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Journalist Keith Zhu Yunxi shares behind-the-scene opinion of Iranians

The amethystine asterism in the night, bewitching like diamonds, shined the cosmos on the Persian Gulf. Milky Way stretched away to meet the ocean, together the full-moon submerged the skyline, endless like a nihility world of mystery. The night, the emerald-colored, cannot be found in any other place other than the Arabian world. My mind calmed, this fairytale of Arabian Nights finally stretched my mind to sleep. I praised it, and said “good night.”

Zhu Yunxi | The Feather Online

The capital of Iran, Tehran at nightfall during his Thanksgiving holiday break, Nov. 2017.

I was afraid. It was my first time fancied flinching; anxieties came from realizing it was the last-hour joy in this journey, because later once this airplane berthed on the isolated of turmoil, in a Persian desert, I musted to explore it with eyes wide open.

“Do not take any American stuff; do not speak English; please be safe…” It did not surprise me to see people’s reactions since worldwide media demonizes Iran continually since its nuclear crisis and Iranian Hostage Crisis. Moreover that George W. Bush listed Iran along with Iraq and North Korea as the “Axis of Evil.” But their words made me recalculate the risk and value of this trip. However, I never allow myself looking back.

I started remembering my confidence when I decided this adventure to keep inside calm, — I always seek similarities in cultures rather than differences while in traveling. Whether we had impediments to language, race, religion, nationality or even political tendency, one thing besides all of those obstacles is we are human. Thus there should always be a fundamental base to establish the possibility for any communication, since we all have the common sense of kindness, evil, happiness, fear, and pain. Consequently, it surprised me when people next to warned me not to be naive and that Iranians would do everything to me since they are poor.

Really? I yet firmly believed people are born innocent in any environment.

The City of Tehran’s miracle of tawny illuminating the night sky along with the Persian moon made me forget all my curiousness until my airplane’s landing, I had a calmed sleep. On this desert of ancient civilization, an isolated nation seemed not fearing people away —at least, here is civilized to lighting up.

Zhu Yunxi | The Feather Online

The propaganda painted on the outer wall of the former U.S. Embassy at Tehran, Iran.

Here propagandas line the walls. A manipulation of the “Statue of Liberty” is doodled as the “Statue of Evil” on the outer wall of the Former U.S. Embassy at Tehran, which now the Iranian government has made it the “Anti arrogance Aban 13th museum”, an “Anti-United States museum” as not exaggerated.

That was where the Iranian Hostage Crisis fired up, Nov 4, 1979. Iranian university students were supported officially, ring-fenced and broke into the U.S. Embassy, took it over and held 52 American diplomats and citizens as hostages for 444 days until Jan 20, 1981.

Mahdi Farahani, a member of the management at the Anti Arrogance 13th Museum (former U.S. Embassy in Tehran), explained the situation.

“There were 400 students(this number each medias reported differently, range: 300-2,000),” Farahani said. “Three hundred boys and 100 girls, by the time they arrived they wanted to take over the embassy, based on two reasons: 1, pressurizing the U.S. government to return Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to Iran. 2, Students wanted to prevent another coup time in Iran.”

The historical delinquent in the Iranians’ mind, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who usurped the throne of Iran from Ruhollah Mūsavi Khomeini by the result of the Coup of 1953, which was officially conspired by the United States and the United Kingdom. Westernizing Iran, violating the traditional Islamic faith and indulging corruption, made citizens came to live in poverty and famine. Years later, the former Iranian leader Sayyid Ruhollah Mūsavi Khomeini led the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979, supported by various Islamist, leftist organizations and secretly the Soviet Union, became the leader of Iran again.

Islamic Revolution exiled Pahlavi to the outside world, founded the new Islamic Republic of Iran as a theocracy country, ended Pahlavi’s westernizing, brought the conservative Islamic faith back. Students were roused due to Mohammad Reza Pahlavi having treatment in an attempt to recover from lymphoma in the United States, Iranian Hostage Crisis transpired. They hold hostages to menaced the U.S., stop inferencing Iran’s internal affairs and return Pahlavi, the history sinner. Current U.S. President Jimmy Carter called the hostages “victims of terrorism and anarchy” and announced that the United States would not yield to blackmail.

Cayla Rivas | The Feather Online

Keith Zhu, ’18, Feather journalist.

For me, Iran is genuinely the sacrificial lamb of the Cold War that entirely happened inevitably due to multi-international politics — Leninism just found an excellent chance to defend the western Capitalism. By this visit to the “Anti-United States Museum,” I realized the once Iran and America’s honeymoon period may not appear again until a possible World War III or another coup.

