Should my (female, U.S. citizen) friend go to Iran with her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend?
July 1, 2004 6:31 AM   Subscribe

I have a friend who is pretty much about to leave her Iranian boyfriend, here in the US. She has leased an apartment and all but moved out. All of a sudden he wants her to visit Iran with him. Insists on it.[MI]

Warning bells are going of in my head from what I have heard of the state of womens rights over there. Are there any good books/articles/sites that I can point her to that spell out the dangers to women of visiting a country that has no diplomatic ties with the US, and is an Islamic Theocracy where Sharia Law is in effect? Am I right to be concerned, or should I chill out? She might be most inclined to listen to personal stories rather than cold interpretations of law, FWIW.
posted by jester69 to Human Relations (29 answers total)
Um, they're not married, and so she's still presumably a US (or canadian, or british) citizen. The problems can happen when you marry an Iranian, and therefore (as I understand it) become an Iranian citizen yourself. Maybe the guy just wants to take her on a vacation to somewhere he knows well, introduce her to the family, etc. Just because he's Iranian, doesn't mean he's evil. I would say chill out. If you're really troubled, get a copy of that Sally Fields movie and show it to her.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:36 AM on July 1, 2004

What nationality is your friend? If she is anything other than US or European, I would think for her safety she does not go. She has split from him already in her head, so why go - to prolong it, and endanger herself?

This seems a bit of a no-brainer to me.
posted by dash_slot- at 6:38 AM on July 1, 2004

Response by poster: My worry was, I guess, If he said they were married and she said they were not, they would believe him. From my interpretation, under sharia law she would need 4 male witnesses taking her side of the story in order for her version to even be considered.

She is a US citizen, and Since we have no diplomatic ties with Iran, who would fight for her if things did go south. Additionally and unrelated to him, arent women subject to imprisionment for dressing improperly or making eye contact with a man other than her husband? I have been led to believe it is dangerous over there for a western woman, perhaps I have been misled.
posted by jester69 at 6:44 AM on July 1, 2004

Uh, have you/she seen "Not Without My Daugher?" It's not a good place to go for women. They're not married, but still not sure how safe it is there for her. And in this climate, being an American in Iran just seems like a really, really bad idea.

And why on earth would she go if she wants to leave the guy anyway?
posted by evening at 6:45 AM on July 1, 2004

Response by poster: Why she wants to go is a long story, but he is quite wealthy, they still get along, and he has offered to take her on a whirlwind tour of Europe if they stop by Iran on the way home. I have seen "Not Without My Daughter" and that is what made the alarm bells go off.
posted by jester69 at 6:51 AM on July 1, 2004

Oh, well, if he's WEALTHY. . .
posted by LittleMissCranky at 7:08 AM on July 1, 2004

My guess: He wants to win her back during the trip, with introducing her to the family being the culmination.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:12 AM on July 1, 2004

And tell her to stay out of big cities, just in case the aliens get to them before Will Smith gets to the aliens.
posted by biffa at 7:15 AM on July 1, 2004

If she arrives without a work permit (say one issued for reporters and the like) or a visa, will she even make it through passport control?

In any event, show her this.

It's just not a good idea right now, no matter how frickin' rich the guy is.
posted by Dagobert at 7:16 AM on July 1, 2004

Even us peace-lovin' Europeans don't think it's a good idea
posted by ascullion at 7:26 AM on July 1, 2004

I wouldn't go to any country that doesn't have diplomatic relations with the US, for precisely the reason you mention: the US diplomatic establishment isn't able to assist if I were to get into trouble.

If something bad happens, who might be available to help her in Tehran? The answer in this case is the Swiss government, which represents the US in Iran. And although I have nothing but respect for the Swiss, this arrangement wouldn't make me comfortable enough to go there. And note Dagobert's link to the State Department travel warning: if there's any reason the Iranian government would consider her an Iranian national (a claim of marriage by the bf?), the Swiss wouldn't be able to help her at all.
posted by blue mustard at 7:27 AM on July 1, 2004

Oh, well, if he's WEALTHY. . .

Just wanted to say that made me laugh.

While I'm here, add me to the "What, are you crazy?" column.
posted by pardonyou? at 7:28 AM on July 1, 2004

Let's try this another way:

Friend lives in, oh say North Carolina and is dating a boy from Oregon. Friend decides to break up with Boy and gets a new apartment and everything.

