7 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Iran

Here are 7 common misconceptions about Iran, a fascinating country that’s misunderstood by many people.

Robert Schrader in Iran
© Robert Schrader

Today’s guest post is by Robert Schrader, a writer and photographer whose trip to Iran was the culmination of a years-long dream. He hopes to be able to visit unaccompanied one day – and that Iranians will soon be able to move freely in and out of his country as well.

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Have you ever noticed how people tend to speak loudest about the things they understand least? This is true in daily life – unfortunately sometimes even among travelers, though most of us certainly know better.

Iran is perhaps the most misunderstood country in the world, which is not surprising when you consider how few people go there. Spoiler alert: it’s a country that’s worth going to a lot of trouble to visit!

Even if you can’t make your own trip anytime soon, banish these common misconceptions about Iran from your mind.

Iranians are radical Muslims

It’s true that the Islamic Revolution of 1979 (which had widespread public support) transformed Iran from a country with basically Western norms into a Sharia state. But today’s Iranians are anything but conservative.

This is particularly the case in the capital city, Tehran. Here, increasing numbers of young people defy the Ayatollahs by throwing underground parties with rock music, sexually permissive behavior and even alcohol.

Less dramatically, you often hear open-minded viewpoints from Iranians you converse with while traveling. These range from longing for the time of the Shah, to outright endorsements of liberal social causes.

The city of Isfahan in Iran
© Robert Schrader

Iran is dangerous

Apart from the civil disobedience I just mentioned, Iran has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, particularly when it comes to violent crime. Occasional violence does occur, some of which, unfortunately, is state-sanctioned.

I can’t and won’t defend the Iranian regime’s human rights record.

But I felt almost as safe walking the streets of Iran as I do in, say, Japan.

Women in Iran have no rights

Likewise, I won’t defend the obligatory hijab, even if young Iranian women are thankfully fighting back against it.

However, career opportunities for Iranian women are abundant. And they enjoy respect in daily life and a place in society that transcends marriage or motherhood.

And this also applies to travelers. Apart from the necessity to veil, I’ve never heard a woman who visited Iran complain about her treatment there.

A typical meal in Iran
© Robert Schrader

Americans can’t visit Iran

I won’t lie – my Iran visa was the hardest one for me to get.

It took nearly six months and several attempts, but I did eventually get it. And that was even after Donald Trump got elected and tried to ban all Iranians from entering my country!

However, citizens of Canada, the US and UK do need to purchase an organized tour in order to get approved for an Iranian visa. You’ll also need to stay with a guide pretty much at all times while in the country.

But no one is “banned” from Iran, apart from Israelis and people whose passports have evidence of visiting Israel.

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Photo © Robert Schrader

Iran is just a desert

It would be dishonest to say that Iran is not mostly an arid country, even if it’s not all dunes and camels.

On the other hand, Iran is also home to long coastlines along the Caspian Sea in the north and the Persian Gulf in the south. And snow covers the mountains north of Tehran in the winter.

Iran also boasts some truly alien landscapes, from Dasht e-Savir salt flat in the centre of the country, to Masal Forest, a lush wonderland in Iran’s north.

Robert Schrader in Iran
© Robert Schrader

Life for Iranians will never change

I mentioned earlier how women are loudly protesting Iran’s laws about the hijab. A  push for social change is intensifying throughout Iranian society.

Politically, you need only look at the dramatic difference in policy positions between Iran’s current president Rouhani and his predecessor Ahmedinejad to see the reflection of this.

We probably won’t be seeing gay marriage or bikinis on beaches as long as Iran’s Supreme Leader is alive. But Iran’s youth, which make up a vast majority of its population, are hungry for progress.

Iran isn’t worth visiting

Whether you come to Iran to discover architectural jewels like Isfahan’s ornate Imam Square and the famous “Pink Mosque” of Shiraz, natural marvels like the Mesr Desert or cultural wonders like the cave houses of Kandovan, or simply want to taste the cuisine and feel the hospitality for which Iranians are world-famous, Iran is almost unmatched in its appeal as a travel destination.

Even if you’re from one of the “guided tour” countries like I am, trust me when I say this:

The awesomeness of being in Iran more than makes up for the hassle of getting there.

 

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