A Search for Identity Led to Life in Tehran

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When she was 18, author and NPR producer Iran Davar Ardalan gave up a comfortable life in the suburbs of Massachusetts and returned to her childhood home in post-revolution Iran. She talks about her book, My Name is Iran, and tells the story of her search for family, faith and freedom.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

As a teenager, Iran Davar Ardalan entered a beauty contest near her home outside of Boston and placed well. The prize was a modeling shoot. She posed in tight Calvin Klein jeans with curled hair and heavy eye makeup. Two years later, she was an 18-year-old bride in a black chador, part of an arranged marriage in a rapidly-changing Tehran.

Davar's new memoir spans three generations of her Iranian-American family, which moved back and forth between very different cultures. As you'll hear, several - including Davar - faced questions of ethnic, religious, and national identity, of tradition and modernism, and - in her case - how she navigated from America's suburbs to become a national news broadcaster in post-revolutionary Iran and then go back to the United States where she now works as a senior producer here at National Public Radio.

Later in the hour, we'll check in on California farmers struggling to make decisions about their fruit during a cold snap.

But first, "My Name Is Iran." If you have experience balancing two cultures, give us a call. We'd be especially interested to hear from Muslims negotiating the space between traditionalism and modernity. Our number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. And Davar Ardalan joins us now from the studios of NPR West in Culver City, California. Davar, it's great to have you on TALK OF THE NATION.

Ms. IRAN DAVAR ARDALAN (Author, "My Name Is Iran"): Thank you so much, Neal.

CONAN: It's amazing to see those modeling shots of you in your teens and realize that just a short time after that, you were on your way to Iran as part of an arranged marriage.

Ms. ARDALAN: Yes, and imagine how shocked my father was, who was back in Boston and sort of witnessing this from a distance. But my mother was in Iran, and she was an orthodox Muslim - even though she had been raised Catholic - and she had very much become a part of the revolution. She actually was an interpreter, and she had introduced President Khatami - who at that time was not president but part of the Ministry of Culture - to Fidel Castro. And it was just sort of an amazing journey which she had immersed herself in in revolutionary Iran. And the reason why was that she wanted to give her Islamic heritage a chance. And so I got caught up in it as well and sort of, you know, had my own journey.

CONAN: And which you write about - it's extraordinary. How did you go from there to becoming a national news broadcaster?

Ms. ARDALAN: Yes, well, I was translating at a medical conference in Tehran, and an African-American Muslim, actually - who was in Tehran married to an Iranian woman - came up to me and he said, well, you know they're auditioning for the English news. And so I asked him, you know, who I needed to contact. And I was there just, you know, within a week and sitting in front of the television and a crew, and was selected to be the anchor of the Islamic Republic of Iran English news broadcast. And my co-anchor was a woman named Judy Garland. Her husband…

CONAN: You're kidding.

Ms. ARDALAN: No, I'm serious. Her husband was Professor Neur Mohammadi(ph), and so she went by Judy Neur(ph). But to me, she was Judy Garland.

CONAN: And will be forever from now on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And I wonder at that - this was also the occasion of some disillusionment for you in the - in post-revolutionary situation in Iran.

Ms. ARDALAN: Yes, well, you know, I actually - when I went back, when I was married in an arranged marriage, I was very interested - even at the age of 18 - and curious about my Islamic background. And so I wanted to learn about the Prophet's daughter Fatimah, who was very much an independent and feisty woman herself. I wanted to learn about Khadijah, the Prophet's wife, who was a businesswoman and who actually asked for the Prophet's hand in marriage. And these were sort of the icons and the female role models - Muslim female role models - that I turned to. and I really sort of was inspired by them.

And what happened is that there were several different instances, but one in particular was when the news director at the Islamic Republic of Iran caught me just outside the studios and asked me whether I wore mascara. And basically, he said that there were complaints that my features were too attractive on television. And so I pulled on my eyelashes and I explained that, no, these were my own eyelashes. And I think that at that moment, what I was struck by was the fact that he wasn't commenting on, you know, how I was doing, what kind of job I was doing, or what I had learned, you know, as, you know, having come back from the States. But it was sort of a very superficial evaluation.

