Iran has a new football captain, and he’s (gasp!) Christian: Iranian-Armenian Andranik Teymourian, commonly known as Ando.
Reporting this development should have been straightforward enough: Iran has appointed longtime footballer who happens to belong to a well-integrated minority as its football team’s permanent captain. Elsewhere in the world, the appointment may not even have inspired headlines; but this is Iran, so this apparent show of minority equality warranted a Guardian piece by Saeed Kamali Dehghan detailing how Ando, though disinclined to “rock” the Iranian “boat” by refusing to perform Islamic rites, is “not shy of showing his Christianity.”
“Showing” is an interesting choice of words. Is any “show of Christianity” allowed in Iran? Dehghan’s article notes that Iranian Christians are allowed to “distil booze and eat pork” in an Islamic republic where neither is permitted, and that Ando himself often crosses himself on the field conspicuously.
Well, we can’t dispute the second one (though it doesn’t rock the boat too hard, admittedly). But what about the first? Can Iranian non-Muslims really distill and drink alcohol freely? A survey of reports on the matter – some of them by Dehghan himself – show that in Iran, this freedom, too, has caveats.
In a 2012 article on the sentencing of two Iranians to death for alcohol consumption, Dehghan noted that Armenians and other Christians are “allowed to produce and consume alcohol” in Iran. What he didn’t mention was that not only do they have to drink behind closed doors, but those who produce alcohol become targets of police raids, fines, arrests (sometimes resulting in them being “thrown into prison”), and media attacks warning of the dangers of home-brewed booze. Not only that, but reports have surfaced in recent years – the “moderate” Rouhani years – of converts to Christianity living in constant fear of being put to death for apostasy, as well as of “recognized” Christian communities being sentenced to dozens of lashes for ritual wine consumption.
In short, this is what the reports on Ando’s appointment should have really been about – not the fact that Iran awards minorities equal rights and equal opportunity (it doesn’t), but the fact that you may be able to go far as a recognized Christian in Iran, but only if you don’t rock the boat.