[Marxism] IRAN: What if they had a revolution and nobody came?

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Wed Feb 14 18:34:49 MST 2007

(Though it is pouring snow here in Toronto, Canada where I'm now 
visiting friends and planning to fly to Cuba tomorrow, but I did 
see this article in the print edition of the Globe and Mail, the 
principal local paper, which readers here might find of interest.
Given the propaganda barrage against Iran in the U.S. media and 
the latest news that even top U.S. military officials are saying 
there's no evidence that Iran is building up a nuclear weapons 
capacity, AND in light of the tentative deal with North Korea, 
everyone needs to have a better idea what Iran is like than what 
we've received in the U.S. media.)

Globe series, Part IV 
What if they had a revolution and nobody came?
Iran's baby boom created a generation that now feels stifled by the
spirit of 1979


>From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

* E-mail Doug Saunders * | Read Bio * | Latest Columns

TEHRAN - The first thing you see in the sprawling shrine of Ayatollah
Khomaini on a recent Wednesday afternoon is the small crowd of
visiting Iranians, mostly poor villagers, gathered around his
Plexiglas-walled tomb, offering banknotes and prayers to the man who
launched the world's first and only Islamic revolution.

Look across the half-built shrine in the outskirts of Tehran, and
you'll see something very different. There, along the marble wall on
the opposite side of the enormous chamber, a dozen young couples sit
together, hold hands, chat quietly and stare into one another's eyes,
precisely the sort of activity that Mr. Khomaini's revolution

"It's what you'd call a make-out place," one young man says. "If we
were holding hands on the street or in the shops, the morality police
would get us. But they'd never think of entering this place, so we
come here after classes."

While none of the behaviour here would be described by a Westerner as
making out, in Iran it is a crime for unmarried men and women to
congregate or physically touch, and if caught by the morality police
or bands of Islamic vigilantes, they can be punished with flogging. A
generation ago, people just obeyed. Now, all over Iran, in rich
neighbourhoods and poor villages, you see young people finding clever
ways around the rules.

* Globe series, Part I: Doug Saunders, Inside Iran

* Part II: Tiny Bahrain firmly in Tehran's orbit

* Part IV: Anxiety grows on Iran's eastern border

* Iran warms to nuclear talks

* Iran rejects U.S. charge it arms Iraq insurgents

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* Add DOUG SAUNDERS to my e-mail alerts Globe Insider

The Globe and Mail

Here, in countless scenes like these, are the bizarre contradictions
that govern Iran today and that underpin its awkward relationship
with the outside world. This is, on paper, a society that is ruled by
Islamic law to an extent unknown anywhere else, governed by mullahs
who impose their strict readings of the Koran on every aspect of
public and private life.

"It is definitely a totalitarian government," says Tehran movie
director Dariush Mehrjui, whose acclaimed films have been censored
and banned under various Iranian regimes since 1966, and who says
that things are worse now than he has ever seen them. "But it is not
at all a closed society. As a society, this is nothing at all like
Eastern Europe under the Soviets."

Under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, since he won the office in 2005,
laws have become more restrictive: Dissenting newspapers have
repeatedly been banned, critical views in universities have been
aggressively repressed, bloggers have been locked in prison and
primary- and secondary-school curriculums, according to United
Nations workers, have been changed so that they consist mainly of

Yet despite the laws, Iranian society is in many ways more open and
liberated than in most countries in the Middle East, certainly more
so than in Arab states that fear Iran's influence. In places like
Saudi Arabia, women cannot drive cars, shake hands with men or wear
anything that isn't black. Iranians staunchly defend their freedoms,
and seem to be pushing for more.

Well-informed Iranians say that Mr. Ahmadinejad faces a conundrum:
Just as his government is trying to export its Islamic revolution to
the wider Middle East, through endorsement and likely support of
movements in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and many other places, it is
facing a new generation at home that has diminishing interest in
those values.

And a growing number of people here are quietly predicting that the
Iranian revolution will likely run out of steam due to mounting
public dissatisfaction and economic malaise, like the Soviet Union
did in the late 1980s, unless it is strengthened by some outside
threat such as a U.S. invasion.

Iran is facing the largest baby boom in the world: Between 1979 and
the late 1980s, its population doubled, from 35 million to 70
million, with an average of almost eight children for every family.
That number has plummeted back to slightly more than two children to
a family at an equally amazing rate, but the country is left with 70
per cent of its population under 30 years of age.

Mr. Ahmadinejad is gambling, according to those close to him, that
this postrevolutionary generation will embrace his rigidly
conservative values as they get older.

"What they're saying in his cabinet is that they just need to hold on
to power for two years, until most of these kids are over 30 and
start having families, and then it will all be all right, because
they'll become less rebellious and more serious about the
revolution," said a man who works closely with Mr. Ahmadinejad's

But those who observe this generation closely say that the opposite
seems to be happening: As they come of age, the Iranian baby boomers
are decreasingly interested in the values that led their parents to
overthrow the U.S.-backed regime of the Shah, expel the government
and impose an authoritarian regime that is a mixture of radical Islam
and Soviet-era economics.

"According to our research, this generation has a totally different
point of view toward the revolution; they are not the young people of
30 years ago," says Amir Nikpay, a University of Tehran
anthropologist who has just completed a major study of the values and
beliefs of Iran's enormous baby-boom generation. "This generation has
no connection to revolutionary values."

A day later, on Thursday night in central Tehran, another typical
scene: Four young women pile out of a car, all of them screaming at
uniformed police officer. "How dare you ask us for a bribe! We
weren't even doing anything wrong," the driver, her red head scarf
barely covering her hair, shouts repeatedly. The mustachioed officer
mutters an inaudible response.

She raises both arms and strikes him in the chest, pushing him away.
The policeman looks bewildered. As a crowd watches but does nothing,
she pummels him. He backs off, gets into his car, and leaves the
scene. The women drive off.

That sort of grassroots rebellion against the social mores of the
revolution is increasingly visible.

For instance, despite the Islamic regime's absolute ban on alcohol
and drugs, Iran now has two million heroin addicts, the highest
proportion in the Middle East. According to the government, most are
under 30.

Mr. Nikpay and other scholars have found that Iranians born after the
revolution are devout Muslims, perhaps more universally than before,
but that they believe strongly that religion should be a private
matter, a major transformation of belief that has also been detected
in Turkey and other countries.

The implications, for an Islamist government, could be staggering.

"In this generation, when they have a decision, they refer to their
own personal beliefs, not to the beliefs of their family or community
or government," Mr. Nikpay said. "The majority of this young
generation are believers in Islam, but this majority is also saying
that they want to separate the church from the state, and that the
regime, the state, cannot base its legitimacy on religion."

Signs of rebellion are increasing. Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian feminist
who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her work, is in the midst
of a surprisingly successful petition campaign to get a million women
to put their names on a statement denouncing Islamic law as harmful
to women.

It is unique in being directly targeted at the central values of the
revolution itself. While it is generally acceptable to criticize the
President and other elected figures -- they are regularly parodied on
state-controlled radio -- to question the Supreme Leader or the
revolution itself is an unmentionable taboo. While a number of the
women associated with the campaign have been arrested and imprisoned,
it does not appear to be losing steam.

Such dissent appears to be mounting. The opposition to Mr.
Ahmadinejad in parliament this month has come from parties that,
while more pro-Western and supportive of fewer restrictions and a
more liberal economy, are still loyal to the revolution.

The quieter opposition on the street, driven by Internet connections
and TV signals, is coming from an entire generation of people who
seem to have little interest in the principles that brought the
ayatollahs to power.

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