CONAN: I have to say it's the kind of superficial evaluation you can find in Boston or Los Angeles or anywhere in this country, too. Your looks count on TV.

Ms. ARDALAN: Yeah, but you don't expect that clearly, you know, from a very pious and religious man, and, you know - anyway, so that was one of them. And the other was when I had the occasion with Judy to meet the Ayatollah Khomeini. And this was on the occasion of Women's Day and celebrating the life of Fatimah, the Prophet's daughter. And so Judy and I and hundreds of other women were selected to go meet him.

And it was 1986, and sort of the electrifying sense that you had in his hall room waiting in Jamaran in Northern Tehran for Khomeini to arrive was a feeling that I don't think I'll ever forget. And when he came in, he, you know, said a prayer, and we were all chanting his name. And he sat down, and he told us that as women, he expected us to follow in the path of Fatimah and he expected us to do as she did, which was to seek out the injustices of her time.

And I found that as a calling, as sort of a quiet way to in my own way evaluate what was going on around me. Drug addiction was at a terrible level, and it had actually personally affected people around me - heroin addiction. Prostitution was high, and marriages were breaking up. People were, you know, work - had three or four jobs trying to make ends meet. And so this Islamic dream that I thought I had submitted to sort of became sort of, you know, something that I begin to question.

CONAN: Our guest is Davar Ardalan, a senior producer here at National Public Radio. She's written a book called "My Name Is Iran." And I guess you should explain that you went by Iran, your first name, for the, what? Until 1979.

Ms. ARDALAN: Yes, I was born Iran Davar Ardalan, and I was born in San Francisco. And my parents were hippie intellectuals, I like to call them. My mother loved playing the guitar, the works, you know, of James Taylor and Joan Baez. And when I was born, they had a longing for their other homeland, and so they named me Iran. But I dropped the name actually in 1980 when I was at Brookline High School and the U.S. hostages were still being kept in Tehran. And I, of course, felt, you know, that I was not, you know, in a situation where I wanted to introduce myself to my teenage friends as Iran.

CONAN: A little hard when people are chanting bomb Iran.

Ms. ARDALAN: Yes, exactly.

CONAN: Yeah, yeah. Anyway, if you'd like to join our conversation, our number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org, and we're particularly interested in those of you with some experience juggling two nationalities and two very different experiences. Let's begin with Jeff. Jeff's calling us from Detroit.

JEFF (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Jeff, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

JEFF: Oh, hi. Yes, I'm calling just as a Muslim, an American. I'm Lebanese extraction. But my wife and I, you know, she covers her hair. She was born in America. She's Lebanese as well. And we just wanted to comment on the fact that growing up - or growing our kids Muslim in America is a - it's different than when I was a child, you know. But I was enjoying hearing your guests today, and I hope she can shed more light on, you know, how it is for her to be a Muslim in America and have, you know - I don't know.

And I just appreciate the show. I just wanted to say, as a Muslim in America, it is - it's difficult sometimes because I think there's a lot of anti-Islamic sentiment for some reason in America…

CONAN: Sure.

JEFF: But…

CONAN: Let me ask you, Jeff, do you take your family back to Lebanon?

JEFF: I'm sorry?

CONAN: Have you taken your family back to Lebanon?

JEFF: Well, no. I've never been. My, you know, I've never been. My grandfather on my father's side was a U.S. Army, World War I. And my mother's father was U.S. Marines, World War II…

CONAN: Have you ever been interested in exploring that side of your heritage?

Jeff: Oh, yes. I love it, but - I'd love to. I saw Lebanon, really, for the first time, when it was being bombed over the summer on the news…

CONAN: Not at its best. No.

JEFF: I'm sorry?

CONAN: Not at its best -

JEFF: I'm sorry?

CONAN: The country does not look at its best when it's being bombed.

