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Welcome to my blog! True to my name, Shiva the Spy, I will be your eyes and ears in Iran, bringing you detailed accounts of everyday life from my perspective. You'll have a window into the social, cultural, political, and historical aspects of the country. I will bring you the stuff that American media can't...or won't. So, check back regularly for stories, photos, commentary, and anything else your curiosity calls for.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Bizhe (Long Live) Kordistan

There’s a plane carrying a Turk, Fars, American, Baluchi, and Kurd. The plane’s about to crash, so the Turk tells everyone to jump. Everybody dies, except for the Kurd. Why? Because the wind caught inside his billowing pants, allowing him to float to safety.

This is a Kurdish joke, told to me by a resident of Bonneh, a town located in Kordistan, one of Iran’s many provinces. Iranian Kurds exist in Kordistan, Kermanshah, and in regions of Azerbaijan. Kordistan Kurds are Sunni Muslims, while Kermanshahi ones are predominantly Shi’a. Even though these Kurdish populations neighbor each other along Iran’s western border, their dialects are quite different. Kermanshahi Kurdish contains about 50% Farsi, while Kordistani Kurdish embodies only 10%.

My friend Sarieh took me on a tour of Bonneh, her hometown, during a short break from her architecture studies in Tehran. Unlike Kordistan's capital, Sanandaj, Bonneh does not have a single historic building within its bounds. As Sarieh explains, Bonneh was a land over which ancient rulers frequently battled. Every time infrastructure was built, a war would break, and the opposing forces would torch the entire area. As a result of constant destruction and reconstruction, Bonneh's houses and buildings reflect only recent history.

This is Sarieh munching on rivas, a springtime plant that grows in the mountains of the region. The plant resembles a fusion between celery, bananas, broccoli, and unripe plums. Celery, because it looks like one, and makes the same crunch noise when bitten; bananas, because you need to peel off the sturdy outer layer; broccoli, because of the flower formation at the top; and unripe plum because the inside tastes cool and sour. Practically everyone here would snack on these, consuming at least five per sitting.

One aspect that immediately stands out in Bonneh is the fashion. At every corner, men and boys don their traditional dress—puffed out pants tapered at the ankles and tied securely at the waist, often coupled with a buttoned-up, collared shirt, and a fabric wrap-around belt. Some opt for the full suit, which entails a special jumpsuit-styled ensemble that incorporates the parachute pants and fabric belt. The jumpsuit opens at the chest to reveal a collared shirt, and may be complemented with a turban-type head wrap and handmade wool shoes.

In this society, males have more pressure to dress in these customary garments. Those who sport the latest trends from Tehran are viewed as sell-outs, or perhaps “Farsis,” the name given to ethnic Iranians.

Young women reserve their traditional attire for the home, visiting family and friends in the evening, or parties. Here’s an example of an outfit worn to a wedding:

Another aspect of this town was the picturesque scenery. Rolling hills decked with multi-shaded greenery, clusters of goldenrod flowers mottling the rustic countryside, herds of sheep munching on lush pastures, oceans of wheat rippling in waves caused by the wind; these details provide only a taste of Bonneh's natural landscape.

My friend’s father was the headmaster of a junior high school in a rural area, located on the outskirts of Bonneh. He took us to visit the school on his last day, prior to retirement. After 30 years of teaching, he must retire, in order to open up positions for younger educators.

According to him, the income of retirees is determined by the salary of the last two years of employment. Most in the teaching profession, including him, relocate to rural schools for the last two years because the pay is higher. I think it’s a win-win situation—pensions get a boost, and kids from rural areas get to experience a “transfer of technology” from the surrounding towns and cities.

This rural school was different than its counterparts in the city for a number of reasons. First, the population of students was significantly lower. Even though this school serves three different villages, the amount of pupils present was mediocre, with the majority hailing from the poorest and farthest away community. The headmaster said it was difficult convincing parents to send their kids to school everyday. Many saw their children as farm hands, crucial for tilling the land and maintaining the laborious country life. But the kids from the poorest and most remote village, surprisingly, held the record for the most frequent attendance, neatest grooming, highest level of self-discipline, and greatest affinity for learning.

Another difference was that male and female students shared the same classroom, albeit with boys on one side, and girls on the other. In the city, the sexes are separated from first grade through high school, until uniting once again, in college. However, in this rural school where turnout is meager, co-ed classrooms are essential.

