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An Iranian family is impressed, but words on women's rights divide them

OBAMA IN THE MUSLIM WORLD

June 05, 2009|Ramin Mostaghim

Minutes before President Obama was to speak, English teacher Hengameh Khamoushi called her husband and beseeched him to come home to watch.

Siavash Saadat, doing inventory at his pharmacy, politely declined.

But Khamoushi, like many educated, middle-class Iranians, adores Obama. She gathered her daughters and in-laws.

"He is perfect," said Khamoushi, 46. "Educated, eloquent, gentlemanly, a man of family, good-looking, disciplined in daily life -- he even dances perfectly."

The family is struck during the speech by Obama's quoting of Koranic passages.

But a dispute erupts when Obama moves to women's rights and says Muslims are free to "live their lives in traditional roles." Shireen, Khamoushi's sister-in-law, fears Obama is succumbing to the will of Islamists.

Others disagree. "Obama is right," says Khamoushi's brother-in-law, Kamran. "We cannot impose our secularized way of life on the traditionalists."

Everyone approves of Obama's stance on Iran and nuclear disarmament.

"The world crisis made the Americans modest and less arrogant," Kamran says. "Now both sides have to sit and listen to each other."

Yet the possibility of failure haunts them. What if America changes but Iran reelects President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad next week?

"What if negotiations with the U.S. fail?" Khamoushi wonders. "What will happen?"

-- Ramin Mostaghim

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