JEFF: Oh, yes. Yeah. But thank you very much for having me on your show and -

CONAN: All right.

Jeff: - and as an American Muslim, I've got to say, it's a challenge, but you know, it was worth discovering the Koran, I've got to tell you.

CONAN: Jeff, thanks very much for the call. And good luck to you.

JEFF: Thank you, sir.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Davar, let me ask you to respond to Jeff's point for one, but also…

ARDALAN: Sure.

CONAN: …that your experience, it seems to me, is very much a second half of the 20th century experience. When people came from foreign countries to the United States, to study, going to school or immigrants, or whatever - they tended to stay here because getting back was just as difficult as getting here in the first place. Because of the timing, your family was able to go back and forth these past three generations.

ARDALAN: Yes. Yes. And, you know, just to point out what Jeff was talking about, you know, as part of my job as a producer, I did a series on cyber Islam. And I was so encouraged by, you know, so much of what American Muslims are doing on the Internet. And I think that there is this sort of virtual space that American Muslims have found that takes it beyond any of the, you know, more stereotypical ways that Muslims are portrayed in America.

And so it's interesting that they are able to do their shahadahs, which is, you know, accepting the religion of Islam online. And it just seems really fascinating how Muslims have been able to find a voice on the Internet.

CONAN: Our guest is Iran Davar Ardalan, a senior producer here at National Public Radio - also the author of a new book called "My Name is Iran." If you'd like to join our conversation, give us a call - 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org.

I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Our guest this hour is Davar Ardalan. She tells the story of how she navigated from America's suburbs to post-revolutionary Iran and then back to the U.S. in a memoir titled "My Name is Iran." We've posted excerpts from the book at npr.org, where you can read about her experience working for Iranian television and what made her decide to return to America. You could also hear her 2004 NPR Series, also called "My Name is Iran." Again, that's at npr.org.

As always, we want to hear from you. If you have experienced balancing two cultures, give us a call - 800-989-8255. 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. And let's go to Moji(ph). Moji is calling us from Tucson, Arizona.

MOJI (Caller): Hi. Good afternoon. And I want to say salaam to your guest.

ARDALAN: Salaam.

MOJI: I'm a fellow Iranian-American Muslim. And I'm a peace and human rights activist. And here in the University of Arizona, I've initiated this project called "Project on Culture and Conflict."

And the comment I have is that modernity has been introduced to the Islamic world with the hands of colonialism. So what has happened to it is that it has become, if you will, toxicated. It has become - because the intent has not been to introduce modernity, but to explore - to exploit oil and to dominate.

So the products of modernity have been tainted. And one of the products of modernity - which has a lot of issues with Islam and vice versa - is what I call colonial feminism. And what I mean by that, by colonial feminism, is that the issues of so-called liberation of women is being pursued not for the sake of liberating Muslim women, but for the sake of political and hegemonic domination.

The result of this is that women are suffering in the Islamic world, and they are set back because they are seen as collaborators. They are seen as patsies of colonial forces.

CONAN: Davar, I wonder if you had a response to that?

ARDALAN: Yes, well, you know, the Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi has said that Iranians, for the past 100 years, have been trying to find their voice and, you know, find, you know, the yearning for a civil society. And I think I know, obviously, what you're saying. And I think that in this situation with Iran is that there are many women - politically active women within Iran, both religious and secular - who are working, you know, at grass roots efforts to allow women to know about their rights. But they are very much invisible.

And so, I wonder when you say colonial feminism, if you're referring also to the works of Shirin Ebadi, or who are you specifically - what is it?

MOJI: I actually have talked with Mrs. Ebadi - I hold her in great esteem. And she is actually a - in my opinion - one of the victims of colonial feminism, by which is mean that she rose to be judge, yet the revolution strips her of her position.

ARDALAN: Yeah.

Moji: And part of the reason was because under the Shah, the kind of political - I mean, the women's liberation was seen a collaboration with enemy, so to speak - the colonial power's puppet.

