TIME's Tehran correspondent examines what daily life is really like in Iran
Raising a Child in Iran's Cultural Divide
Coping with the gulf between Iranian private and public life is a difficult skill even for adults to manage. So what should we teach our children?
A Nation of Holocaust Deniers?
The president's skepticism is, surprisingly, shared by many Iranians. But that doesn't mean they are anti-Israel. Let me explain
You've Come Only a Little Way, Baby
Bans on foreign, Kurdish and even some ancient Persian names for newborns have been around since the Islamic revolution but are now letting up slightly
Iran's Caesarean Section Craze
Well-accustomed to elective surgery, Iranian women are choosing C-sections at such a high rate that it's a challenge now to find a doctor who will perform a "medieval" vaginal birth
How Iran's Populist Lost His Popularity
With prices rising and the economy stagnating, Iranians view their President as less a national hero than the latest in a long line of ineffectual bureaucrats
Many Happy Returns, Twelfth Imam!
The Mahdi, an imam who happens to be Ahmadinejad's favorite, has become the object of frenzied and government-nurtured worship
Silencing the Voices of Dissent
Inside the forced shutdown of Iran's most popular reformist paper, Shargh
Who are the Women Behind the Men Running Iran?
First ladies are usually kept in hiding, but one outspoken wife is causing big problems for Ahmadinejad
The Backlash Against Iran's Role in Lebanon
The notion that Iranian dollars are going to Lebanese Shi`ites is fueling animosity between the Persian community and the Arab world
One afternoon last month, I sat drinking tepid coffee with an Iranian
academic in the lobby of a Tehran hotel, and remembered with sadness how
relaxed such meetings used to be, and how tense and paranoid, even Soviet, they've become. We
didn't talk so much as whisper, all the while eyeing the felt-covered
furniture around us, half expecting a bearded agent to pop out from
behind a fake plant, or the waiter to slip a listening device under the
sugar bowl. Instead of discussing how Iran could avoid a nuclear crisis
with the West, we talked about how we could avoid being labeled enemies
of the state. Who cares about uranium enrichment when you spend your
days and nights fretting over whether you're a potential target of arrest?
"Do you think you're followed?" he asked, barely audible over the air-conditioning. I
had to stop crunching on a butter cookie to hear him. "Hmm, maybe? But I
don't think so," I said, wishing for a James Bond gadget-watch that
would beep if I was. My answer must not have been reassuring, because
when it came time to leave, he avoided walking out with me. "I'll just
wrap up here," he said, pretending to shuffle some papers with a wary
Such is life in Tehran in the shadow of the Bush Administration's policy
of regime change or building opposition to the mullahs, or whatever you
want to call the U.S. campaign to alter Iran's government. Ever since
President Bush earlier this year appealed to Iranians to "win your own freedom," and
launched a $75 million program to promote democracy in Iran, reporting
from Tehran has taken on the flavor of Cold War novel. The government is
obsessed with the U.S. plot for 'velvet revolution,' hardline papers
declare the most innocuous people (including one sculptor) subversive,
and everyone plays the 'who's really a U.S. agent?' guessing game.
These days, most of the things I used to do as an American reporter are
either potentially illegal or seriously unwise. I avoid meeting too many
activists, and many avoid meeting with me. There's a mutual fear that a
Western journalist plus an opposition figure equals plot. The thing is, now
that student dissidents, bloggers, and women's movement leaders have
been identified (branded) by the United States as potential agents of
peaceful change, they have become perceived as security threats by the
I used to be less cautious. But there used to be more room for Iranians
who advocated democracy, and more room for stories about their efforts.
When I was asked to co-write the memoirs of Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian
Nobel laureate and human rights defender, I didn't think twice. That was
before the government banned her NGO, a clear sign they were not
interested in putting up with her anymore. Now when she calls, I babble
about my dogs, anxious to hang up. She's taught me a lot about what to
do if I ever end up in prison, but I'd like to avoid putting that
knowledge to use.
I don't attend seminars and conferences in the United States anymore.
Those are the venues where the velvet revolution is being plotted, don't
you know? Heaven forbid a US official, past or present, actually speaks
to you at such a conclave (better they speak to the opposition in exile,
armed with their irrelevant memories of the 1970s). You might as well
come back to Tehran with a bull's eye painted on the back of your
I avoid appearing frequently on Western radio and television,
because criticism is tolerated less than ever, and if I have to soften
my analysis I'd rather not say anything at all. I've given up meeting
with Western diplomats, who are considered the local spy-masters. Better
to read what Western officials say in the newspapers than bulk up my
intelligence file. When Iranians journalists ask me for help applying
for fellowships in the US or Europe, I say No. Ever since the
Intelligence Minister said the United States is exploiting Iranian
journalists as part of its conspiracy against the Islamic Republic,
editing an essay could easily be viewed as aiding and abetting espionage. I'm far
too nervous to keep serving as a link with American organizations who
want to set up exchanges with Iranian young people. Nothing is better
than cultural exchange, but the notion here is referred to as the Trojan
To be fair, it needs to be said that the Iranian theocracy is plenty
paranoid and repressive on its own. It bullied its opposition long
before the United States unveiled its regime change intentions. But
really, what were the clerics expected to do when informed that the US
had opened up a listening post in Dubai, and called it the "21st century
equivalent" of a station in Latvia that monitored the Soviet Union in
the 1930s? Start issuing permits for independent newspapers and
releasing political prisoners?
I don't know a single Iranian scholar, intellectual, organizer, or
journalist whose life and pursuits have not been dampened by this
current U.S. policy. Who is it actually benefiting? From where I sit,
freedom has never seemed so remote.