Early in my visit to Iran I was introduced to Nesa, 24, who was eager for contact with Americans. A recent university graduate who hopes to get a doctorate in English literature, she was also eager to explain her nation. “Iran is a complex country,” she said. “And so are the people.”
Indeed, the country is as complex as a Persian rug, and full of contradictions. Emblematically, perhaps, Iran produces sweet lemons and sour oranges. Women have second-class status, yet nearly 65 percent of university graduates are women. Iran has the world’s third largest supply of oil, but it is intent on developing nuclear energy. Our tour group saw energy-conserving light bulbs everywhere, but Iranians drive cars with no emissions controls, and they still use leaded gas. The country is run principally by fundamentalist Muslim clerics, but, in the cities especially, many middle class and professional people are open to Western ideas and culture.