Boy asks Friend to travel to Oregon with him for a long vacation because he still loves her and thinks that if he can get her out of her comfort zone she will decide that she needs and loves him, too, and Boy is counting on Friend's being in an unknown place to force her to be closer to him.

Friend says no because why would she want to travel a long distance with some one she is ready to break up with? That's just a completely icky situation waiting to happen that will end up with people's feelings being hurt, people wanting to cut the trip short, inappropriate public fighting... Yuck.

But in this case, it's not Oregon, it's another country where Boy really actually can force Friend to stay with him, and not just via emotional and psychological pressure and the alienation of being somewhere new and being surrounded by strangers but by law.

Yes, this is most definitely assuming the worst about the boy in question, but the motives for anybody asking their inevitably soon-to-be-ex to go on this kind of vacation are rather desperate and clinging, regardless of the potential of bringing Sharia Law into it. She's a fool if she goes on a trip to the Bahamas with the guy under these obviously manipulative circumstances, much less on a trip to a country where she can be forced to remain there as his wife under penalty of death.

Just the fact that she's considering it to the point of you needing to have help talking her out of it is making me shake my head in amazement.
posted by jennyb at 7:29 AM on July 1, 2004

[on preview: what everybody else says]

I think that your're justified in your concern. I would be very wary of the situation. I don't know your friend, or her soon-to-be-ex boyfriend. But the situation warrants caution for sure.

You seem already to have a pretty good sense of the reasons why, but traveling to a country without diplomatic ties to the US, on somebody else's dime is ripe for trouble.
  • A nefarious person could strand her in Iran.
  • He could coerce her to marry him as a condition of returning to the states.
  • And if she marries him, he could change his mind and then she'd be stuck in Iran.
  • As you mention, he could just arrive in Iran and claim that they're married. She'd have no way to prove that they're not married. And if they've had sex and have been cohabiting (assumptions, both, but seems reasonable considering what you've said), then maybe there's *already* a case for considering them to be married under islam.
I don't think that these things will happpen. But I don't know what she'd be able to do if they did. Could she be packing a secret cellphone? Secret stashes of cash and other essentials? Would these even assure her a way to get out of a jam? I know that there are moderate elements in the larger cities of Iran -- women who go out alone, left-leaning pro-democracy folks. But would she be able to find these people who might be inclined to help her, noting of course that she would (assumedly) stick out, not speaking the language, and potentially be hours from these areas?

That being said, it could just be a guy trying to win his girlfriend back by taking her around the world and showing her his culture. I'd talk with my friend seriously about the risks and let her make the call.
posted by zpousman at 7:31 AM on July 1, 2004

Secret stashes of cash and cellphones, if discovered, could be misinterpreted by Iranian authorities. Wouldn't recommend that due to the risk of being arrested for acting like a CIA spook....
posted by blue mustard at 7:39 AM on July 1, 2004

If she's considering making the trip because of possible future financial gain, then it's her call; but it doesn't sound like a good idea to me, regardless of any situation in Iran, just because any long term relationship needs a certain amount of trust, and there would appear to be little on either side here (at least from what's been talked about here).
posted by carter at 7:51 AM on July 1, 2004

Gack. AskMe is the one place I know I can always come to feel good about my relationships.
posted by callmejay at 8:08 AM on July 1, 2004

Oy vey. I agree on the basic warnings repeated here, I really do. BUT (of course there is a but) I have information that goes at least a little contrary.

My in-laws (Belgian) traveled to Iran in the last few years. They had a wonderful time! The people were very friendly and always anxious to help. In fact, the bus driver from the airport gave them a hard time for not having correct change, and the passengers tore the guy a new orifice for being rude to a stranger!

Sharia law rules, except its not as tight one would think. Many people don't subscribe to it, and while they are required to be "covered", they choose BRIGHT color scarves and then they are casual about how well they keep them in place.

So the Iranians are not all ugly nasties. This has nothing to do with taking a trip with a bf with whom one is breaking up.
posted by Goofyy at 8:22 AM on July 1, 2004

I'd say this pretty much entirely depends on the boyfriend & if he's trustworthy etc. Jennyb's analogy above hit the nail on the head for me - taking a trip with someone you're about to dump is just a bad idea. I could imagine your friend thinking this is a more or less one time chance to see Iran properly, but I'd say she shoulda gone for that before their relationship went south.

