Across the Gulf

January 12, 1991

Meanwhile, what of Iran? As the crisis in Iraq-U.S. relations builds to climax, Americans have pretty well forgotten their new enemy's greater neighbor, whose Islamic regime called this country the Great Satan and managed to destroy one presidency and tarnish another.

Back then, Iraq was Washington's client because of its protracted war with Iran, though Washington's double-dealing was based on a fear of either side winning or losing too much. Since then, as far as most Americans know, it is a country of 55 million souls slunk behind its own veil, uncontaminated by the West it professes to abhor, granted a privacy of its own craving.

This secrecy has been pierced this past week by Sun correspondent Gelareh Asayesh. Returning for two months to the country she left 14 years ago as a teen-ager, Ms. Asayesh brought to her reporting the sensitivity of an Iranian woman and inquisitiveness of an American reporter.

Iran is a country where people live totally Islamic lives in public, and may relish Western culture inside their homes. Where the nosy komitehs function as thought and morality police, and transgressions of fashion bring the lash. Where corruption of the secular regime of the late Shah before his overthrow in 1979 has not disappeared. Where a generation of young men was decimated by the hideous war with Iraq.

Where President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani liberalizes to the extent he can manage without compromising any specific teaching of the revered Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in order to attract the professional-class Iranian diaspora back to the land that nurtured them and needs their skills. Where women enveloped in chadors and those in more relaxed scarf-and-jackets represent two national viewpoints at loggerheads. Where the relatively more devout and less extreme argue with freedom of speech, so long as they remain within the larger confines of Islam.

President Rafsanjani is moving his country toward a respectable place at the world table. It is doubtful, however, that the West can resume good relations while Iran's leaders grant themselves, as they still do, the right to order the death of a foreign writer in a foreign land. But any American reading Ms. Asayesh's reporting will have a better, and more sympathetic, view of where Iran's regime is coming from, and where it is heading.

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