Propaganda slogans such as “Down with U.S.A” are still painted, stretching a full side wall of buildings in the city of Tehran. A picture of Donald Trump is painted on a giant board, stands on the yard of the embassy and states, “The American elite feel ashamed of having such a president.” Brochures of criticizing what the west has done in Iran “In the Name of God” were distributed “to the youth of western countries” from the “Anti-United States Museum,” all in English.

Do they really hate Americans? I wondered. Political propaganda of “Anti-United States” are seen everywhere in the City of Tehran. However, meanwhile Pepsi and Coca-Cola are favorite in Iran, iPhones are fashionable, just like anywhere else.

“American people? We are friends,” Farahani said. “We are friends, we are not having any problem. The only problem is the government and the politics. … The U.S. government appears intent to distribute fake media, so the reality is not shown to the public, so they (the Iranian government) decided to open this (the former U.S. Embassy at Tehran) as a museum. The propaganda there then shows the world, especially the tourists there, to understand the reality of here… Like the movie Argo, they were just trying to show the thing they want, not the reality.”

Zhu Yunxi | The Feather Online

The CIA staff left some of their equipment in the Former U.S. Embassy.

The movie Argo documents by the project “Argo,” the CIA operation which rescued six American diplomatics during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. It is undeniable that Argo only represents U.S. government’s version to the public; in the museum of the former U.S. Embassy, the CIA’s machines are displayed. Boards state these are the evidence of American’s spying on Iran. Iranians wanted to point out the interference imperialism which the western countries had done in Iran, especially the U.S., to the world.

I felt strange, it is no longer a secret that every single consulate in the world must have some spying facilities inside, but why do they need to prove it to the public? “Oh, of course,” I muttered. “History is written by the victor, distributed by its authority, but remembered by all innocent people.”

Farahani’s answer to my question showed me that he believes humans are innocent too. His words made me remember Wendy Sherman’s speeching at a class of Harvard Kennedy School of Government, in October 2015. That was three months after the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA or Iran nuclear deal)” had been agreed.

The United States was leading a negotiation of limiting Iran having nuclear technology. This 18-day negotiation was excruciating and chained countries’ negotiators around the meeting room in Vienna Marriott Hotel, frozen. Representatives of countries’ negotiators had been modifying the deal again and again, whatever requirements they proposed the Iranian had been rejecting. Since the Iranian government was holding tons of centurial grudges against the western nations, this negotiation was definitely not based on a fundamental trust. They were almost desperate, this negotiation was destined for failure.

The Iranians were real trouble, I would never ever want to negotiate with them again.  — Wendy Sherman, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs

At the moment this negotiation was almost decided to be waived, both Sherman and Mohammad Javad Zarif (Iranian negotiator in chief, Minister of Foreign Affairs) were told of their grandchildren’s births, coincidentally. They both became grandma and grandpa in that 18 days. Happiness made both them cannot help themselves to share the surprise with each other. Thus, during the coldest international negotiation, when both of them were saddled with their own country’s benefits, but at one moment they both offed guard, and snooped the other’s phone and praised “So Cute!”

This was brilliant! It dissolved everybody’s tension at that very moment. We all are today’s children and tomorrow’s parents, after realized this, negotiators endeavored again for the best. The result of this endeavoring was that in July 2015, the Iran Nuclear Deal was officially agreed, the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was maintained again.

Zhu Yunxi | The Feather Online

Modern underground metro system in Esfahan, Iran.

As the exchange for Iranian giving up their nuclear development, the international society started ending the “Sanctions Against Iran.” Iran’s economy has been reborn. This country is now opening its door to the world, spreading the atmosphere of its civilized Persian charm. Although, this changing has just started.

In the CBD of Tehran, some people are staying at the money exchange shops, copying down and reporting the currency rates from boards. Banks in Iran are not connected with the international financial system, so foreign credit cards are not available for using inside of Iran. Moreover, a majority of currency exchange agencies outside of Iran do not accept or offer the Iranian Rial, so international visitors travel to Iran brought major currency and exchange once arrive.

Though there are so many obstacles for Iranian people trading internationally, they started developing economic domestically, catching up with the international to modernize public facilities everywhere inside of their country. In some lagging cities such as Shiraz, I even saw a thorough modern metro system, which only builds in world’s most modernized countries such as UAE, China, Singapore, and Japan. In some major cities such as Esfahan and Tehran, BRT (Bus Rapid Transit), a new type of bus transportation, has become a major mode of travel in citizens’ life. In public parks, there are marbled geysers, and uniformed staffs irrigating floras. Moreover, classified garbage cans are on streets.

Zhu Yunxi | The Feather Online

Citizens enjoy an afternoon at Naqsh-E Jahan Square, Isfahan Province, Isfahan.

