[Marxism] Positive Thinking in Tehran: Youth Embrace Self-Help Movement

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Mon Jun 30 13:57:54 MDT 2008

Fascinating discussion of a side of contemporary Iranian life
of which I certainly wasn't aware until this morning's paper.

In the United States and other Western countries we are given
the impression that the Iranian leadership are really a bunch
of know-nothing, "Islamic Fundamentalists" who practice demonic
belief systems like "Raaaydikal Eeeslaaaaam", which is suited 
to stupid, backward dumbells, unlike our more sophisticated,
intelligent and familiar belief systems such as Christianity
and Judaism. Well, as it turns out, the Islamic Republic now
is open to some other kinds of ideas if they're presented in
ways which don't confront the government and system there in
directly political ways. They don't seem to be bothered by
the non-political sounding Anthony Robbins-style preachments.

Some background on Islam from the Cuban press:

BOHEMIA: Following Muhammad's Footprints:

TEMAS: Islamic Fundamentalism:

In the Wall Street Journal, fear of leftist variants of
the Islamic religion run rampant, as this example shows:

WSJ: Anti-Americans on the march 


June 30, 2008
Positive Thinking in Tehran:
Youth Embrace Self-Help Movement
New Age Devotees, Chanting 'Yes, I Can,'
Flock to Unlikely Guru; 'The Secret' in Farsi
June 30, 2008; Page A1

TEHRAN, Iran -- When Hassan Bakhtiar couldn't find a job last year,
his mother told him to pray and read the Quran.

Instead, the 25-year-old aerospace engineer dropped in on a packed
appearance by Alireza Azmandian, Iran's most famous motivational
speaker and self-help guru. Now, he meditates by staring at a
flickering candle and chants Mr. Azmandian's inspirational catch

"Religion doesn't offer me answers any more," Mr. Bakhtiar says,
after listening to Mr. Azmandian at a public auditorium in a shabby
neighborhood of South Tehran. But, he says, "this seminar changed my

The self-help craze -- long part of life in the Western world -- is
taking the Islamic Republic by storm. Iran is one of the world's
youngest nations, with 70% of its 65 million under the age of 30.
There's widespread disenchantment among young people with Iran's
strict theocratic regime, which requires headscarves for women and
bans alcohol. And jobs are scarce.

In other Middle East countries with similar demographics, like Egypt
and Turkey, young people are increasingly turning back to their
Muslim identity for solace. But Iran's mostly well-educated youth are
more likely to seek other remedies -- such as self-help seminars, 
New Age theories, meditation and yoga.

"The regime presumed it could mold the society into whatever shape
and form it wanted, but we are seeing the opposite take place," says
sociologist Hamid Reza Jalalipour. The younger generation is "turning
away from conventional religion and tradition."

The Art of Happiness

Every day, dozens of self-help seminars take place, some underground
at people's homes and others in public venues, all around the
sprawling capital and in some of Iran's bigger cities. "The Secret,"
the self-help tome by Australian author Rhonda Byrne and featured on
Oprah Winfrey, tops the best-seller lists here. The Farsi translation
is in its 10th printing. State-owned television Channel Four has
broadcast the book's companion video, shot in documentary style and
distributed world-wide on DVD, four times in the past six months.

At newsstands in Tehran, over a dozen magazines are dedicated to the
art of happiness with a New Age twist. Their pages are packed with
ads promoting lessons about how to use feng shui to decorate your
house; how to open your chakras; and how to awaken the financial
genius hidden inside you.

At Book City, a popular bookstore here, Hiva Mohammadi, a 21-year-old
interior-design student, clutched a stack of self-help books as she
shopped with her mother, Vida Bahrami, 50. "It wasn't like this when
we were young," Ms. Bahrami says. "I don't know what's gotten into
this generation, but they are certainly not into religion."

Elham Sarmadi, editor-in-chief of the popular "Happiness" magazine,
says the title's circulation has steadily increased every year for
five years. A recent article: How to enhance your body-language
skills. Each issue of the magazine carries serialized excerpts of Ms.
Byrne's book. In March, the magazine dedicated a cover story to Mr.
Azmandian, the self-help guru. Ms. Sarmadi sends her small staff to
his seminars, which are inspired by "The Secret." The book's
overarching philosophy is that human beings can transform their lives
through their thoughts and that positive thoughts work like magnets,
attracting wealth, health and happiness.

Drawn to the Circuit

A father of three, with a Ph.D. in industrial engineering from the
University of Southern California, Mr. Azmandian, 55, says he was
drawn to the motivational-speaker circuit when he was a graduate
student in the U.S., after reading a few self-help books and seeing
how his own life improved. He returned to Iran in 1995 to teach at
Tehran University and bought a small private office to promote
positive thinking and self-help.

He began by giving lectures to his immediate family and friends, then
passed out fliers at parks. Now, his office has grown to an entire
floor of a commercial building with 12 telephone lines that
constantly ring. His business is called "The Center for Technology of
Thought," and like his American counterparts, he has marketed his
brand. Disciples can purchase Mr. Azmandian's two self-help books,
flash cards, calendars, CDs and DVDs with motivational phrases.

'I Have Control'

His seminars draw tens of thousands in auditoriums and theater halls
every week. On stage, he favors white suits -- no tie -- and holds a
bouquet of yellow roses. At a recent session, about 1,000 attendees
packed the large auditorium, swinging left and right to an upbeat
Persian pop tune. Clapping, they chant his slogans to the music:
"Yes, I can!" and "Tomorrow is ours to make!"

Mr. Azmandian says he studies American counterparts such as Marshal
Silver, a renowned hypnotist, and Anthony Robbins, the motivational
speaker and self-help writer. He stomps his feet forcefully on stage,
snapping his fingers rapidly and roars his commands laced with humor.

"I have control over my life, not God and not the regime," 
Mr. Azmandian bellowed at one recent session. "Think of yourself 
as an eagle and not as a pigeon," he told the crowd, many of 
whom had traveled hours by bus from across the country to attend.

Iran's government routinely cracks down on behavior deemed
un-Islamic, such as women eschewing headscarves and men sporting
unconventional hairstyles and clothes. But officials have so far left
Mr. Azmandian and the New Age trend alone.

Airing 'The Secret'

The ultraconservative newspaper, Jomhori Islami, or Islamic
Revolution, last year criticized the airing of the movie version of
"The Secret," calling it sacrilegious. It left no room for "God's
will," the backbone of Islamic values, the paper said. But it ran on
state TV several times more.

Mr. Azmandian says he's given lectures to commanders of Iran's elite
Revolutionary Guard, to clerics who lead Friday prayer sermons across
Iran and to managers employed by Tehran's municipality. He is
routinely invited to lecture at universities and factories, which are
mostly state-owned. He shapes his lectures according to his audience,
he says, and steers away from political talk.

"No other movement has received this kind of mass social endorsement
in Iran," he says. "This will inevitably transform our society and
the next generation."

Bakhtiar Khazaee, a 38-year-old maintenance engineer, has been
attending Mr. Azmandian's seminars for a year. Every morning before
starting work he slips the guru's DVD into his office computer. 
"I used to think every thing was God's will," he says. But "now 
I don't think this way any more. I know that whatever I set 
my mind on  achieving will happen."


     Los Angeles, California
     Editor-in-Chief, CubaNews
     "Cuba - Un Paraíso bajo el bloqueo"

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