Iran continues to be a baffling country to the uninitiated—heck, it's pretty bewildering even to the most seasoned observers! I came across two seemingly contradicting articles yesterday, which made me ponder Iran's complex dynamics for the umpteenth time. A profile in the Financial Times celebrated Laya Joneydi, a 50-year-old Iranian academic, who is a woman “with no ties to conventional politicians and no personal stories from Iran’s revolutionary years.” But, she currently serves as Iran’s vice-president for legal affairs. The second article published by Al-Monitor speaks about the horrible ordeal of Niloufar Bayani, an environmental activist who has been in prison with no access to a lawyer of her choosing for over a year. During her second court appearance, Bayani told the judge that her “statements to interrogators were given under duress and that she had been threatened and tortured.”
Some women are allowed to climb positions of power and others are tortured for their aim to secure a better future for Iran. Some are praised for their Western education and promoted for their resolve and others are shunned for having Western ideologies. There are those who can talk against the forced hejab and be relatively OK doing so, and there are others who are pushed out of the country for protesting against numerous injustices. The list of such contradictions can fill a 1000-page book. But, are there no set laws?
Sure, Iran has laws, but they are applied in arbitrary ways, which creates a confusing environment for all. Legal actions of yesterday, may be considered illegal today or a similar activity may or may not be a prosecutable offense depending on the context in which it is carried on. Who does what is very important too. Who did it? When was it done? How was it done? Why was it done? (Or the perception of why it was done for that matter) can completely change the reaction of the powers that be (which could also be fluid) towards the offender. Being close to the power centers or a connected family buys you some immunity, but you are not untouchable either. Major political figures including former presidents manage to fall out of favor with the deep state, which guarantees them being sidelined or much worse.
In case of Iran, there are always more questions than answers. Is it an authoritarian regime incapable of tolerating change? Is it a theocracy that is reforming, albeit slowly and painfully? Does the system hate everything Western? Are limited freedoms only allowed to insiders? Answers to these questions and many more are never as simple as a yes or no, but a variation of grey in between. In case of Iran's sociopolitical dynamics, I have always been weary of people with emphatic black-and-white answers. The country's reality is much more abstract.