On the Naqsh-E Jahan Square, one of the most popular sights in the city of Esfahan, citizens enjoy their free time, chatting, bicycling, dating, just like everywhere. Some students were assigned English assessments, they video interviewed the rare foreigners about their opinions of Iran: Do they like here? How do they think the safety in Iran is? Also, What’s the most remarkable thing in their countries? Foreigners’ visiting is still a novelty for Iranian people, so much so that I was always asked to join in selfies with local people, at least twice a day. Iranians care about the outside world’s opinions, they want the world to know their country more an more, they want their country to grow stronger and stronger, just like everybody else.

Those students’ naïveté reminded me of, a genuine changing of ideology biases on “North Korean people lie so often and easily,” by recognizing their instinctive emotion when it shined innocence in the darkness of militarism. Suki Kim, a woman who went undercover posing as an English teacher, taught students who were expected to be the future leader of the nation.

“They lie so often and so easily,” Kim addressed at Ted Talk. “Whether about the mythical accomplishments of their Great Leader, or the strange claim that they cloned a rabbit as fifth graders… They lie to shield their system from the world, or they were taught lies, and were just regurgitating them. Or, at moments, they lied out of habit. But if all they have ever known were lies, how could we expect them to be otherwise?”

Formatted education bans critical thinking, brainwashes the ideal that the DPRK is the world’s most powerful and prosperous nation andthe activity of honoring their Great Leader fulfilled all of their free time. All of those happened on the heavily guarded campus of Pyongyang University of Since & Technology, which forbids reaching others included their families and everywhere is bugged.

A revealing of sincere emotion showed on student’s personal letter, touched Kim’s soul and made her give up the idea of expecting to tell students the truth and open their mind. She came to adore her students after really searched their hearts, she just realized how dangerous it is to change others recklessly:

“They wrote that they were fed up with the sameness of everything, they were worried about their future. In those letters, they rarely ever mentioned their Great Leader,” Kim said. “During those months of living in their world, I often wondered if the truth would, in fact, improve their lives. I wanted so much to tell them the truth… But for them, the truth was dangerous. By encouraging them to run after it, I was putting them at risk –of persecution, of heartbreak… My dear gentlemen(her students), I don’t want you to lead a revolution, let some other young people do it. The rest of the world might casually encourage or even expect some sort of North Korean Spring, but I don’t want you to do anything risky, because I know in your world, someone is always watching. I don’t want to imagine what might happen to you if my attempts to reach you have inspired something new in you. I would rather you forget me and become soldiers of your Great Leader, and live long, safe lives.”

Zhu Yunxi | The Feather Online

On the Naqsh-e Jahan (Imam) Square, a needle on compass points at a mosque, simblizes a token of reminder, that Muslim people should always focus on the pure faith

Due to incomprehension, misunderstanding and misguided media, the outside world treats Iran as a mystery country of chaos. Of course, Iranian’s national condition is different to the North Korea’s. However, interference in others lives, forcing them to change in case of everything is unknown, would put those innocent people in danger just what Kim had almost done on her students, that means another revolution or coup.

Iranians, their ideology accepts neither westernizing nor ‘easternizing,’ but only Islamism. Nowadays people would like to call it a theocracy, or some would call it a dictatorship. Intellectuals do have the right to criticize, but you and I, we, never ever have the right to rule what should Iran be and how the Iranians should live. Iranians have their own logic of managing their country since only Iranians know what Iranians want. I understand their logic, and I recognize it. And I heartfeltly hope that we, as the outside world, can just stand by, leave them alone and watch, innocent Iranians people can one day make their country beautiful.

My discoveries in Iran continually refreshed my opinion of this “third-world country.” Although I met tourists from The Netherlands, Germany, and Sweden, I had not seen anybody from Canada, the U.S. or the U.K., I knew they are afraid of visiting Iran. Since Iran is a theocracy, rigid religion takes the role of leading people’s faith, Iranians smile so naturally, it made me never feel being in danger as what media distributes. At the end of my journey, I did not even want to call it an adventure, as Iran is much safer than I’ve ever imagined. Poverty does not lead Iranians to guilty, and Iran is not desperately like everybody thinks it would be.

My past experiences structure my ideology of seeing the world. During my last Thanksgiving trip to Sri Lanka, I realized that innocence could be emphasized once it is apart from ostentatious vanity. Of course, we all have the same feeling of being afraid of the unknown, but I believe the unknown is the only thing we’ve ever been afraid of.

Thus every time I take a step to start a new journey, my mind is always very peaceful. I want to see how we are the same, how we can still be the same as we live in different cultures or event in another land which is isolated. I heartfeltly hope I could always keep this traveling style and the real world would not one day force me to change what I believe now: That we all are born innocent.

To read more Keith Zhu’s travel adventures, read ROAD TRACE. COLUMN: Journalist shares English summer adventure.

Keith Zhu can be reached via Twitter and via email.

The slideshow below contains images from various locations on this trip.

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