My father had taught me that clerics were lazy; more specifically, that they were unsuited to run a country because their work kept them in seminaries, sipping tea in robes, and that sort of languid profession did not lend itself to the more challenging task of administering a government. Convinced their worst sin was sloth, I had not assumed they were equally lecherous. One really could not have a proper conversation with a cleric. They were absurd. A one-hour interview with a mullah inevitably cycled like so:
First fifteen minutes: Gaze averted, stares at own feet, wall, space, anywhere but two-foot radius around opposing female.
Second fifteen minutes: Slowly casts glances in direction of head and talking voice.
Third fifteen minutes: Makes eye contact and conducts normal conversation.
Last fifteen minutes: Begins making googooly eyes, smiling in impious fashion, and requesting one’s mobile phone number.
I didn’t understand why they did this with me, since they are supposed to favor round women and fair women, and I was neither. Some actually complained about this, with mock concern for my health (“Miss Moaveni, have you been ill? You’ve lost so much weight. … Don’t you like Iranian food?”). How they could detect a body underneath the billowing tent I wore, let alone its fluctuations, was beyond me. I asked Khaleh Farzi, who explained that clerics had x-ray vision. That was why they didn’t mind keeping women veiled.
It was only over time, after repeated exposure to womanizing clerics, clerics who stole from the state and built financial empires, who ordered assassinations like gangsters, who gave Friday sermons attacking poodles, that I came to understand the virulence of my father and my uncle’s hate for the Iranian clergy. Perhaps their flaws were no greater than those of ordinary mortals, but ordinary mortals did not claim divine right to rule, ineptly, over seventy million people. As the gravity of the Islamic Republic’s hypocrisy revealed itself, I came to the slow, shocking realization that Iranian society was sick. Not in a facetious, sloganny way, exaggerating the extent of culture wars and social tensions, but truly sick. The Iran I had found was spiritually and psychologically wrecked, and it was appalling.
I doubt a thoroughly secular state would be much better if it suffered under the political hegemony of, say, its professors of literature or philosophy (or linguistics, to pick on my own field).