A trip to Imam Reza's mosque in Mashad last year during Ramazan.

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"How was it?", enquired the carpenter as we exited the sports-hall-cum-auditorium. I held my words, partly to convey a more digestible response but also as I was still digesting the scenes we'd witnessed. "It wasn't Shakespeare", I answered. "Shakespeare means what?", responds the carpenter.

Witness statement:
A person with a green cloth obscuring their faced was attacked while praying. A man had struck the praying person over the head with a sword before escaping with his accomplice. Another person with green cloth obscuring their face was first on the scene before many further obscured people arrived. Mostly female sounding people covered in black sheets (with faces also obscured) screamed and repeatedly fell to the floor. The victim was taken to a place with further people whose faces were covered in green cloth. Several obscured people arrived and screamed, occasionally falling to the floor after hitting their heads with their hands. The victim died and was wrapped before being taken away.

I'm roughly familiar with the story of Imam Ali's parting days, the anniversary of which migrates with Ramazan through the year, yet no further enlightened after the play. The slow paced narration was sung out across the sports-hall to an accompanying band – tricky to make out among the increasing sobs of the separated men I sat with.

The socks distracted me again as a crying baby was kicked out. Socks and sobs

Security would make frequent trips to glowing mobile phones among the crowd, negotiating the neat rows of whimpering men. I sat cross legged with my shoes in my hands as warm socks passed my face, and those of many others, "turn your mobile off!". The socks distracted me again as a crying baby was kicked out. Socks and sobs. Another pair of socks and an increasing frequency of sobs.

Shakespeare it wasn't but I've yet to see an audience of Shakespeare bring grown men to tears. But then I guess Shakespeare's fiction has a different aim.



A demonstration on behalf of the Palestinian people's plight.

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I was invited once again to be part of the BBC's Viewers' Panel. Here is my answer. Find the question below.

"Tone down on the religion and politics", I am warned by my family. "But my writing doesn't concern these topics", I protest. "Just write less about it", they continue. "Less than nothing?", I question. "Write about the weather", they suggest. Yet even the weather can be problematic to write about where I live.

As a blogger of a nation second to China for internet censorship, 'openness' is not something I can safely enjoy. The possible repercussions taint my every word.

Not only do I feel 'openness' is the most important to me when considering the future of the internet but I feel it is universally the more important of the four areas suggested. The internet without 'openness' or restrictions placed (certainly at state level) will surely hinder 'security' and 'diversity' as well as stifle 'access'.

Unlike the other options, 'openness', or freedom of expression, is a right recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and understood as important for human advancement. With freedom of expression and the tools provided through the internet we can increase the available information and thus perspective, while most likely increasing its quality.

Yet unlike alternative mediums, an 'open' internet offers the ability to act and organise, countering state-funded oppression and indoctrination. With 'openness' we are able to share methods, affording other citizens in other nations with the ability to increase important features of governance, like say accountability.

I'm puzzled that a nation recognising the UDHR is trading tools of oppression besides its sanctions

Frustratingly I see the opposite. The censorship system I experience is provided by America. I'm puzzled that a nation recognising the UDHR is trading tools of oppression besides its sanctions. If we are to be serious about curbing oppression then we must not undermine people's ability to release themselves from it.

The internet is an enlightening manifestation that shouldn’t have elements hidden. I feel that the rare appearance of freak activities in this collective consciousness is a small price to pay for the vast amount we gain. We must strive for universal 'openness' and protect it.

The question for the Viewers' Panel.

The Internet Governance Forum opens on 30 October in Athens. The future of the internet will be discussed by national governments, businesses, chairities, and individuals.

The forum has specified four key areas of dialogue -

Freedom of _expression and free flow of information, ideas and knowledge

Creating trust and confidence through collaboration

Promoting multilingualism and local content

Internet connectivity: Policy and cost

Which one of those four areas is the most important to you when considering the future of the net and why?



Some of the lies.

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"Iranian men are liars, don't trust them!", they repeat. "Iranian women are liars, don't trust them!", they remind me.

