Field: Travel, Contemporary Issues
Title: In the Land of Ayatollahs Tupac Shakur is King
Author: Shahzad Aziz
Publication: Amal Press 2007
Reviewed by: Safwan
As a British-born Pakistani, the writer, like many others, lived and grew in a society and culture unknown to his forefathers. It didn’t take him long to begin developing a critical and skeptical mind; that there is little that he did not question. It is easy to understand, that in the quest of ‘a reality closer to truth’, Shahzad decided that media alone isn’t enough a source. He set off to visit the controversially-dubbed Middle Eastern countries including Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Jerusalem.
His shrewd analysis of almost everything encountered is very much an added-value to his travels. In Iran, the writer described how the supposedly America’s enemy country has failed to prevent the super power’s influence from penetrating deep into the countrymen’s hearts. He met, observed, and talked to many laymen who are proud of the West, and would do much to try to accommodate Western values into their Persian Muslim identity. This happens against the setting of a government who would use force to compel its citizens into abiding its religious rulings.
Throughout his journeys, whether in Iran or elsewhere, Shahzad explored a satisfying amount of history and public opinion. In many occasions, he engaged himself with academics in the universities, trying to explore and if necessary, question their ideas. This might not give an accurate picture of the Iranians, but most of them whom the writer met were not completely happy with their government.
The next country, Syria, is very different from his expectations. Not as many people were seen with their scarves on. He described the dominance of the “flesh-showing, head-turning” culture in Damascus. In fact, Shahzad himself had more than once been offered prostitutes by those who had mistaken him as a potential customer. So that is how Syria becomes ‘modern’.
His encounters with different social, economic, political, and religious environments have unavoidably prompted and challenged his thoughts, alongside his perceptions. All through the work, readers can find his insight, argument, and discussion concerning various issues like terrorism, The Big Oil, revolutionaries, political ideas, ideologies, hijab, moral enforcement, and last but not least, the Palestinian Question. This he dealt with very often during his travels in Jerusalem, a destination he has long dreamt to stop by. His main message in the book is that the East and the West can interpret the same events very differently, with catastrophic results.