08 August 2015

The Guardian: ‘It’s not like Argo’: the trials of a tour guide in Iran

Henry flourished the most recent issue of the Economist, which described Iran as “the fist that most threatens the world”. To the people around the table, it seemed preposterous that the stimulating and welcoming country in which they had spent the past week could be characterised so unthinkingly. Henry and the other Americans around the table attributed the flood of misinformation in their country to the power of Israel, the rise of an undiscerning Islamophobia, and the replacement in US public discourse of calm analysis by the politics of the gut. Not that these ailments are a monopoly of the US, as Ed pointed out. Where we are sitting now is considered by the Foreign Office to be as dangerous as Baghdad.

A sense of satisfaction pervaded the group that night. The tourists liked Iran and felt they understood it. But this feeling did not survive the second half of the tour.

Christopher de Bellaigue

Fascinating – and rare – account of a guided trip through Iran, one of the most inaccessible countries to visit for Westerners. The most interesting aspect of the story is seeing how outside perceptions can change when visitors come in touch with the actual place and people – and how much tourists’ experiences can be shaped by the agenda of their hosts. My final impression was that there’s much more left untold and unseen, many aspects of the country and culture still carefully shielded from public view.

The Amir Chakhmagh mosque in Yazd, Iran
The Amir Chakhmagh mosque in Yazd, Iran. Photograph: Keren Su/China Span/Alamy

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