Iranian parents and close family have two types of advice for their children regarding relationships, pick from the above according to your sexual orientation. But joking aside, I've learned that they are correct.

I say this with confidence as I am only too aware of the increasing distance between what I do and what I say I do, who I'm with and who I say I'm with, where I am and where I say I am. I am becoming a rather persistent liar and due to my inability to keep up with the fictitious life I'm presenting, I've unknowingly slipped into a new control method to avoid persistent interference by the many family members and curious appendages.

"Noise", is the term I've come to apply to my response to the list of intrusive questions that arrive with my every activity. I've learnt to respond with rapid yet contradictory information. I've learned to not avoid questions, but rather engage them and undermine them, being certain that my feedback is plausible yet unlikely – yet more importantly, inconsistant. My hope is that lack of a credible response will lead to a reduction in questions. It's work in progress.

To my friends, this is life as they know it and I hear stories of how invasions of privacy are accommodated. It seems odd to me that regarding relationships, female friends of mine are of an age where they may elect a governing body for their nation yet not bestowed the honor of electing a suitable male candidate for their pleasure. Even at my beyond-ripe age, I too am pestered (for my own benefit of course) with callus judgments cast following an interrogation that may go something like:

Where were you? Who were you with? What do their parents do? What car do they drive? Where is their house? What do/did they study? How was the mother's cooking?

"You don't know Iran, there's no such thing as female friends in this country!"

I have become 12-years old again. I choose 12 because it's the age where I remember having an amount of autonomy yet was not fully responsible for my actions. This is how I am treated once again. "You don't know Iran, there's no such thing as female friends in this country!", they echo, reassuring me that it is protection they offer. But the distorted gossip that previously returned to me about my activities is evidence enough that they do the opposite.

The words of warning from parents seems to have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yet the innocent avoidance of nagging by the paranoid parents and close family – concerned or nosy about the Children Of The Revolution – seems to have brought about an odd side-effect. In a culture of hidden activity, it seems that – among other things – having multiple partners has flourished. I hear this more than I see this and so it may also be "noise" (or more likely bragging), yet regardless, the results are the same. Any one relationship is underground and thus little evidence survives to effect an overlap or to dispute the possibility, the byproduct of which is a lack of trust and thus the parents have been proven right.



Apples littering the streets of Miandoab

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"So what's the itinerary?", I ask my father the night before we were to head off. "We're going to rest, then get up then pick up my brothers in the morning" came the response. "And then what?", I enquired. "Then we will go to Miandoab", he informed me, confirming the only part of the plan I was sure of. "And when we get there, what will we do?", I asked carefully, not wanting to agitate my father yet perturbed by his usual vagary. "There is some business to take care of and we'll see some family", it was slow but clarity was coming. We continued like this for a bit longer before I gave up.

With a car full of brothers I'd traveled to the north-west of Iran to Miandoab, the home-city of my grandmother, a trip for unspecified business and family visits. This visit had been long anticipated due to a running joke with an auntie as well as an interest in exploring my roots. As way of a compliment to my dear auntie I repeatedly ask of my uncle, "Dear uncle, find me a wife like yours", referring to my his wife's unrelenting hospitality. I usually layer the shmarm with vague plans to pay a visit to her home-city – also Miandoab – where I will find my wife, "among the best girls in the world". Between my auntie's modest blushes, dear uncle puts it to me that, "they don't make these models any more – the production's finished".

"Why is the outside of your house not finished?", I asked while the family of this young Miandoaban girl watched on having put her on the spot to test her English. "I'm sorry, can you repeat what you said again please?", she replied nervously. "The outside of your house, why is it not finished?", I slowly sounded out, unable to think of a more simple way to put it. She looked at me for a short while. Her family looked at her for a short while. Together we watched her stand up and leave the room and I guess that ended the test.