ARDALAN: Yes. Well, I think what you see her doing right now is that by choice, the Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi - who, for some who don't know her, is a human rights lawyer - by choice, she has stayed in Iran. And this summer, she and many other women's rights activists began an initiative, which was to gather 100 - excuse me - 1 million signatures from Iranian men and women to present to the government, and talk about the fact that the laws were very discriminatory to women.

Now, nobody expects that this is going to change overnight, but I think that the fact that 63 percent of university students in Iran today are women means that these educated women - who have come up through the theocracy in these past 30 years - are very much going to be the ones at the forefront of changing this situation and changing it within the Islamic framework, which I think is absolutely fascinating.

And so some have said that 30 years ago, Iran brought the world, you know, an Islamic revolution and galvanized fundamentalists throughout the world. And perhaps women activists in Iran today, who are working within the Islamic framework, could one day be planting the seeds for an Islamic reformation. And I believe that you are right, it has to happen within the Islamic world itself.

MOJI: Right.

ARDALAN: Thank you.

MOJI: I call…

CONAN: Moji, I'm going to thank you for the call. I know you want to go on, but we wanted to give some other callers a chance.

MOJI: Okay. Thank you.

CONAN: Appreciate the phone call. Thanks very much.

Let's go on to Mary. Mary is calling from Portland, Oregon.

MARY (Caller): Oh, hi.

CONAN: Hi.

MARY: Yes. I lived in Iran for a number of years, from about 1975 to 1981. I'm married to an Iranian. I speak Farsi, and I - so I'm pretty familiar with the culture. We go back when we can. But it hasn't been easy for us, because we are not - we were leftist during the revolution. And we supported it, but we were driven out of the country. And it's been only in the last 15 years or so that we've been able to go back occasionally.

And I guess my comment is that I sometimes get frustrated because we are not Islamic, and we're secular. And it sometimes gets a little bit frustrating, since everyone assumes that if you are Iranian, you are a Muslim - you are Muslim by birth, but not necessarily a practicing Muslim.

ARDALAN: Yes, and you know, Neal, this is something that resonates with many secular Iranians, many of who lived in the United States, you know, who came here after the revolution. And it's interesting to point out that secular intellectuals had a major role in bringing about the Islamic revolution.

I had the occasion as part of the series I did to meet one of the foremost human rights activists in Iran - well-known, you know, before Shirin Ebadi took the world stage - and his name is Kareem Lohiji(ph).

And Kareem Lohiji actually was imprisoned during the Shah's time for his political activities. But he is a secular lawyer who wanted to help bring about the revolution, because he was hoping that that would be an openness of political parties, and that Iranians would finally have, you know, a say in their government.

And I think that they are extremely disillusioned. And so that is still very much also a reflection of many people inside Iran. I mean, you will talk to, you know, people who come and go, and there is something that one of my colleagues, Iranian-American scholar Russell Nafizi(ph), refers to as internal exile - that Iranians very much, many of them, live in an internal exile within the country.

MARY: That's very true. That's true of my husband's family, and it's a big reason why we don't - haven't gone back to live in Iran.

ARDALAN: Yeah.

MARY: We both love it there very much, but it's very difficult for people who are not - who don't choose to practice Islam.

ARDALAN: Yes. And, Neal, you know, historically, the Persian civilization that has - goes back 2,500 years, has gone through, you know, the invasion of the Arabs, the Mongols, the Russians, the interference of the British, the Americans. And what's really fascinating is that if history is a judge, that the Persian civilization, in the end, prevails.

And so, you know, we have no idea what the experiment of these last 30 years with the Islamic theocracy is going to result in. But I think that there is absolutely very much still a yearning for Iran to find its identity, to find its place in the world, and in today's modern world.

CONAN: Mary, thanks very much for the call. Good luck.

MARY: Thank you.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail we got from Amir(ph) in Tehran. I've got two questions for Ms. Ardalan - I'd like to know if she still maintains any contacts with the IRIB staff - that's Iranian Broadcasting, I assume.

