Iran a country caught up in contradictions

USA TODAY
May 2, 1991, Thursday, FINAL EDITION
BYLINE: Tom Squitieri
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. 7A
LENGTH: 608 words
DATELINE: TEHRAN

This country drips with contradictions.

Everywhere are signs screaming ”Down With USA,” yet the national drink is Pepsi – imported from Persian Gulf neighbors. The U.S. dollar is much preferred over the Iranian rial.

The country has a wealth of oil, but must import gasoline because it has no refineries. It touts rugs and gold, but visitors can’t take them home. It’s a major producer of caviar, but restaurants almost never have the delicacy.

Tehran Times prints Dennis the Menace cartoons next to the box listing the times of prayer. Cabbies still know the hotels by the old names of Hilton and Intercontinental.

Advertisements for English lessons abound. Party dresses sell for the equivalent of $ 450 to women swathed in black cloth. The sun bounces off their gold and silver jewelry.

STILL REVERED: Revolution leader Ayatollah Khomeini’s old apartment is in north Tehran, just over the hill from one of the shah’s palaces. It is far from Slaughterhouse Square, the wretched area in southern Tehran where he called upon thousands of poor people to storm the homes of the rich. His tiny rented home and studio are untouched since his death.

Thousands still pass Khomeini’s tomb, the center of a huge mosque under construction in the cemetery of martyrs south of Tehran. Religious people scowl at Westerners while others are stunned – and pleased – to see homage being paid by someone from the ”Land of the Great Satan.”

The mosque’s minarets – two are completed – stand 90 meters high, since Khomeini died at age 90.

Lights bathe the structure. Khomeini’s tomb is closed and surrounded by metal screens. Money pushed through the door is given to the poor.

RED TAPE: Iranian officials continue to complain that foreign journalists are not reporting the degree of the refugee problem or Iran’s role in helping those in flight.

One hangup: bureaucracy. Reporters must get permission from national officials, the local governor and police chiefs, before entering a province, hospital or refugee camp.

REVOLUTION TODAY: In rural Neauphle-le-Chateau, the 12-year-old Islamic Revolution is alive and well.

This village was one of the first to bond to the revolution, renaming itself from Kahak to the Neauphle-le-Chateau – the name of the French village where the Ayatollah Khomeini lived in exile until his return in 1979.

”Down with America,” shouts Ahmad Gashassemi. ”Americans kill Muslims.” He heads the local Agricultural Jihad, which means he doles out farm subsidies – a powerful post.

Gashassemi, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war, blames the United States for everything – including forcing Saddam Hussein to invade Iran in 1980.

Here, where a bare life is scratched out daily, where people are born and die in the same village, there is a psychological sense of freedom from the West that allied with the shah.

But in North Tehran, the fervor of the revolution seems far away if one strolls through Darban.

People fill restaurants, stroll hand-in-hand and smoke water pipes. And they express skepticism about the revolution.

Only a few truly think times are better. Most work two or three jobs just to pay rent and buy food.

And while most think President Hashemi Rafsanjani is fair and trying hard, they suspect more rigid religious types are stopping Iran’s progress.

There is little variation in daily habit, diet or climate extremes. The highlights are what appear to be favorite sports: haggling over every matter and blowing automobile horns.

SPORTING NEWS: On April 24, the government announced golf and bowling could make ”reappearances.” Until then, soccer was the only sport permitted.