Reporter’s Notebook: Brain drain and a freer society

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"How was man created, in the view of Islam? First, God addresses the
angels, saying, ‘I want to create a vice-regent for Myself upon Earth.’ See
how great is
the value of man according to Islam? Even the post-Renaissance humanism of
Europe has never been able to conceive of such exalted sanctity for man. The
angels cried out, saying, ‘you wish to create one who will engage in bloodshed,
crime, hatred and vengeance.’ But God replies, ‘I know something that you do
not know’."

Ali Shari’ati, an influential Iranian thinker who inspired
many of the revolution’s
supporters. He died in 1977.

Dear friends,

In Iran it’s considered rude to turn your back to someone. If you’re
in the back seat of a car and someone gets in the front, they apologize to
you for their back. You might respond, "Gol poshto ru nadawreh" – "a
flower has no front or back."

Hussein is a soft spoken man, kind and polite. He makes a good living. He
and his family live in a nice apartment in north Tehran. The furnishings are
and, when you’re inside you feel you could be in any developed country in the
world. Hussein and his wife are giving up their comfortable life in Iran to
a new life overseas. They’re doing this for their children whom they want to
have a better education and better career opportunities. They also want to
live a freer society. "This government, "Hussein tells me, "practices
radical Islam," "but Iranians are not
radicals." By ‘radical’ Hussein isn’t talking about terrorism.
He means the Iranian government’s attempts to dictate how people should live
according to Islam.

Hussein is more in tune with Iranian thinkers like Ali Shari’ati who argued
that religion is a personal matter, not something to be imposed on others
through a political system. Hussein doesn’t seem particularly political, he’s
someone who wants to live and let

Iran is experiencing one of the biggest "brain drains" of any nation
in the world. Talented and skilled people are leaving, if they can. Iranians
are not welcome in many places and I’m told that unless you have a lot of money
or skills in demand somewhere else, it’s hard to emigrate. A man told me today that if this continues,
someday "only workers will be left in Iran". At that point, he says
Iran’s economy will be wholly dependent on other nations. This man says his
father is very religious and was a big supporter of the revolution. But his
father, too, is leaving. Iran will be poorer for the loss of Hussein and people
like him.

I had dinner last night with a group of young bohemians. They live in a wealthy
section of northwest Tehran. Their place was decorated with tapestries, hand-made
furniture and beautiful Persian carpets. Incense burned and world music played
as women danced. A delicious vegetarian meal was served. The talk was easy
and non-political. I sat on the
patio and listened to the crickets chirp. It seemed odd to hear a sound that
wasn’t made by an internal combustion engine. Listening to the crickets and
seeing a few stars scattered overhead I felt a pang of homesickness.

Taking a cab back to the hotel, we drove by the parks in north Tehran. They
were still full of people – even at 1:30 in the morning. They were having picnics
and strolling under the sycamores that march in a crowded line along the streets
of this affluent
section of Tehran, keeping them in shade during the day.

Near my hotel in central Tehran it was quiet except for the street sweepers
in their orange jumpsuits and wielding witch brooms. I’m told they are Afghan
refugees. It seems they work all night. In the darkness, the cab swerved around
a dazed-looking man crouched in the road. An addict, I think. After the cab got a flat tire I walked
the rest of the way to the hotel. The driver wouldn’t let me help him change
the tire. A man on a motorcycle stopped and offered to give me a ride, but
I felt safe walking the streets.



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