Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Cometh the hour, cometh the woman

It has been a long time coming, but yesterday I finally woke up feeling smugly confident that I would offer be able to my readers some well-informed insights into one of the leading issues in the news.

After all, I reasoned, there surely cannot be another Journal columnist who is married to an Iranian; or, at any rate, the holder of an Iranian passport as well as a British one. Admittedly only last week my wife advised an upmarket hospital consultant, who kindly observed that she hardly sounded foreign at all, that this might have something to do with the fact that she was born in Manchester.

However, Mrs Hann did spend her formative years in Iran until that nice Saddam Hussein started trying to bomb her home every night, encouraged by his allies in the West, whereupon her father concluded that it might be a good idea to play the joker of his own British passport and clear off.

I therefore felt that I was on reasonably safe ground when I started the day by pulling out the notebook I always keep by the bed, in case of interesting dreams, and asked her for a few informed insights into whether or not President Ahmadinejad had rigged the recent Iranian election.

She blinked and looked at me balefully, before asking what I wanted for breakfast. I suppose I should have taken a hint from the fact that she is as likely as I am to call him President I’m-a-dinner-jacket that my wife is not an expert on the political scene of her erstwhile homeland.

Indeed, if pressed on the subject she even prefers to call her heritage Persian, preferring to be associated with cuddly cats rather than religious extremism and terrorism. Which is understandable, given that she has only been to a mosque once in her adult life, and is perfectly comfortable belting out traditional English hymns in a country parish church.

It is all rather a disappointment to me. I had high hopes that choosing a slightly exotic partner might help to counter any suspicion that my usually robustly right-wing views might make me a racist. But I tried advancing this theory to a friend who supports the BNP (a claim I always took for a joke until he showed me his party membership card) and he simply snorted in derision. “Don’t be ridiculous, man,” he said. “Don’t you realise they are more Aryan than we are?”

Indeed, it is rather a kick in the teeth for those who lean to discredited ideas of blond-haired, blue-eyed racial superiority that Iran actually means “land of the Aryans”.

I can only say from my own experience that Iranians are good-looking, kind, generous, humorous, understanding and really excellent cooks. As far removed as possible, in fact, from the chanting fanatics one usually sees on the news. I am also reliably informed that Iran is a very beautiful country and that visiting it is nothing like the trial I would imagine. Despite the best efforts of the Islamic Republic, I am assured that the rules on women’s dress are not enforced too onerously, and even obtaining alcohol is not a massive challenge.

I shall not be rushing to test these theories out, but I am certainly prepared to concede that marrying someone from a different background and culture has substantially broadened my mind, even if it has by no means eradicated all my ancient prejudices.

Yes, we can certainly learn from Iran. I just hope that the lesson is not too keenly absorbed in Downing Street, or about a year from now we may be rubbing our eyes at election results which show Labour celebrating a surprise landslide victory following divine intervention, with the Conservatives scoring only pitiful minority votes even in their ancient heartlands like Buckinghamshire and Surrey.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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