Are pilots just glorified bus drivers

Encounters on a trip through Iran ■ By Klaus Kurzweil

The bus rumbles for eight long hours on bad roads from Isfahan to Shiraz. The sun burns through the curtains that most passengers have drawn over the windows. Occasionally I peek behind the fabric to take a look at the southern Iranian landscape. A barren desert bathed in glaring sunlight stretches along. Occasionally, hours apart, the bizarre ruin of a mud castle from Ottoman times appears on the roadside. As is almost always the case during my month-long tour of the Islamic Republic, I am the only foreigner on the bus that has received a lot of attention. Since I don't have a Farsi speak, there is a lack of communication. That changes when a young, western-clad Iranian with a diplomatic suitcase gets on. The bus driver leads him to my seat. In good English, the man introduces himself as Jaffar. The driver asks everyone who gets on whether they speak English. He is sad "because nobody can talk to you".

Jaffar is 31 years old, married with two children and works as a technician in a suburb of Isfahan. His factory produces refrigerators, stoves, and other electrical appliances. She established the German "Lurgi GmbH". I learn all of this in the first two minutes of our acquaintance. “Lurgi, Bayer and Mercedes are German trademarks that are very popular in Iran,” Jaffar explains to me. In fact, the star from Untertürkheim is emblazoned on almost every hood of Iranian buses and trucks. On house facades, neon signs advertise chemistry from Leverkusen, where Jaffar studied technology in Tehran. In doing so he inevitably had to learn English, the language of the "great Satan" USA. Textbooks on farsi did not exist. He has never been abroad. "The clergy condemn everything Western, but without technology and know-how from abroad, Iran would be a third world country," says Jaffar. He railed against "the mullahs in Tehran" and Islam in general. "Most Iranians are still Zoroastrians at heart," he claims. Although only a tiny minority actually believe in the pre-Islamic god Zarathustra, secretly "most Iranians despise Islam and the Arabs who forced this religion on us".

This conversation is not an isolated incident. In the days before I was approached again and again by Iranians who vented their displeasure. After the first few days in Iran, I had the impression that the vast majority of the population must consist of members of the opposition. It took some time to realize that the Iranians I met were by no means representative and that they were probably only expressing their drastic criticism against a foreigner. People, who me were all male and mostly young students, engineers or technicians. At home, they listen to banned pop music, watch banned US videos, and they consider chic western clothing a status symbol.

The biology student Reza, whom I met in Isfahan, considered Islam to be “nonsense”. Music tapes from the Beatles, Rolling Stones and AC / DC were piled up in their own apartment. The "Sun Secret Band" rehearsed in the basement of the house, with Reza playing the drums. The name of the band, which mainly played oldies, reflected the situation of the musicians. The revolutionary guards tolerated the roaring sounds from the cellar, but a public appearance would have put the musicians and the audience immediately in jail.

Hussein from Tabriz in Azerbaijan asked me after we had known each other ten minutes about my "political and ideological opinion on Salman Rushdie's, Satanic Verses‘ ". Embarrassed, I fidgeted, stammered something about tolerance for religion and respect for human life. The engineer, on the other hand, loudly struck the Iranian government in the crowded restaurant. The fatwa imposed by Khomeini was "a crime of the uncivilized mullahs," he said in "eavesdropping" English. Along the way, I learned that the work, which was blasphemously outlawed, was available in Tehran for about a hundred dollars.

Another group of Iranians that I encountered repeatedly were former officials of the Shah. Shot after the 1979 revolution, they got by with low-tier jobs. Farhang, the former airline pilot, sold tools, Ahmad, a former bank clerk, was selling shoes in the open air while pouring tea. A large number of former government employees were hired as taxi drivers. These people's hatred of the government seemed understandable to me. Most of them, however, glorified the times of the Shah's regime in the same breath. According to the stories of these Iranians, milk and honey or, more appropriately, whiskey and champagne may have flowed under Reza Pahlevis in Iran. When asked about the Savak, the Shah's infamous secret service, they usually answered with a shrug.

