Readers’ comments on online articles about travel to Iran wildly fluctuate between praise and condemnation and I’m still getting used to seeing the sometimes jolting disparity.
Case example: the 191 comments left on The Guardian’s Iran Holiday Guide in the 24 hours since publication.
The article by former Londoner Haleh Anvari (who also authored the brilliant and hilarious take on the Iranian custom of ta’arof ) is a review of some of Iran’s top destinations.
The most interesting part, though, is in the comments section, filled with plenty of emotional discussion (as well as empty space left by incendiary content removed by moderator).
Most of the posts or replies are very positive, praising the Iranian culture, history and the hospitality of its people, like:
I am currently in Iran and I love it. The people are so friendly and the cultural sights are stunning. I would recommend a visit to anyone with an open mind. It is nothing like it is portrayed in the western media.
But then scroll down and suddenly you see something like this:
Aye right,Iran for a holiday, what could go wrong?
Yeah I’d love to visit.
However, tourism merely indicates to governments that their regimes are acceptable.
When they stop hanging (by slow strangulation) their criminals, including children and anybody deemed to be gay or insulting their superstition I might just decide they are slightly less ignorant savages.
But for every negative comment, there are many retorts, like this:
So you wont be visiting then ?I did what an an amazing place ,I also visited the UK when the Sun called Irish people pigs.Its the people that make the place and the Iranians are stunning people.
Enjoy Benidorm or Brighton.
The subject of the mandatory hijab comes up, of course, but it’s pointed out that hijab required in Iran is nothing like what’s required elsewhere in the Middle East.
To be honest, you can’t really call what women wear in Tehran a “hijab”. Yeah, it’s wrong that it’s mandatory, but it’s more like a light scarf around your neck than a hijab.
If you go in winter, you’ll wear it voluntarily.
The intolerance for homosexuality is pointed out, but then others wrote:
Homophobia was the normal in the UK until not very long ago. We had such delights as chemical castration and of course prison and becoming ostracised from society. The UK has a culture today of endless conflict, of endlessly bombing countries that can’t defend themselves.
And this unexpected post:
My partner and I just came back from a 16 day trip to Iran on Friday. It was stunningly beautiful and the people were among the nicest, delicate, most polite you can imagine. As a gay couple, we never had a single problem and felt safe from day one to the end.
The government is what it is, but it seems that there is a significant gap between extremely harsh laws and how people manage their lives. Iranians we had the chance to meet are enthusiastic about the future and hope to see some incremental changes in politics coming along with the country’s progressive opening to the world.
For some people an Iran holiday is just not a good idea because of their idea of what’s fun. This person was told to stay home or go “inflict” his lifestyle somewhere else:
Can the wife wear a bikini and can I get pissed every night,if the answer is no then it’s not a holiday imho.
After reading the comments, the argument that a visit to Iran is tantamount to support of its politics seems ever more ludicrous.
People who make this argument should also quit buying things – because invariably at least some of the parts are made in the People’s Republic of China, where human rights activists and political dissidents regularly disappear. And they should quit driving gas-powered vehicles because the petrol could’ve come from Saudi Arabia, where dissidents are beheaded and women can’t get into a car and do what millions of Iranian women do everyday: drive.
Please separate the everyday people from the regime they live under. They share the same aspirations as most of us – family, education and making a living. Further the history, art & literature is breathtaking – remember the ancient civilisation of Persia. An added bonus – the food delicious. I’d go back anytime.
Also published on Medium.