February 15, 2006

"You are allowed to do everything, unless you want to share it."

That's a quote from a rock musician in Iran.
After the 1979 revolution, when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was fashioning Iran into a Shiite Islamic state, one of his many sayings was, "Keep the appearances of Islam." Public profile is important and so, if Iranians chose not to fast during Ramadan, well, O.K., but they were expected to eat in the privacy of their homes....

That seems to be the unwritten law in Iran today: no sharing. The act of publicly sharing ideas that challenge the system is forbidden, because, at a minimum, that amounts to challenging the appearance the government would like to promote....

Paradoxically, civil society here appears vibrant. It has not been crushed, the way it has by the authoritarian leaders in the Arab world. There is, on many levels, real politics here — often with the outcome unknown — and on the most important issues, leaders must draw consensus from the different levels of power. And so people in many spheres — arts, sports, politics, business — find themselves pressing against the limitations of what is deemed permissible.

Mostly, this is done behind closed doors, in the privacy of people's homes. Some people, like the rock musicians, do risk public sharing, but watchfully....

At a recent concert, as young men and women piled into a small room, one concertgoer leaned over and said, casually, "I hope the Basiji don't rush the place." He was referring to the vigilante squads of bearded men who often use violence to enforce strict Islamic social codes. As the music played, the crowd swayed and clapped, shouted out choruses, and bopped the way any audience of young men and women might in the West. The music, though upbeat, had a slightly funereal quality to it, as the singer took the chance to share his thoughts, in public.

Have a right to be ignored and neglected

Have a right to be segued and be raided

Have a right to be damned a right to be jammed

Have a right to be sanctioned and banned.
When the show was over and the lights came up the band seemed exhilarated — and frightened.

7 comments:

Goesh said...

They are a funny lot, those Iranians. They wouldn't share with the world the pictures of the two teens hung for being gay but they will apparently share with the world caricatures of Jews. Go figure. Let's hope the West can soon share smart bombs with their nuclear reactor.

Icepick said...

They were rocking in English? Cool.

And Goesh, I'm not sure that bombing a pile of U-235, U-238 and Pu is a good idea. It may be the best of a bad set of choices, but I'm not too eager to go there.

Melinda said...

Although bombing U2 is a great idea.

Good article! I felt edgy reading it.

Goesh said...

Any nation that hangs teens for being gay can be reasoned with, if the right carrot is offered. Since there are only about 15 million Jews on the planet, if we let Iran destroy Israel, the survivors could come to America and live happily and maybe even be given some free bagels. I think Iran would be satisfied with that and then would not want to hurt the great satan America any longer.

Icepick said...

Goesh, what is the point of your second comment? I don't understand that at all.

Eli Blake said...

Uh, before we get going on this, let's remember that 'publicly sharing ideas that challenge the system is forbidden' was also the policy under the Shah, as it was under the Shah's father, etc. Remember that we installed the Shah during WWII, re-installed him the first time the people threw him out in 1952, then helped him maintain his power for a generation thereafter, a generation that involved police state terror tactics, torture and secret trials, detentions and executions.

The only instance I can find where this was not the case in Persia/Iran/Media (whatever you want to call the place) is found in the book of Daniel, when King Darius made a proclamation after Daniel came out of the den of lions that he could pray to his God.

Not saying that the rights of Iranians to free expression are not being restricted, they most certainly are.

But it does seem a bit odd that we suddenly 'discover' this to be a problem in Iran only when they have a government that we don't like-- i.e. this is the same thing as when Jeanne Kirkpatrick differentiated between 'authoritarian' and 'totalitarian' regimes in the Cold War-- both kinds practiced torture, summary execution, etc. but one category were those who our government supported, the other those who we opposed. That was really what it was all about, and she was bastardizing Human Rights to advance foreign policy objectives.

Same situation today: Some governments where freedom of expression is very much restricted (in many cases far more than in Iran) but we will 'discover' little or nothing of it: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan, China, Nigeria and Yemen.

Now, if the right wants to say that the government is bad for their foreign policy, then they should say so. If they want to condemn them for human rights, then condemn all such governments. But I rarely see that.

PatCA said...

I think this is a government-approved story. I would imagine the mullahs know where a NYT reporter is at every minute.

The daughter of the former "reformer" president Khatami was said to be a hip-hop fashionista riding around Tehren on her bicycle. Wonder what has become of her in the new regime...