I have an Iranian friend who I would trust in this situation; ie, I wouldn't be worried about the safety of his soon to be ex if he were taking such a trip. He's very americanized, tho'; iranian family back home but he went to US prep schools & college, etc.
posted by mdn at 8:50 AM on July 1, 2004

Response by poster: I only mentioned his wealth as a way of saying they would be traveling in style. I do not think "future financial gain" is her motive at all. She is young and wants to travel to Europe with her friend, perhaps not understanding fully the legal situation in Iran as regards women and relating to the almost complete lack of consular protection.

I have not spent enough time with the two of them together to have any real idea of the dynamics between them, but from what I can gather things have not been going as well as they once were. His trustworthiness is an unknown to me to some degree, so perhaps I unfairly assume the worst.

Leaving aside all the interpersonal issues, just the volatility of the area and the risks of Sharia Law would probably keep me away personally, even more so if I were female. In the end it will be up to her, all we can do is make sure she knows all the risks involved.
posted by jester69 at 8:59 AM on July 1, 2004

Why is she breaking up with him in the first place? Why all of a sudden does he want to take her on a trip--Is it to save the relationship? To get her away from her friends? Why would she even consider a trip with him if they're breaking up? Doesn't she know she can take herself thru Europe, if not now, then in the future?

I say don't go.
posted by amberglow at 9:23 AM on July 1, 2004

Sorry, probably the wrongs words - I read 'he is quite wealthy' as an alternate to something like 'they are madly in love and want to be together despite what their parents say.' ;) Still, if you go on an expenses paid tour of Europe partly because it's a good freebie, then I still think it's problematic; there's going to be a lot of implied obligation involved even if they don't go to Iran.
posted by carter at 9:37 AM on July 1, 2004

Don't travel with someone you're breaking up with. Simple as that. Travelling in style won't change the underlying dynamics, unless your friend is genuinely interested in his money.

...the Iran thing strikes me as irrelevant. They could be travelling to Alaska, and it would still be a bad idea.
posted by aramaic at 9:47 AM on July 1, 2004

They could be travelling to Alaska, and it would still be a bad idea.
Especially since Alaska is on fire right now.

Add me to the 'bad idea' side; it doesn't matter where they would be travelling or how much style with which they did it.
posted by rhapsodie at 11:33 AM on July 1, 2004

She should break up with him in Europe, before they get to Iran. That way she gets the trip but doesn't have to worry.
posted by chaz at 11:41 AM on July 1, 2004

he could just arrive in Iran and claim that they're married

It's worse than that: an unmarried woman spending siginifcant time alone with an unmarried man can, under some interpretations of Shari'a, be forced to get married to him for propriety's sake. This actually almost happened to Italian writer Oriana Fallaci while she was visiting one Muslim country (Saudi Arabia, I think)--they brought in the marriage documents and tried to force her to sign them.

And once you're married to an Iranian man, you are an Iranian citizen. And your children will be too. And mothers do not have custody rights the way we understand them here.

This woman is your friend? DO NOT LET HER GO.
posted by Asparagirl at 11:47 AM on July 1, 2004

I was going to break up with him, but then he was really insistent that I go with him on a trip to Iran, so I figured, what the heck!

...Bad Idea Jeans.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:13 PM on July 1, 2004

If something bad happens, who might be available to help her in Tehran?

The US does not rush to the rescue of citizens who get in trouble with the local law, whether or not they have diplomatic relations. That caning kid in Singapore pulled a miracle out of his ass, imo.

If she doesn't trust this guy not to clap irons on her and make her his sex slave forever, she shouldn't even get into a car with him, much less go to Iran, where, yes it's true, they eat Western women as they disembark the jetway.

Please don't confuse "I've seen Not Without My Daughter" with being informed
posted by scarabic at 1:15 PM on July 1, 2004

From here, but it applies to any nationality:
Australian citizens also holding Iranian citizenship (either those born in Iran or those deemed to have acquired Iranian citizenship, for example through marriage) should note that Iran does not recognise dual nationality. Such travellers will be regarded solely as Iranian citizens by the Iranian authorities, in particular, if a dual national is detained or arrested. Dual nationals should be aware that:

- males who have not completed their military service may be prohibited from leaving Iran;
- females require the permission of their husband, or senior male relative, to leave Iran;
- Iranian immigration officials may confiscate foreign passports of dual nationals.
This trip sounds like a bad, bad, bad idea.
posted by dg at 9:06 PM on July 1, 2004

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