A crisis of faith
Added: Monday, 25 January 2010

watch original V-Blog in Persian

So this friend of a friend’s arrives from Iran. It’s his first time out of the country and from the moment he arrives he’s blown away by everything that is different to what he had imagined. First of all, he mentions the beauty and cleanliness of what is an incredible infrastructure. We call and book a hotel in advance and he wonders how it is possible for us to do this without having big-shot connections in the town we’re visiting. We visit the town and he comments again on the incredible beauty. We go to an art exhibition and it takes him half an hour to get over the fact that Black people are artists too. We go to the bank to draw money and he’s stunned that banks are privatized and that they give you credit! How on earth would they trust that you’d ever pay them back? And how on earth do you trust them with what’s yours?

In fact, the whole issue of honesty and trust is a huge revelation for him. He can’t believe we get through a day without bribing anyone or without being jipped. But the issue he comes back to again and again is how amazing our infrastructure is. The roads, the public places, the buildings. Everything is clean and nice. And people throw their garbage in the designated containers (most of the time).

So we’re sitting and enjoying our pasta in one of these marvelous places when the waiter brings the bill. Our friend looks at it and realizes there’s an item called “tax”.

“You’re not really going to pay that, are you?” he laughs? ….

Yes. This man had never made the connection between paying taxes and getting quality of life in return. Because in the society he lives in, nobody trusts anybody for anything – least of all the government.

It’s a complicated society, this Iranian society. People are marching for change, but it better be well thought out and carefully planned. Because democracy without a level of trust - or rather “faith” - in the system and in others will turn out dismal. And we in the “West” know all too well what it means to have a crisis of faith in politics. Because some of us will read all the above and say: you can’t trust banks, and people don’t throw their garbage in the bins; I paid a bribe to a cop just yesterday and to get the best hotel rooms you do need connections…!

But it’s all relative, isn’t it? Seeing our society through his eyes made me appreciate what we do have and the fact that we can voice our concerns and demand transparency. Doesn’t mean it’s perfect, but it’s the best thing we’ve experienced so far. For more thoughts on how we could “improve” the democratic notion, please watch our latest little film, Beyond King of the Mountain. I think that the ideas expressed are as exciting for the Iranians as they are for us or Haitians…!!!

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9 August 2009

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