Nadim Siraj’s engrossing Secret notes from Iran-Diary of an undercover journalist might appear to read like Know Thine Enemy—a Spy’s Journey into Revolutionary Iran (1997) by Edward Shirley, a CIA undercover officer. Shirley, then based in Istanbul, whose real name was Reul Marc Gerecht, decided to study Iran’s classical culture, which had “seduced Alexander the Great, Arabs, Mongols, Turks and even the British”; also to experience the “Muslim mind and soul” and “its Shi’te Iranian version”. For this he smuggled himself into Iran in a dark box in a friend’s car. Like Siraj, he too was empathetic to Iran, blaming America for not trying to understand that country.
In 2017, Siraj did not have to enter Iran clandestinely. Still, he chose to call his slim volume “secret notes”, with a cover resembling an intelligence file. He admits that his precautions to hide the real intention stemmed from “loud cautionary notes before heading to Iran”. All these proved to be wrong. Apart from an incident of near arrest for photographing their parliament, which could have happened even in India, he did not need covert efforts in arriving at his positive conclusions. In particular, he mentions their robust social security system, high level of women’s safety, charming public gardens and bazaars, high tolerance towards all religions and the lack of petty crime.