ARDALAN: No. I mean, you know, I left in 1987. I went for a brief visit in 1989. I have not been back since. But I am thrilled that a couple of years ago, my friend Judy Garland made it out, and she is currently living in the United States with her children.

CONAN: Out to think about a career in singing. This is the part of Amir's question - also, I know my question may seem a bit odd, but would it be possible for Iranians who live in Iran to buy your book from domestic markets? As you know, we're deprived of the opportunity to own and use MasterCard or other means of trading on the Web.

ARDALAN: Well, that's a good question for my publisher, Henry Holt. I'm not sure, but that is a dilemma that we'll look into.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Aida(ph), Aida calling from New Jersey.

AIDA (Caller): Yes, hi. I'd like to make a couple of comments. As an Arab-American Muslim who's lived here in the States, I haven't - I didn't grow up here, by the way - but I'd like to make a couple of comments regarding, first of all, the Koran. In the Koran, it's mentioned that women are supposed to be equal, just, you know, just as equal as men are, and not because people are implementing what the Koran is saying doesn't mean that Islam is not - excuse me I have a cold…

CONAN: That's OK.

AIDA: …or liberating women. Now, I lived in Egypt, I lived in the UAE, which is the United Arab Emirates, and I've lived here. And I think that the women in general, all over the world, not just in Iran or the Middle East, but in general, are second-class citizens.

So this is really my comment. And a long time ago women used to fight along the prophet - peace be upon him - and they planned for wars and they held meetings. So this really is my comment as far as women are concerned on the Islamic side.

CONAN: Aida, we hope you feel better.

AIDA: Thank you. I appreciate you're taking my call.

CONAN: Davar, I wonder if you have a comment.

ARDALAN: Yes. Well, I wanted to share a personal story. My mother, who is an Islamic scholar, is currently putting the final touches of her translation of the Koran. And she had the opportunity this past September when Iranian president, Ahmadinejad, was here at the U.N., she was one of 75 Iranian Americans invited to meet him.

They had selected scholars who are, you know, known for their Islamic work. And so they were in this room. It was a private meeting. And they were allowed to come to the microphone and say anything they wanted to President Ahmadinejad.

And my mother took the podium and in her Farsi with an American accent, she said to him, I want you to know that with the blessing of Allah I have put the finishing touches of translating the Koran. And in particular I want to tell you that there is a verse in the Koran that is translated in Arabic that women are allowed to beat - men are allowed to beat their wives.

And I wanted to tell you that I translate that in a different way. I translate that to say that men should cast down their eyes when women, for example, do something that men don't agree with. Because I have done research and the prophet never beat any of his wives.

And I just wish I was in that room, you know, to see Ahmadinejad's face. But I just was thrilled when my mother was recounting this story. And she said, you know, I want a meeting with the spiritual leader because I want him to know about the, you know, the Koran and the fact that women now have to have a voice in how Islam, you know, is interpreted.

And so this goes back to the whole idea of, you know, reformation and having women have a say in, you know, Islamic teachings and rulings. And that many very, very scholarly Muslim men and women will tell you that the interpretations that currently are in the books in Iran, in particular, are very much based on, you know, men's interpretations of the religion.

And so I think there is a whole other, you know, intellectual revolution waiting to happen. And women will be at the forefront of that throughout the Muslim world.

CONAN: Our guest is Davar Ardalan she is the author of a book called "My Name is Iran." She's also a senior producer here at National Public Radio. You can tell she's a radio professional, because it was a very subtle use of her cough button earlier. We were all impressed here in Washington. Davar is with us from the studios of NPR West in Culver City, California. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get another caller on the line. This is Ali(ph). Ali joining us from New Haven in Connecticut.

ALI (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi. Go ahead please.

ALI: Yeah. My name is Ali from New Haven. I lived in the United States most of my life, which is about 20-something years, almost 30 years. And I relate to Iran regarding some of the issues that she's saying. And one of the issues that I have been observing, being in two cultures, is there are some values that are very strong in Iran, yet in United States that value is not whole, you know, people violate that and vice versa.