A third aspect that differed was the disproportionate girl to boy ratio. For every two boys, there was less than one girl. This is unusual in a country where 63% of university students are female. The headmaster said that country fathers were less likely to allow their daughters to continue their education past the fifth grade. Girls, he added, yield twice the amount of work than boys. They not only assist in cultivation of land, but create milk, butter and cheese, tend to the animals, keep house, and feed the family. The headmaster has even made special trips to the homes of a few of his female students who displayed potential for academic stardom, in hopes of convincing their fathers to allow continuation of studies into high school and college. But he says the father usually remains firmly planted in his decision, while the daughter, who avidly takes pleasure from school, is left crestfallen, as her future encompasses nothing beyond the realm of her father’s land.

One last distinction was the students’ dress code. Boys wore the traditional Kurdish parachute pants to school, while girls donned the typical monto (coat-like covering) and maghna’ay (a fabric with a hole in it that’s slipped over the face; this head covering doesn’t slip off, and is usually worn in more formal settings, such as school and work). Unlike in the city, girls’ clothing exhibited a variety of colors. City students must wear color-specific clothing, a trend that continues into high school.

Since Kurdish kids learn to speak Kurdish first, in their homes, prior to entering the school system where Farsi is taught, some find it difficult to adjust. Teaching core subjects in different languages is not permitted in Iran's public schools. This rule applies to the Turks, Kurds, Baluchis, Arabs, and other ethnicities that make up the diverse nation of Iran. However, some teachers in Bonneh try to incorporate the spoken Kurdish language in elementary studies, in order to help students slowly overcome the language barrier between Farsi and Kurdish. But all educational materials, such as books and worksheets, are in Farsi.

While class was in session, my friend and I roamed around the village, searching for people to talk to. Women who were busy working would invite us in, and insist on feeding us. This wasn’t the ordinary tarrof I’ve encountered in most Iranians. Rather, they were forceful about hosting us, as we were obviously guests in their village.

This woman, captured with her four children, is the wife of a mullah. She, her youngest daughter, and her son are dressed in traditional Kordi (Kurdish) attire. Her home was roomy, and stocked with electronic appliances characteristic of any Tehrani household—washing machine, television, electronic churner, and others. My friend exclaimed at how clean and neat the home was. Perhaps she thought the interior would be as rustic as the exterior.

As we continued to meander through the village, we realized that these boys were following us in their wheelbarrow. Something I noticed about many of the kids in this region was their lightly-colored eyes. Also, they giggled a lot, and behaved in a bashful manner. Furthermore, they possessed some of the most gorgeous Iranian names, many of which I haven’t heard in ages, such as Asal (honey), Dariush (King Darius), Rozheen (brilliance), Golnoosh (flower drink), Roya (dream), Siavash (character in “Shahnameh”—Persian folktales), Milad (Christmas), and the list continues.

The names surprised me because I had expected Kurdish nationalism to supersede Iranian culture, in at least the area where names are concerned. I asked my friend if Kurds were allowed to assign Kurdish names to their children, and she said, “Yes, but we cannot officially use the names of a few famous Kurdish independence leaders. Those names, if given, are not recorded on birth certificates, but rather used only among family and friends.”

We made a stop at another family’s home, where the mother had forced us to submit to her hospitality. With a serious expression, she would firmly assert, “By God, you will stay for another cup of tea,” every time we started to rise from the floor. She had obviously been arduously tilling land that day, for she was wearing a pair of her husband’s parachute pants. Rural women switch from colorful dress to men’s pants when they plan to work the fields (as exhibited in the picture with the fabric salesman).

Our hostess was definitely over 60 years-old, but she had the ferocity of a grizzly bear. Her daughter had just completed high school, with an emphasis on graphic arts. The father had consented to continuing her education at a university. Clearly, he was open-minded enough to let her get a diploma. Unfortunately, she didn’t take the standardized tests for college because her two brothers had not permitted it. The girl seemed a bit forlorn about the situation, but was resolute about taking the tests next year, and going after her university degree, anyway.

One of the good things about Iran is that government universities are free, as long as you make it in. So, if you live on a farm, and your father refuses to pay for your university education, you don’t need to remain hopeless. Instead, you study vigorously for the standardized tests, and hope you score high within your region.

