My friend J. (non-Iranian) spends significant amounts of time in Teheran and other parts of Iran for a project he's doing. From time to time he writes an insightful observation, so good it's a shame not to share it with you all. Here's what he wrote when we were discussing internet filtering in Iran (which he has to deal with every day):
The Iranian government Internet firewall is mostly just stupid – it's implemented with all the subtlety of an anti-porn public library filter [which it may, in fact, be], with a few political sites thrown into the list. Plus, they nix all the social networking sites like FaceBook and YouTube, etc. – they also kill a lot of the "left-wing" press in the US like Salon.com, the Seattle PI, Huffington Post etc – but they let through most of the "mainstream" press like the NYT, Washington Post, and Israeli press, for example, like the right-wing Jerusalem Post and other such things.
There's really no sense that can be discerned to it – mostly I think they just don't know what they're doing. More than anything, I think this government is just out of touch with the rest of the world and extremely self-conscious. Which would make it an accurate reflection of the society as a whole, except without the social niceties.
I mean, the psyche of the government seems disconnected from the population until you watch the way people drive here. In fact, I'm starting to think that the Iranian government is following a pattern similar to most of the Iranian governments going back into history – that is to say, authoritarian, illogical, inefficient, corrupt, paranoid and unreasonable. When people get fed up with it there's some sea change, and then everybody starts to fall into the old pattern again. Hasn't it always been like this? A country of pleasant, disappointed people, never quite living up to their potential and always worried that other people think they have small penises, or that Arabs have larger penises, or whatever? It's what Israel would be if Israel were actually 5,000 years old, less geographically avaricious and had better manners and food culture. Ironic Republic.
Another nice (and not quite flattering) view of Teheran can be seen in the pictures of Reza Nadji. Warning, the pictures are brutally honest and can break the heart of anyone remembering the Teheran of the seventies: http://www.rezanadjitehran.com/