The entire city, bar eight houses (I counted), stood in some state of completion

Following our first night in Miandoab – in the light of day – I'd learned that our distant relatives were not alone in having an unfinished exterior to their building, the entire city, bar eight houses (I counted), stood in some state of completion. It was like I was walking between giant clothing turned inside-out. Although this 'some-stage-of-completion' is not an uncommon site in Iran, the choccy brickwork and exposed frames of the Miandoab buildings seemed so shapely and so ready to wear marble, what were they waiting for?

There was little to distinguish Miandoab, maybe a mass of antique looking bicycles, 'Made in Shanghai', a common form of transport when not casually left on the street. Other than this a giant apple sculpture stood in the middle of a sizable roundabout which seemed to indicate the city's association and as it turned out, a reason for our visit. We'd visited the family apple orchid where discussion was intermittent with picking. Between the unspecified business my father indulged my many questions concerning the family history, "He said he was going to the capital city", he explained of his then young father, "They expected him to return shortly with his tail between his legs". As we walk among part of the evidence disproving those expectations I enjoyed, as ever, seeing the gifts that come each year from the trees he'd planted, even in his absence.

While returning to the capital city, having apparently at some point taken care of the unspecified business, I joked about our unsuccessful visit, "Dear uncle, we have an empty seat, you didn't find me a wife!". But I didn't feel I was going home empty handed, I still had the gifts from my grandfather – his apples and my family.



These items and more are not allowed as part of one's hand luggage at London Heathrow

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It was amusing yet not surprising that my fellow passengers aboard my flight to Tehran applauded upon landing. Unlike the flight however I felt the applause arrived early, igniting through the cabin with still the nose to touchdown. I was asked once to sum Iran up in a word and "dangerous" was my answer, with "reliable" sitting far at the opposite end I added. Having this in mind I knew there were still too many possible problems waiting, maybe like the loved-ones at the other end of arrivals – or at least those that could be relied on. I'm familiar with Iran now and due to this I chose to hold my applause till luggage was in my hand and I'd exited the arrivals door.

As we unceremoniously exited the plane, via the mobile-stairs to the tarmac, I wanted to compare the first breath of English air – inhaled weeks before – to that of Iran. My single word then might have been, "fresh", as I was reunited with the cool moist air, cleansed by a frequent rain. Whether alighting near to the runway spoiled this test for me, I couldn't say – I took a lung full of warm arid air, tainted by a multitude of synthetic smells and summed it up in a word – "carcinogenic".

For various reasons previously explained, only one loved-one was reliably waiting somewhere among the other reliables clotting the arrivals exit. Other than Passport Control, this was the only Iranian who knew I'd returned. Partly due to some attempt to reassert my independence I'd avoided contact with my family and this remained the case until I'd received a surprise text-message saying, "you have bin seen in tehran, so pls let me know where u are?".

Within my first day back in Tehran I'd uploaded photographs of the excessive security procedures seen in London Heathrow before passengers can board. Although my photo-journal is blocked to the Iranian browser, a former colleague/friend-of-the-family evades the filters and occasionally checks my updates. As the message was from him, I erroneously concluded that these photos announced my arrival.

The Heathrow dog scare photos:

I'd posted forbidden pictures of a forbidden creature to a forbidden website

"I hope you're not taking pictures", asked one of the two stiff gentlemen overseeing the procedures while I was aiming up the sniffer dog with the frightened Iranian women. "No!" I lied, "But why would we not be allowed?", I followed on. "Because you can't", he angrily responded. On reflection I found it all rather bizarre, I'd posted forbidden pictures of a forbidden creature (it is illegal to own dogs in Iran) to a forbidden website. And, due to the obvious unfamiliarity with dogs, each Iranian passenger was subjected to what was possibly a terrorising procedure, seemingly in the name of terrorism.

[Exit soap-box]

As it turned out, in one of the few outdoor moments prior to meeting any family I had actually been seen – within two days I'd been spotted among the 15,000,000+ people of Tehran. Following that first message my phone was flooded, word had gotten around, the phone didn't stop flashing (I'd switched the phone to silent) and my inbox filled with Pinglish questions from family and friends, yet not my father. My hiding was over and it was then that it sunk in – I'm back. And, how does it feel? In a word – "familiar".