Timothy Furnish: Historian returns from trip to Iran





August 10-17 I went to Iran for the Fourth Annual International Conference on Mahdism. It was an all-expenses-paid trip courtesy of the Bright Future Institute, a quasi-governmental organization dedicated to paving the way for the reappearance of the Twelfth Imam as the Mahdi. Traveling to Iran is not something one should attempt solo. I've been to other Middle Eastern countries on my own but I would never have gone to Iran without official sanction from the IRI government. And even then I barely made it, as my visa did not arrive until just four days before my Air France flight--Atlanta to Paris, Paris to Tehran--departed.

As the pilot announced the descent into Imam Khomeini International airport, many of the Iranians on the flight downed their last Heineken or glass of wine and the women began reaching into their bags for chadors. At the end of the walkway, prior to customs, I was met by Dr. Ali Haddad of the the Institute, as well as officials from the Foreign Ministry and airport security. Along with another American, Evan Anderson (a representative of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., who works for the Episcopal Bishop there in interfaith dialogue), I was escorted to the VIP lounge and provided tea while the bureaucrats took off with passports and documents. Eventually Mr. Anderson and I were led off to be fingerprinted, something reserved for Americans and for which the BFI folks were most apologetic. It was explained to us that this was "just politics" and Iranian retaliation for American policy regarding Iranians entering the U.S. I refrained from asking our hosts if they had ever heard of 9/11. Rode with Ali Haddad and a driver to the Hotel Laleh in Tehran, about an hour drive (the new and impressive Imam Khomeini airport is between Tehran to its north and Qom to its south, actually closer to the former; I was told that it is reserved for international flights only, no domestic ones at all). On the drive I asked Ali if Iranians preferred Barack Husayn Obama over John McCain; he said "most Iranians who follow U.S. politics do not think it will make any difference")....


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