While I am recapitulating these acquaintances, ice-cold water is being served on the bus. The second driver walks through the rows with a plastic can with a block of ice floating in it and a glass. As I drink, Jaffar looks me over critically. For him, drinking from a glass is "too unhygienic". I ask which parts of the population actually support the Islamic Republic. At my urging, Jaffar admits that only the "educated class" demand a secular state. This group makes up 10 to 20 percent of the population. “The common people in the country are busy with their daily lives. You don't care about politics, ”explains my interlocutor. “During the revolution, they could be won over to Khomeini's ideas for a short time. But their enthusiasm quickly subsided. ”I cannot verify this statement.

“Most Iranians have two existences,” Jaffar continues. “On the street we have to submit to Islamic rules, but at home we do what we want.” So that I can form my own opinion, he invites me home. His apartment is only a twenty minute drive from the ruins of ancient Persepolis.

Jaffar's family live with his sister's family in a modern house. A total of twelve people live - generous by Iranian standards - spread over two floors in eight rooms. Jaffar's brother-in-law Mohammed owns a thriving textile business.

After I have left my luggage in the apartment, we set off for Persepolis. We trudge through the ancient metropolis that Alexander the Great burned down with ten tourists from Saudi Arabia. After the Islamic Revolution, Islamic clergymen demanded that this "symbol of one of the first high cultures in the world", which typically arose on Iranian soil, be hacked, reports Jaffar. They considered the cultural monument to be “un-Islamic”. Iran's President Rafsanjani, on the other hand, understood that "pre-Islamic" and "un-Islamic" are not the same thing. You can also make good money with the ruins. ”The Iranian Tourist Office is now collecting admission for the tourist attraction. A rusty grandstand still bears witness to the sumptuous celebrations to which Shah Reza Pahlevi invited international guests to be celebrated as a descendant of the ancient Persian kings.

On the return trip in the shared taxi, Jaffar recognizes the driver as a worker from his factory. The chauffeur is visibly embarrassed to meet. Since the Iranian leadership tried to open up the country's economy to the west, prices have risen rapidly and a factory worker is barely paid enough to support a family. Jaffar, who earns 300,000 rials (about 300 marks) more than a teacher or doctor, is also feeling the effects of price increases, some of which are several hundred percent. Lower earners are dependent on doing two or three jobs or sending the children to work. When we stop at a food stand on the way to Jaffar's house to drink a Coca-Cola bottled in Tehran, the seller turns out to be a cook from Jaffar's company canteen.

I am entertained at Jaffar's apartment as if to refute all reports of supply shortages and price increases. Sitting on soft pillows, we eat tons of meat, rice and vegetables. The host repeatedly expresses his regret that he cannot offer me alcohol. The Armenian, who usually provides him with home-brewed food, cannot be reached. I am very glad that I have been spared this experiment. While Jaffar, Mohammed and I utterly riot, women and children wait in the kitchen for the leftovers. But at least I am introduced to the entire family and am allowed to shake hands with women. Instead of the legally prescribed shadors, they only wear headscarves carelessly tied around them.

The two men talk to me. The topic they prefer can be summed up in one word: money. "How much interest do German banks give?" - "How much does a factory worker earn with you?" - "How much capital do you need to open your own business?" At the same time, both hosts never tire of affirming their close ties to Iran. “I love my home,” says Jaffar. “Shiraz is the most beautiful city in Iran,” enthuses Mohammed. Nevertheless, both of them are flirting with a future abroad. They either gave up their belief in Rafsanjani's reform policy or they never had. Both emphasize that they are not interested in politics. “I just want a comfortable life for me and my family,” says Mohammed, outlining his future plan. But even this wish, which is not exactly burdened by utopias, seems to him to be impossible to fulfill in Iran. “There is a very small group in the country that is getting richer and richer, while the rest of the population is noticeably worse off,” says Jaffar, describing developments in recent months. The gap between rich and poor has never widened as widely as in 1992. Members of the upper middle class, such as he and Mohammed, are also confronted with social decline. "Rafsanjani is now appearing clean-shaven on television and promising reforms, but the fundamental evil, the Islamic Republic, will not be removed," he says bitterly. Rafsanjani wants to attract foreign investors and Iranian specialists who have fled or emigrated after the revolution to the country, but at the same time he is doing nothing for his citizens who have stayed in Iran. “If nothing drastic changes, many Iranians will try to leave the country. Above all, the "educated class" is looking towards the USA and Europe. "