Midnight in the Axis of Evil

Editor’s note: Diyana Ishak was a fall researcher at FP. She’ll be blogging from Iran this week and next, as time allows. BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images I began my trip in Tehran, Iran’s capital, described in the tour books as an over-polluted place that one should only go in transit. I’ve been pleasantly surprised. It does ...

603268_070315_goldfish_05.jpg
603268_070315_goldfish_05.jpg

Editor's note: Diyana Ishak was a fall researcher at FP. She'll be blogging from Iran this week and next, as time allows.

Editor’s note: Diyana Ishak was a fall researcher at FP. She’ll be blogging from Iran this week and next, as time allows.

BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

I began my trip in Tehran, Iran’s capital, described in the tour books as an over-polluted place that one should only go in transit. I’ve been pleasantly surprised. It does take a day or two to get used to the air, as Tehran is tucked into the slopes of the Elburz Mountains, and the smog tends to sit heavily over the city. The hordes of small, boxy cars running on propane don’t help much, either. But the backdrop of snow-capped mountains is really captivating.

The city is bustling now as Iranians prepare for Novruz, their New Year celebrations, which start on the 20th of March. Bowls of goldfish, a traditional purchase for the New Year, line the streets of the bazaars.

Tehran is developing everywhere I turn, with construction cranes towering over new apartment blocks and a relatively new subway system spidering its way into every corner of this sprawling city. The people are as hospitable as you read about, and they are intrigued by any English-speakers.

Women fully covered in black mingle with others—call them muhajababes—who push the interpretation of Islamic dress to the maximum. The latter tend to be young (about three quarters of the population of Iran is under 30). Big hair is all the rage under headscarves these days, as is Western fashion. When I landed at Mehrabad Airport, I cautiously wrapped my scarf tightly around my head, only to be told later by my friend here that I look “too Arab”. She then taught me how to wear it loosely like most women do in Tehran.

The semi-enforced dress code is only the most visible sign of just how much people here push the boundaries of Islamic law, even after the ascension of hard line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Behind closed doors, alcohol remains easy to find, and upper-class Iranian youth are still infamous for their wild house parties, where ecstasy use is common.

Earlier today, I followed my friend for her driving lesson—a pretty scary experience given the chaotic traffic system here. Her driving instructor gossiped about her latest student, a very religious woman who wears a full burqa with only her eyes showing. She joked about how the bulky outfit would constrain the woman from turning the steering wheel properly. I wonder what all the other bad drivers’ excuses are?

Read More On Iran

More from Foreign Policy

Children are hooked up to IV drips on the stairs at a children's hospital in Beijing.
Children are hooked up to IV drips on the stairs at a children's hospital in Beijing.

Chinese Hospitals Are Housing Another Deadly Outbreak

Authorities are covering up the spread of antibiotic-resistant pneumonia.

Henry Kissinger during an interview in Washington in August 1980.
Henry Kissinger during an interview in Washington in August 1980.

Henry Kissinger, Colossus on the World Stage

The late statesman was a master of realpolitik—whom some regarded as a war criminal.

A Ukrainian soldier in helmet and fatigues holds a cell phone and looks up at the night sky as an explosion lights up the horizon behind him.
A Ukrainian soldier in helmet and fatigues holds a cell phone and looks up at the night sky as an explosion lights up the horizon behind him.

The West’s False Choice in Ukraine

The crossroads is not between war and compromise, but between victory and defeat.

Illustrated portraits of Reps. MIke Gallagher, right, and Raja Krishnamoorthi
Illustrated portraits of Reps. MIke Gallagher, right, and Raja Krishnamoorthi

The Masterminds

Washington wants to get tough on China, and the leaders of the House China Committee are in the driver’s seat.