This particular home not only had all of the essential appliances, but also satellite television! Even though satellite dishes are illegal to own in Iran, the law is not enforced. Practically every single household in Tehran possesses a dish, an observable fact of high-rise apartment buildings—rows of balconies dotted with dishes can be seen from the street. But I hadn’t expected such technology to exist even in the most rural areas, especially since dishes cost around $250 a piece.

In a home where the ceilings were (fashionably) made of tree trunks, and where the furnace used oil, instead of gas, one would not expect to find a satellite dish.

Among the many highlights of my short trip to Bonneh, most of which are documented in the Culture & Art album under the Photos section, was the subtle courtship that took place between my friend’s family and me. See, my friend’s older brother, also a university student in Tehran, is around my age, the perfect age for marriage, in Iran. Apparently, I made the mistake of commenting on how her brother was good-looking, as I flipped through family photos. But I hadn’t meant anything by it.

Anyway, after that fatal slip of the tongue, I sensed plenty of whispers around me throughout the extent of my stay, but pretended not to notice. My friend, while suddenly deciding to call her brother in Tehran, tried to hand me the receiver to talk to him; but I’m not a phone person, so I waved my hands frantically in front of my face, while shaking my head and silently mouthing, in Farsi, “No, I can’t; it’s embarrassing.” After she continued to insist, as her bro waited on the other end of the line—probably equally as helpless in the situation—I ran away and hid in a corner. I also was videotaped a lot, while wearing my friend’s fancy Kurdish dresses (which I wanted to capture on my own camera, seeing as how I don’t own any such cultural garments). Her extremely kind-hearted mother asked me to spin around, and show off my pretty dress; flip my hair around; smile and wink at the camera; and carry out other “dainty-flower-girl-tea-party-I-like-dollies-and-pink”-type acts. Of course, I respectfully declined.

I should write a book on all the awkward marriage moments I’ve endured in Iran.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Crooked Bus

It's a lengthy journey from the town of Bonneh, located in the Kordistan province, to the bustling streets of metropolitan Tehran. A 12-hour drive, to be exact. So, my Iranian-Kurdish friend and I booked our return on the "red-eye" bus, so that we could sleep the whole trip, and wake up fully charged the next morning. These cross-country buses are a comfortable alternative to full flights because they've got the snacks, movies, air conditioner, leg room, reclining seats, and other stuff that make 12-hour road trips bearable.

A young attendant, maybe 18 or 19, handed each passenger a pack of cookies, and a cup of orange soda. Now, at 7 p.m., nobody's eaten dinner, because we're all expecting to make a quick stop at the restaurant located en route, around 11 p.m. To ensure I don’t die of starvation, I scarf down both my friend's and my packs of cookies, before we leave the terminal.

Finally, our behemoth of a bus rolls out of the terminal. It's still light outside, as we drive past layers of mountains blanketed in lush greenery. I'm clutching my USC hooded sweatshirt and a pair of thick winter socks that I plan to use if the bus becomes too cold, like it did on the ride to Bonneh.

The evening movie begins. I'm thrilled; we're about to watch an Iranian comedy that I hadn't seen, yet, but had been highly rated. Then, like a sudden slap in the face, the attendant hurries up to the front of the bus, and changes the movie to the most god-awful Iranian production I've ever seen. It was this action film, circa 1980s, about dangerous smuggler gangs, who turn on each other. It was lame, yet would later prove ironic.

My friend explains how the buses that travel from Bonneh to Tehran were notorious for their smuggling of goods.

"It had gotten so bad, that the bus driver wouldn't even make any rest stops. Women with their children, elderly people—it didn't matter; nobody could eat, go to the restroom, or do anything else for 12 hours. The bus would only stop for transferring its contraband.

"Finally, enough people complained, so the police took control of the situation, and the smuggling stopped."

Apparently, since consumer goods cost less in Bonneh, some greedy Tehrani men partnered up with their equally avaricious Bonneh counterparts, and devised a scheme to smuggle products from Bonneh to Tehran, all via these buses. Cheaply priced goods from neighboring Iraq trafficked across the border, and through the nearby town of Bonneh, also enter the illicit trade.

In fact, my friend's little brother, who currently carries out his required two-year military service, says the black bus trade is so lucrative that some soldiers try to get their military service extended, so that they can continue to receive bribes at vehicle check points. He cites an incident where television sets were being trafficked from Iraq to Bonneh, and finally to Tehran. If anybody--i.e., soldiers, toll collectors, and other people who monitor vehicles--were to give any trouble for the hundred televisions being transported, the traffickers would pay them off with a whole set. One television set for each individual that casts a suspicious glance at the contraband! Obviously, the profits must be immense for that kind of gifting.

