encouragement!

(Having said that, I’ve seen a few women in burkhas here. As usual here, the material is beautiful. I can’t help but feel that Indian fashions greatly add to the beauty I perceive here.)

Mr Iran also told me of the uselessness of his country’s internal airlines: reliability and responsibility aren’t their concerns. To paraphrase, ‘So what if you have an international flight booked from Tehran? Our plane’s not flying there today, even if you have booked and paid and there’s no other due until after your international flight’s departed. It’s not our problem!’ So he endured a 7-hour bus ride from his home-town to Tehran. I can forgive a lot after undergoing several bus-journeys here and a few unpleasant long-distance ones in the UK.

He blames most of the problems on the corrupt mullah-ocracy, along with the war with Iraq and the accompanying squander of Iran’s oil-money. Mr Iran is a believer – or at least attends mosque (but not the ritual 5 times a day) and doesn’t have much time at all for people who pretend to Islam purely for financial and political advancement, while not paying the alms Islam demands.* He also says there are far too many such people in his country. Of course money is important to him but it can only be unimportant to really careless, unattached or just offensively rich people!
*which I think are a good idea, as is the idea of fasting so you can learn what it’s like to have no food.

He’s also mentioned how people drink vodka but disguise it by diluting it with water for safety’s sake and how ‘religious’ police can just ‘disappear’ people who break the gender-association and alcohol laws. I described to him, as best I could*, how prohibition in the US had led to the making of the mafia and he seemed to acknowledge a similar process in his country.
*Of course I’m not a US historian and am aware that I could have been talking utter bullshit. Grateful for confirmation, denial and further info from anyone more knowledgeable reading this.

Of course, this is only the opinion of one person but I find it interesting and thought you might too.

All in all, while I’ve been invited to Iran, I don’t think I’ll bother just yet. As a jew-descended, not completely straight, western liberal out-and-out materialist atheist, I think I’d be far from welcome and very unhappy with whatever I saw, without being able to do anything about it.

Hindu excursion
I’ve also had an interesting snippet of conversation with the (Hindu) night manager. He’s a former banker who, being retired but wanting to support his younger son’s cinematographic ambitions, is working here until his son is successful and can support him! (I think he’s around 50 years old.) He also emphasised the lack of social security here when I asked him whether the ‘medal offer’ offer I’ve mentioned earlier was likely to be genuine.

He tried to describe Sikhism to me and Mr Iran (who thought he was talking about ill people), portraying it as an offshoot of Hinduism but basically a peaceful, if strongly militant, set of people. I asked about Mrs Gandhi’s Sikh body-guards shooting her and he told me that it stemmed from Sikh demands for an independent Punjab/Sikh state. Mrs Gandhi refused to allow India to fragment and so ‘was forced’ to deal with the insurrection, based at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. This led to her ‘martyrdom’ for India’s integrity. However, the night manager says that there are now no such problems with Sikhs and so there’s basic communal peace at the moment.

Not sure that’s entirely the case but certainly there’s been no problems that I’ve encountered and so far, it’s all been lovely, while forcing me to think and learn quite a lot.

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