For example - to give an example of the things that are different - and by the way this causes a lot of misunderstanding and a lot of, you know, judgment based on these values. For example, one of the values that in United States is very strong is telling the truth.

I mean if a president comes and lies, that is beyond any other crime. You know - they could do sexual things, they could do other things, but, like, lying is an ultimate crime done by president.

But in Iran I have seen that the president lied. They asked the president, Rafsanjani, when he was president, they asked him if the price of gasoline goes - the government is trying to raise the price - and he said no. And after it was raised, they interviewed him and they said why did you say no. He said if had said yes, this and this and this would happen and the economy would have collapsed. So he justified that.

CONAN: Ali I want to correct you slightly. Getting caught telling a lie is the worst crime in American politics. But go ahead.

ALI: Well, yeah. Yeah. But, you know, this is a value that in Iran it doesn't really matter that much. It still is not a good thing. It's not as bad as United States. It's…

CONAN: I understand what you're saying. Davar, I think what he's talking about is, you know, what's the source of the cultural misunderstanding? You must have some insight into this having lived so deeply in both these worlds.

ARDALAN: Yes. Well, I mean I think that what is really important - and I have been on a tour - I just began my book tour, I'm in Los Angeles - and yesterday at USC I had the opportunity to meet several people. And, you know, one of the questions they wanted to know is how can Americans get to know the Iranian culture.

There are no diplomatic relations between the two countries. The countries are at odds. I mean clearly the tension hasn't ever been as high as it is right now. With no diplomatic relations, how can these two people get to now one another?

And I thought that that was, you know, really sort of hit at the core of the fact that the two people hardly know each other. That it's been the rhetoric that has, you know, pretty much taken center stage in terms of international news and geopolitics. And what is it that these two countries share in common.

And I think as an Iranian and as American - my grandmother was Helen Jeffries(ph) from Boise, Idaho - and the values that Iranians have are so very similar to the Americans. And that is the sanctity of the family, national pride, and self-actualization.

And I want to emphasize that, because Americans are very much into independence and, you know, standing your ground. And even though the philosophies are a little bit different in terms of the East and West, but there're many, many commonalities in terms of values.

CONAN: Ali thanks very much for the call. We're going to continue our conversation with Davar Ardalan about her book, "My Name is Iran," when we come back from a short break. Also, California's cold snap devastated many farmers who had fruit on the trees. We'll talk with farmers there about the damages and about the gambles they take as part of their everyday lives.

This is the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: Right now we're speaking with Davar Ardalan. Her new book is called "My Name is Iran." It tells the story of three generations of her family moving back and forth between very different cultures in Iran and the United States. Davar Ardalan now works as a senior producer here at National Public Radio.

And here's an e-mail, Davar, we got from Iran Johnson in Portland, Oregon.

My name is Iran Johnson, he said. I was born in 1968 and having the name Iran in 1979 gave me a different perspective on international politics due to the abuse of my classmates at the age of 10. This made me seek answers that weren't offered in standard news media.

I had no idea that Iran was angry at the U.S. for more than what the nightly news told me. The news never told me that we assassinated their democratically elected president in the 1950s. The American media often leaves out the cause and just shows the effect, he writes.

But strange to hear from another person named Iran.

ARDALAN: Yes, yes. And actually Mohammad Mossadegh was not assassinated. He was removed by a coup by the CIA. So just in terms of that e-mail.

CONAN: But interesting in terms of national identity, he wrote when we assassinated their… Anyway.

ARDALAN: Oh, I see. OK. Yes.

CONAN: Yeah. But that's interesting. Let's get some callers on the line. And we'll go with Travis. Travis has been very patient on the line from Sacramento, California.

TRAVIS (Caller): How's it going?

CONAN: All right. I don't think it's as cold here as it is there.