Fortunately, that's all over, now. The police have caught on to these black-market bandits, allowing us to rest assured that our bus ride home will be squeaky clean.

Wrong. Less than an hour into the trip, the bus slows to a stop in the middle of nowhere—no more fertile hills and valleys; the night has closed in; we're surrounded by vast, desolate plains. Our attendant and the second-shift driver hop out of the bus, and hustle around to the right side to open the compartment. From my window, I observe three Kurdish men, standing next to three massive, flat wooden carts--the kind that have huge wheels and are used to haul around cargo—hoisting huge bundles into the compartment, which spans the length of the bus.

The contents of the bundles were hidden, and each load required the strength of two men. The Kurdish men making the drop-off were dressed in traditional attire—parachute pants coalescing into a jumpsuit, held closed with a fabric belt wrapped several times around the waist; white-and-black scarf encircling the head, similar to a turban, but with the end hanging down the side of the face, onto the chest, like an '80s-style ponytail; and ivory-colored, hand-woven slip-on shoes.

About 10-15 minutes later, we’re back on the road.

The second driver lights up a cigarette, and the smoke begins to pollute the air. Above his head, the scrolling marquee, in both Farsi and English, reads: "Smoking is prohibited. Please respect all passengers...etc." I don’t object because I don’t speak Kurdish, and I’ll probably appear snobby if I speak in Farsi.

Then the jackass lights up another cigarette. No windows are rolled down, and for some reason, the air conditioner is functioning for about five minutes per hour. This bus is spankin' new, so I know nothing's broken. To make matters worse, the main driver lights up a cigarette, too.

I ask my friend to complain, in Kurdish, to the attendant. She does this, and he responds to me in Farsi, "They're smoking by the window; you can't even detect the smell." And I replied, "Actually, those tiny windows aren't keeping the smoke from wafting back here; for God's sake, they're breaking the bus's own rules!" I gesture towards the marquee, which coincidentally is displaying the "no smoking" message at that precise moment.

The attendant gets the drivers to finish, not extinguish, their cigarettes. Then, about 15 minutes later, the main driver lights another.

The two drivers are constantly talking on their mobile phones. They're speaking Kurdish, so I can't understand what they're saying. The conversations are brief. The main driver smokes another five cigarettes. I suspect he's doing this just to slight me. We stop in two more vacant locations to load more bundled up packages. When we arrive at a check point, where other buses await clearance, nobody checks our side compartments. Driver 1 switches with Driver 2, and the bus rolls on. It's hot; I'm loosening my headscarf and unbuttoning my monto (coat); I can feel beads of sweat forming on my face. It's also late, about 12 a.m.; we were supposed to be at the restaurant an hour ago.

I'm boiling with silent rage, but know there's nothing I can do about the situation. Nobody in the bus appears nervous, or worried; nobody shows anger about our bus being controlled by a bunch of smuggling hooligans, who decided to use our 12-hour ride to carry out their illicit trade. Nobody complains. Other than the three friends in front of us joking with each other the entire trip, all passengers wear a distinct expression of stifled distress, as if they abhor the circumstances, but must endure passively, as they always do. Perhaps it's fear that creates this tepid attitude; after all, Bonneh is a small town, and people know each other. It's also a town where the occasional malefactor conveys his message by chopping off a head, or two.

Fortunately, I'm the "Fars," as the Kurds call me, so I decide to act on the rude outsider stereotype. I also stand up straight, extending my posture as far as possible, so that I can use my height to intimidate the attendant. After moving to the front, I tower over him, gripping his headrest with one hand, and the seat in front of him with the other, so that I was looking him square in the face. This was by accident; it's actually inappropriate to get so close to a stranger, especially of the opposite sex. I was knocked off balance momentarily by the lurching of the bus, and had to brace myself this way to avoid falling right into him. Anyway, this "embrace" did intimidate him, as I saw his eyes widen with terror, before I could even utter the words, "Excuse me; it's hot back there. Would you please turn on the cooler?"

Finally, at 1 a.m., we steered the crooked bus to a stop, in front of a souvenir shop in Zanjan. Zanjan is famous for making knives; I truly contemplated buying one, so that I could stab the insolent, chain-smoking driver who kept breaking the bus's rules, as dictated by the electronic marquee!!! Anyway, everybody filed out of the bus, and directly towards the bathrooms. Surprisingly, another bus pulled up alongside ours.

