October 6, 2011


Tehran: glimpses of freedom (R Tousi, 6 October 2011, OpenDemocracy)

The crowds that filled the streets before the presidential election of June 2009 and expanded in the tumultuous protests that followed it have departed. The young, educated generation at the forefront of defiance, however, is still at odds with its rulers, even if it may be biding its time and speaking more circumspectly.

The generational tensions also go beyond the more liberal colleges and networks. The clerical elite's esoteric worry about its own inheritance is expressed by a warning of the powerful Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi in September 2011 that a "wave of infestation" has reached religious circles, embodied in "seminarians who pass the night in front of the internet".

Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi regrets that "most young seminarians around the country do not wear their clerical robes", instancing Isfahan as an institution where only a thousand out of nine thousand clerics wear theirs, including turbans.

A country where the religious rule is one that grants numerous everyday privileges and benefits to those adorned with the signs of faith. The reluctance of a clear majority of young clerics to display their atttire is a telling if indirect sign of underlying tensions, exemplified in several recent attacks (highlighted in the state media) against some of these religious trainees.

In October, for example, a cleric called Abbas Rosmeh was violently attacked by a crowd following a minor traffic-accident in one of south Tehran's poorest areas. He told reporters that he found the "curses to the sacred, the revolution and the state" more unbearable than the beatings. [...]

The musical Khordeh Khanoum begins with the silver-screen broadcast of a famous television film of the mid-1970s depicting the assassination of Naseredin Shah of the Qajar dynasty (1794-1925). The packed audience whoop in the darkness as the king widely referred to as the "pivot-of-the-universe" is killed.

The Qajars have an abysmal standing in Iranians' collective memory. Alexander the Great (in 331 BCE) laid waste to much of Persia and burned down the grand capital, Persepolis. The Mongols are said to have raped and pillaged as they conquered Iran in the 13th century. An old Iranian saying goes: "what Alexander did not reduce to ashes and the Mongols did not demolish was sold off by the greedy Qajars."

The Qajar-era comparisons seem powerfully to resonate in Iran these days. When a time-travel sitcom entitled Bitter Coffee - set in a corrupt, sycophantic court at the turn of the 19th century - was rejected by the state's official Islamic broadcaster (IRIB), its renowned producer Mehran Modiri made it a straight-to-DVD product. The local press reported in January 2011 that sales quickly rose to 14 million.

In September, the Shahrvand-e-Emrooz newspaper was shut down following a frontpage image that depicted Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and members of his cabinet in the robes of Qajar courtiers.

Posted by at October 6, 2011 1:24 PM

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