The Central Bank of Iran has issued a new 100,000 Rial note (worth about $10). Before now, the largest bill has been the 50,000 one. More than ten million of these new notes have been printed so far. Some quickly concluded that the new bill was about dealing with inflation, a familiar scourge for Iranians. However the inflation rate this summer has dipped down to under 10%. So the new note has been printed probably to make cash transactions a bit easier. But it will help if there is another sudden hike in consumer prices, quite a common event in Iran.
There are two other old tensions on this new note. On the front is a picture of the Islamic Republic’s founder, the late Ayatollah Khomeini, the representative of clear cut revolutionary Islamic values. But on the back there is a picture of the tomb of the poet Saadi, and a famous line from his poetry in English. ‘Human beings are members of a whole in creation of one essence and soul.’ Here is the representative of the more enigmatic and flexible tradition of Iran’s poets, who were willing, as seen in this one line, to take a more mystical view of things. And so in this one banknote, there is this tension regarding Iran’s identity. It is certainly Islamic - but there’s another pull on their soul, the pull of their poets.
A final tension on this new note is that some of it is in Persian, some of it is in English. A healthy part of the Islamic revolution was fuelled by a loathing of the West, and meddling England in particular. The revolution duly down graded English, and up graded Arabic. And yet Iran, even on its banknotes, cannot dispense with the language of international commerce. ‘Neither east nor west, Iran is best’ was a popular revolutionary slogan. But there is this tension that will not go away, seen on this new bank note, that Iran still has to relate to the wider world, however proud it is of its own history and recent revolution.
These tensions, the threat of inflation; religion and poetry; Persian and English are all openings for the Gospel where only one identity matters: being in Christ.