This souvenir place didn't have tables and chairs; what about all these people who haven't eaten dinner? The only food here was cheese puffs and tea. My friend, who visits her family in Bonneh, during university breaks, says she's never experienced this before. "We always stop at that restaurant."

In these hours a few things become crystal clear. First, I figure out why they're not running the air conditioner—the sound makes it difficult to hear and speak on their cellular phones. Second, they're not having conversations on their phones; they are in contact with other members of this smuggling operation who are traveling ahead of them, in regular cars, warning them of possible obstacles, i.e., the police. Third, these up-to-the-minute reports have resulted in the bus driver altering our route to evade police, which is why we haven't arrived at the usual restaurant.

When our bus prepares to leave, a suspicious exchange occurs. We give up one of our drivers (unfortunately, not the chain-smoking one), and receive both a driver and a couple of assistants from the other bus. In other words, this was a regular cartel of bus smuggling!

My friend tells me the three guys in front of us were joking in Kurdish, "Wow, those knives were delicious," as knives seemed to be the spotlight of this stop.

About an hour into leaving the souvenir shop, I drift into a light sleep. I’m startled awake because some young guy is stretched across my lap, reaching underneath my friend’s legs. What the heck is going on?!? He is one of the new assistants recruited to our miniature mafia.

He's digging around underneath our seats, pulling out deftly wrapped packages, each slightly larger than a shoebox. From our seat, he yanks out about 10, then sprawls his lanky torso across the aisle to our neighbors' seats, a married couple, and proceeds to violate their privacy as well. Now this, for sure, is a punishable offense in Iran; touching the legs of two young single girls, then doing the same with somebody's wife?

Out comes another 10 packages, or so, a trend that continues rapidly down the aisle. Obviously, these parcels were planted back at the bus terminal in Bonneh, unbeknownst to the passengers. Meaning, this whole shibang is part of a widespread, sophisticated network of smugglers. It must be lucrative enough for so many people to be willing to risk exposure, by "Farsis" like me, for example.

The bus rolls to a stop at the side of the highway; only a handful of vehicles speed by. From my window, I see a Tehrani man (revealed through his accent), jump out from his Paykan, and with the help of our mafia, quickly loads the packages retrieved from beneath our seats into his trunk and backseat, filling these spaces to the brim. They move fast, and the Tehrani guy, glancing around nervously the whole time, finally hops back into his car, and speeds off.

Bus steers onto the road, again, and continues merrily on its way. The two drivers engage in communication via their mobile phones, in both Farsi and Kurdish, gathering reports on locations of highway patrol officers. Then, the bus abruptly pulls off the highway, onto a vast, flat terrain about 100 feet into the distance. The lights are shut off; the attendant flips the switch on the bus's sign; even the miniscule blue lights that dot the window frames were turned out. It was pitch black, and the bus could not be seen by anybody on the highway.

Through the driver's side-view mirror, I witnessed five members of our miniature mafia standing in a line, alongside the outer compartment of the left side of the bus, passing the massive white bundles to each other, factory belt style. After about 20 minutes, the bus, in its luminous splendor, forged towards Tehran, at a deadly pace.

It was just like the movie "Speed." The warning alarm that beeps if the bus’s speed surpasses the safety limit sounded loudly, for a good hour-and-a-half. Sleep was out of the question, and I'm sure passengers feared for their lives, at some point.

The icing on the cake was when our bus made its last stop, only about three minutes from the terminal, on a side street. That's where the last of the humongous bundles jammed within the bus's right outer compartment, were loaded onto a pickup truck. We reached the bus depot around 4:30 a.m., almost three hours ahead of schedule.

An interesting aspect to me was that, aside from the attendant and the assistant who violated passengers, the entire operation was carried out by men who appeared to be in their mid-to-late 40s. Although they all likely have wives and children, they seemed unconcerned with the risks involved in getting caught.

Stay tuned for the next post about my experience in Kordistan (Kurdistan).

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Bush's Response

Bush's response: "Mahmoud, dear, I read your letter; don't forget to wake me up for morning prayers tomorrow." (Mahmoud jon, nomat ro khoondam. Yodet boshe mano baraye namoze sobh beedar koneed.)

