Qom, Home of the Mullahs (Book Excerpt, Iran 5)

Home of the Mullahs – Qom

(Day 16) I’d been told by one Iranian that, “an American in Qom is like an Al Qaeda in the White House.” So I was a little nervous about this stop, and I could tell Professor was too. Qom (rhymes with ‘gnome’) is home to one of Iran’s (and Shia Islam’s) holiest sites. The city itself is a stronghold of the current conservative government and served as Khomeini’s base for the revolution in 1979. No liberals or opposition groups here; this is the center of mullah control over the government, culture, and politics of Iran. From this city spreads Iranian religious and political influence into Iraq, Lebanon and Hezbollah, Palestine and Hamas, and a host of other organizations and countries around the world. While most international attention focuses on the nuclear program down in Natanz, or the politicians in Tehran, it’s the clerics living in Qom that actually control the fate of Iran.

From guidebooks, media, and talks with people along the way I rolled into Qom with a sense of dread. The nervousness reminded me of how I felt boarding the plane into Iran a couple of weeks previous. Then the sense of the ominous was quickly displaced by the man on the plane doing his giant book of puzzles and mazes. Pulling into Qom, all darkness and seriousness, the spell was broken when the first thing I see from the exit is a giant Ferris wheel sticking out over a gaily-painted amusement park. I actually laughed out loud, getting a weird look from a still-nervous Professor, at the incongruity of my preconceptions and the happy little carnival.