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In October 2015, my wife Alice and I were visiting Iran on holiday with friends. Rarely seen by Western tourists, the country offers both dramatic scenery and wonderful cultural sites. We’d hired an interpreter and a driver and by the sixth day of our trip had visited the busy capital Tehran and Yazd, a desert city in the south.
Then, on our way to Shiraz, the heart of the country’s rich Persian culture, we stopped halfway to see a celebrated 4,000-year-old cypress tree, the Sarv-e Abarkuh.
Basij - Volunteer - Militia - Iran - Revolutionary
That’s when we met the Basij, the volunteer militia attached to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The black-clad young men were lying in wait for us, ready with a two-page petition.
The document then set out in detail all the terrible things Britain had done to Iran, going back to the 1857 Treaty of Paris and the Anglo-Persian war.
Encounter - Start - Campaign - Trip - Point
This encounter was the start of a sustained campaign to make our trip as difficult as possible. At one point, we feared we would be kidnapped.
It turned out the men knew our itinerary from the IRGC, which had bugged our vehicle, intercepted our interpreter’s mobile phone and bribed our driver. They knew exactly who I was. So serious was the risk judged to be, in fact, that we were given police protection – not against criminals or terrorists, but against the Basij and other agencies of the Iranian state. In the end, the hardliners won and we felt obliged leave four days early.
Affection - People - Book - Iran - West
Yet I still have huge affection for the Iranian people. I’ve been back since and have now written a book about why Iran so distrusts the West and Britain in particular.
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