Ever since President Bush announced that the U.S. would not issue an official written response to President Ahmadinejad's letter, young Iranians have been text-messaging each other Bush's various unofficial replies to his buddy.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Iranians' Views on Nuclear Issue

Here’s what many of you have been waiting for—the Iranian perspective on the nuclear issue. Although schoolwork consumes a significant chunk of my time, I managed to scrape up a bunch of comments from about 20 people ranging in age, economic status, religious beliefs, political stance, and life experience. I apologize, in advance, for awkward translations.

Does Iran have the right to produce nuclear energy?

Mahta, female, age 43, married, mother, occupation: elementary school teacher
It is definitely Iran's right to have nuclear energy. Those applying international pressure to stop our program are doing so because they want to keep us dependent, they don't want us to advance in industry. What about other countries using nuclear energy? Nobody tells them anything.

What are your thoughts on international pressure put on Iran to freeze its program? How should Iran react to such pressure?

Fakhri, female, age 57, widowed, mother, occupation: homemaker
They want us to need them; they want to have everything, and we remain impoverished, underdeveloped, and reliant on them. Nuclear energy is like a razor-sharp knife-it can be used for both good and bad. This knife can save several lives through surgery, or can end a single life through murder. The U.S. is saying that if Iran has this sharp knife, it will use it for murder; but if America has it, it will be used for good. They cannot think of Iran using the knife as a doctor, but instead as a murderer. We don't want nuclear energy for war, we want to use it for positive results.

Iran must stand firm, demanding why the U.S. and others can have nuclear energy, but we can't. It's as if they're saying, "I can have this, but you cannot. If you ever need this, come to us, and we may or may not give it you. But most likely, we won't give it to you."

Now that Iran’s case has been referred to the UN Security Council, the possibility of economic sanctions has come up. What are your thoughts on sanctions?

Reza, male, age 31, single, occupation: businessman
We've been under American sanctions for years, an action that resulted in major losses for the U.S., especially its wheat industry. Iran was a significant importer of American wheat, but since 1979, the U.S. has been forced to sell off its excess supply at much lower rates. In any case, we can bear sanctions; the strings haven't snapped, yet. As Iran's leading trade partner, Germany will suffer most, considering it exports a significant amount of products to Iran, and imports plenty of dry goods. Germany would lose billions of dollars in profits, which is why it's interested in striking a deal in this issue.

Should Iran consider halting its program, in order to avoid economic sanctions?

Nabby, male, age 22, single, university student, major: civil engineering
We should not—in any way—stop, divert, or slightly change our nuclear program just for temporary gains because it is our absolute right to advance in science and technology. It’s a cause worth dying for in war, rather than becoming slaves.

What benefits do you see in nuclear energy? Can Iran go without?

Elaheh, female, age 38, married, mother, occupation: homemaker
When Edison invented electricity, could we have said you cannot use your discovery? That you must go back to lighting candles?

What about confidence-building measures involving activities outside of Iran, such as the Russia’s proposal to enrich uranium on its soil?

Flor, female, age 45, married, mother, occupation: retired high school teacher,
petrochemical engineer
This isn't even a resolution. You're still dependent. All that's needed is for Iran to say something Russia doesn't like, then Russia will cut off the enrichment. This is like cutting off water. It would virtually paralyze us, and impoverish us further. Meaning, they can do whatever they want. We enriched uranium only up to our necessary levels for research, not higher.

Are you concerned that Iran may be at risk of attack by another nation?

Morteza, male, age 50, married, father, war vet, occupation: electrical engineer
No, because attacking Iran will make things harder for them, not for us. An attack will make no difference for us.

What is your opinion on the proliferation of nuclear weapons?

Khaleh Shaffi, female, age 70, occupation: everyone's auntie
We are Muslim, it is haram (prohibited) to kill in masses-we don't have this, we don't want this, and we oppose all who have it.

What are your political views, in general? Who did you vote for in the last presidential election?

Alireza, male, age 18, university student, major: civil engineering
If I hear logical ideas, then I'll agree. For instance, Ahmadinejad's claim that America should build confidence, rather than Iran, since America is the one with nuclear weapons, makes sense.

I voted for Rafsanjani because I wasn't familiar with the other candidates. I didn't want to risk a worse situation than what we went through with him. At first, I didn't like Ahmadinejad, but now I do, and regret not voting for him. So far, he's accomplished at least 50-percent of his promises. The administration now is much better to be up against a force like America; I think we can make a 180-degree improvement because of this.

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