Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 September 2009
As this author sat in a telephone-dispatched taxi in Tehran, the taxi driver turned and looked at her: “You people are much better off than we are!” His voice was coarse. Taken aback, she asked: “Who is ‘you people’?” Without hesitation he replied: “Shoma aqaliatin digeh [Aren't you a minority]?” A whole range of philosophical thoughts raced through her head. The ease and intensity with which he used the label “aqaliat” was new to her in Iran. This was the unique byproduct of the theocratic system. The “aqaliat” was “the other,” “the marginal,” “the separate from us”: it was an institutionalized “otherness” which was disturbing and different. The taxi driver, unaware of the turmoil and shock he had caused, continued to repeat his question but also to respond to it. “You are a minority. Aren't you? With that name, of course you are!” Then, eventually, when she admitted to the classification, the driver sighed with an energetic cheeriness: “See … I knew it.”
Religious minorities have been segmented in word, thought, and action. The reference to the label “aqaliat” was expressed with the same ease by those members of the political and economic elite of the previous regime who had remained in the country after the Revolution.