The Speech Squeeze

Learning the language of self-censorship

Poker. Rumi. The US Postal Service motto: Neither snow nor rain nor heat…Serendipity. All have their roots in ancient Persia. No matter how much you think you know about Iran, there’s always more. It’s no surprise, then, that you know so little before boarding a plane to take you to Tehran.

Maybe you’re nervous. Pulling the unfamiliar scarf close around your head. Tucking in loose strands as the plane rattles over the Alborz mountains for its landing. You expect prying eyes, secrecy, and suspicion. What you don’t expect is the friendly welcome from strangers and family, the chaos at the airport, the sheer number of women in black hijab everywhere you look.

The first week you are in Iran is a revelation. Everyone you meet speaks to you. Strangers try out a few words of English, speak to you in simple Persian. They express opinions. Slam the government. Make jokes about clerics. Shout out: We love you miss, in heavily accented English.

There are people and cars everywhere. You see women in sheer headscarves braving the treacherous pavement in high heels and challenging the limits of acceptable hijab. You see daredevil teenagers roller blading in and out of traffic and up and down the cement steps in Tehran’s largest park.

Read more at Article 19.