“The Duality of Life in Iran” – from Tehran Bureau

In The Duality of Life in Iran, Tehran Bureau’s Correspondent at Large writes the following:

Life in Iran is split in halves: the half lived in the open and the half lived behind closed doors. And this duality goes deep: every man and woman in Iran leads two lives, an external life that conforms to the pressures and norms of the society and an internal life governed by the wants and needs of the person.

This is a continuation of the ways of traditional Iranian society, which has evolved into a modern, complex form of duality present at every level of social activity. At the core of the old Iranian way of living were houses that were split into andarouni (literally, “internal,” and commonly confused with harem, a section of an aristocrat’s castle), in which people relaxed far from public scrutiny — women were not obliged to wear hejab, and singing and dancing was allowed. Outside this safe haven, life changed — women were expected to be chador-clad and demure; men, formal and rigid.

The ritual of a domestic visit was a layered one; you would start at the door, which was the farthest that street vendors, gypsies, and fortune tellers could come. The next step was the hashti, an octagonal room filled with seats, where most visitors were greeted and entertained. If a person was to be allowed in further, a call was made inside the house, usually something like “Ya Allah,” still common today when a stranger enters a residence. The call meant that the home’s inner sanctum was about to be breached and everyone assumed the roles assigned to them by social norms; again women were clad in hejab and men became formal. The lucky guests who were allowed further than the hashti were guided to the panjdari or talar, a large room specifically designed for entertaining guests. But that was the furthest any outsider could penetrate the layers of the house; still further, behind closed doors, was the living room, centerpiece of the andarouni.

The whole piece is worth reading for one person’s insight into a central fact of Iranian culture, the necessity of leading a dual life under the current regime. The comments section is also worth reading.


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3 Responses to “The Duality of Life in Iran” – from Tehran Bureau

  1. 1
    Almulhida says:

    Applies just as much to Saudi Arabia, methinks.

  2. 2
    RonF says:

    To say “the necessity of leading a dual life under the current regime” can readily lead one to believe that the current regime created the necessity. Reading the article shows that this has actually been a central facet of live in Iran for centuries. Although the current regime hasn’t alleviated it, given how long standing this tradition is (and how much of it is rooted in religious and other cultural concepts) I’d think that no regime is going to be able to reverse it particularly quickly.

    This was pretty interesting:

    Or take Morteza Agha Tehrani, the ultra-reactionary Majles deputy known as the “moral guide” for the Ahmadinejad administration; he has a U.S. green card.

    Is the State Department aware of this?

  3. Ron,

    The point, I think, is that the current regime has exacerbated–or, more accurately, politicized–the necessity in ways that are very different from what the “dual life” might have meant under different circumstances. (To be fair, there are a lot of people who would say the same thing was true under the Shah.)