TRAVIS: Oh, no. It's freezing over here. But my fiancé has actually lived 13 years of her life in Baghdad, and her mom is American and her father is Iraqi. And I see, you know, I don't actually have the juggling myself, but I see the internal struggle every time she turns on the news and she sees the headlines -the bombings and beheadings and, you know, Saddam being hanged.

And just watching someone, you know, who is going through that struggle and seeing their love for their old life and the way that they deal with it now that they're in America, and they still have family, you know, who's in Baghdad. It's just amazing to me, you know, the strength that people who have to go through that, you know, actually show.

I mean I know, I had a Persian friend whose wife was also, you know, in Iran whenever a bomb blew up in their city. And, you know, just the way that it shakes them and they continue going on and doing their job is just amazingly impressive to me.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And Davar, it seems to me that at least part of your family had to be living in Tehran during the war of the cities during the Iran-Iraq war when Scud missiles were raining down on the city.

ARDALAN: Yes. And actually I was still anchoring when the Iran-Iraq war was going on and the Scud missiles hadn't come, but there was aerial bombing of Tehran. And so we did have to go into, you know, safe places where there were no windows. And I mean it is absolutely terrifying. There was a apartment complex - a four-story apartment complex maybe a mile from our house - that, you know, was destroyed in one of those bombings.

And, you know, just to use, you know, the situation in Iraq as an example of the future of Iran. I just wanted to point out that as we were reporting at National Public Radio on the situation in Iraq, we did interview an Iraqi scholar - and this was in 2003 - and he said, you know, it is not enough for Iraqi seculars to sit in cybercafés in Baghdad and talk about democracy.

That on every street corner in Baghdad there is a mosque and it is there that the men of religion are telling the people how they should live there lives. And I thought that is a very fascinating image. And to think about Iran and to think that there are probably even more mosques at every street corner now in the last 30 years after the revolution.

And for these sort of ideas that we talk about, which is civil society to take root, that so much, you know, has to be done in terms of supporting the works of, you know, human rights activists and reformers that are working within the country - which is very dangerous and difficult. But that, I thought, was an interesting contrast to the situation in Iraq and how it has developed.

CONAN: Travis, thanks very much for the call. Bundle up.

TRAVIS: Thanks a lot.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And let's see if we can get one more call in for Davar. This is Craig. Craig with us from Napa, California.

CRAIG (Caller): Yes, hi.

CONAN: Hi.

CRAIG: Thanks for taking my call. My comment is, my wife and I recently separated, about four years ago or so. She chose to be Muslim, and she cited that as - if not the main point, one of the main points that she can no longer be with me. And I just think that people who ask for acceptance need to show acceptance. I've always been very tolerant my entire life, and she made a comment to me one time that all I do is tolerate her, because I don't join in the events and so forth that she joins in with, with her group.

And I'm just wondering, in general, what is the level of tolerance in the Muslim community of other cultures and other ways of looking at…

CONAN: Muslim community is pretty broad swathe, but go ahead, Davar.

ARDALAN: Yeah. Well, you know, the Holy Koran says there is no compulsion in religion. And that is what I adhere to. And I am in a very loving relationship with a Catholic. I go to church with him out of respect and out of the fact that I am inspired by those prayers. And equally, he is inspired by my traditions and my rituals.

And so I think that as you mentioned - I mean, if you go to Malaysia, you will have a very different sort of experience in terms of tolerance and, you know, as opposed to going to Iran or Saudi Arabia.

And so I think that it's sort of the individual choice and sort of which group does she belong to and sort of what pressures exist. But I wouldn't put it as, you know, the religion as whole.

CRAIG: I agree with that, and I definitely think it is individualized. I was just asking for a sort of general opinion about the culture in general.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, thank you for the call, Craig. We appreciate it.

CRAIG: Thank you.

CONAN: And Davar Ardalan, thank you so much for being with us today. It's not often we can have authors on who have to work such a short distance from work.

ARDALAN: Thanks so much, Neal.

CONAN: Davar Ardalan is a senior producer at National Public Radio. She joined us today from the studios of NPR West in Culver City, California. Her new book is "My Name Is Iran."

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