Do I need oppression to feel free?

I have always wondered why I feel attracted to one of the darker corners of the world. On a recent trip to Iran I suddenly had this feeling of attraction again. Sitting in a taxi driving me through nightly Teheran I was overcome by old memories and had one of these rare moments of total satisfaction. As I was recognizing roads I used to roam and the driver's chatter brought back Iran's language back to me, I wondered how the intenseness of these feelings could be explained.


The last time I had had this feeling before was in the same country, when I was approaching a bus terminal. Knowing that I would soon explore a new place and the bustling atmosphere of the terminal, I was also invaded by this sensation. Other memories include taking boats to set over the Red sea, riding Sudanese lorries through the Sahara or boarding planes to Morocco. The feeling is best described by a sensation of unlimited freedom, certainty about the future and a deep satisfaction.


One explanation for this is that traveling gives me this sensation of freedom. Travelling to a new place means leaving behind obligations; unlimited opportunities seem behind the horizon; no need to take any decisions now, only the focus to arrive at the other side. These are certainly attractive traits for me.
But this still leaves open the question why I feel attracted to the Middle East and not to Iceland.


I certainly like the friendliness and pride of the people in the Middle East. Like for example the taxi driver, a dignified 60 year old man with white temples and friendly sunburnt face clearly marked by the experience of his life, who would drive me from my hotel to work and back every day. Eventually we got to chat and I noticed his excellent English, much better than the current generation's. He told me that he was a military man and how he would be trained by American instructors in the Shah's army. He spoke about why he was driving a taxi instead of enjoying his retirement after 40 year in the military. After the Islamic revolution, a second military, the revolutionary guards, were created by the authorities as a safeguard against the regular army which was deemed to have been too close to the Shah. Nowadays resources are above all pumped into the revolutionary guards corps and the regular army starved of funds, so that while revolutionary guards enjoy a comfortable life in retirement, regular soldiers need extra jobs to make ends meet. Yet it was with pride that he showed me his war hero card, he was wounded in an Iraqi attack on his missile battery, and I could see in his honest eyes how there was no doubt that he would fight to defend his country even though his new masters were about to starve him.
 But while Middle Eastern people are certainly among the world's most friendly, there are also friendly people elsewhere. How is it that I precisely like the Middle East so much?


There is a fascination about the place that has a powerful appeal to me. Ever since I first saw the Arabic alphabet I have been enchanted by the letters and I am enthralled by oriental architecture. In Iran to this come overwhelming mosques and the beautiful parks. There is something about 1001 nights to them, especially at night when they are lighted in red, green and blue colours and one thinks to spot trolls and other creatures walking through the trees and bushes. Fountains and springs are another characteristic of the country. I remember walking through Isfahan at night to visit the many bridges spanning the river Zayande, when we suddenly saw a fountain combining the mysteries of 1001 nights with those of Iran's waterways. On a concrete square small fountains arranged in a quadrat and illuminated in different colours would rise and sink in turn. Children would play, yet a silence hung over the place. The fog that seems to suffocate public expressions of joy, mind boggling in the light of playing children and pickniqing families, yet an omnipresent cult is holding down emotions as a tribute to the martyrs in a country that seem to be driving with the emotion hand brake put.


I suspect that my fascination also has something to do with this darker side, for freedom certainly lacks in many places of the Middle East. Yet it is precisely there that I feel most free. This begs the questions if I don't need oppression to feel free? Maybe freedom is like oxygen, the more you lack it the more you need it and the more aware you get of your need for it.