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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Youth Against The Dictatorship Of The Clerics

‘Fundamentalism isn’t about religion, it’s about power.’
- Salman Rushdie
Anthony McIntyre • 26/1/2003

In some media reports it has been claimed that reformists in Iran hope to see the country replace Saudi Arabia as a strategic partner of the West. While this must ring ominous for those on the Left trying to campaign against Western support for only those regimes that suit its own purpose, be they governed by the needs of capital in a globalised world or by the imperatives of power and security in a world of competing nation states, the dynamics behind Iranian unrest should not be reduced to a mere struggle between competing power elites. In a country with a population of 70 million, 65 per cent of which is under 25, it is hardly abnormal to find that young people are part of a wider pro-republic movement that is opposed to the diktat of the theocrats. Their involvement is made more pronounced by the repression employed against them. A year ago Lara Marlowe in the Irish Times reported that a ‘lack of freedom is a constant refrain among Iranian young people.’

Current instability in the country is reflected in the constitution which according to an article penned by Behzad Yaghmaian in Counter Punch is the product of 'a historic battle between tradition and modernity, the past and the future, and religion and secularism in Iran. The collage is unstable, tenuous, and transient by nature. It cannot be sustained.' This is suggestive of a shift in the balance of power within Iran, of which there appears to have been two defining moments. The first was the 1997 ascendancy to the presidency of Mohammad Khatami. He came to the office as a result of a strong autonomous current running through Iranian civil society which was largely secular and grassroots. The second was the student protests of 1999 which were crushed by force and saw ten students sentenced to death. Significantly, the theocrats hesitated in the face of widespread public anger and refrained from carrying out the executions.

President Mohammad Khatami's efforts to enhance regime flexibility have been curbed by the wrath of strong conservative elements. Last month at a Tehran university Islamic militia men known as the Basij, attacked pro-reform students who were demanding the release of the country’s political prisoners. These students are part of a much broader swathe of dissident young people and others which over the years has, according to Yaghmaian:

became emboldened; and challenged the Islamic Republic and its constitution through unorganised ruptures of collective action, everyday practice, and acts of cultural defiance ... All that was forbidden and scorned were committed by the defiant youth. Defiant and determined, marching shoulder to shoulder, young men and women announced the death of the old order. All taboos were broken .... it includes the schoolgirls challenging and ridiculing their religious teachers; teenagers wearing loud lipsticks and makeup under the watchful eyes of the moral police; and older women demanding respect and recognition from men in the streets, shops, and the workplace ... actions against the state and all that it represented: the imposition of the Islamic hijab, gender separation in universities, outlawing contacts between men and women, banning music and all instruments of joy and worldly desires, political repression, and the denial of people's most basic human rights.

Nor it seems can the Left claim any of the credit for this increasing secularisation: many of those taking part in resistance to the theocracy are not, in the view of Yaghmaian, the old ideologues of leftist parties … (but are) … young men and women with no political history, ideology, or affiliation:

Dressed in modern western outfits, reading Pablo Neruda and Milan Kundera, drinking homemade alcohol, escaping the pressures of the state with the music of The Pink Floyd, and Guns and Roses - they are the children of MTV, satellite dishes, Hollywood movies, the Internet and email.

This may prompt fears amongst those who term themselves ‘anti-imperialist’ that US capitalism is merely colonising Iranian society with its own Western consumerist values. While there is undoubtedly merit in this claim, and while Yaghmaian may be too benign in his view of the cultural effects of globalisation by claiming that the protest of the youth ‘proved the non-viability, in the long run, of the Islamicization of politics and the society in the age of global communications', the choice of what to listen to, wear, read or whom to have as leaders must ultimately lie with the youth rather than the thought police.

According to an Irish Times report by Margaret Preston, Top of the student agenda is "freedom in general". They are frustrated at having every aspect of their lives 'scrutinised and controlled'. They rebel against and subvert the official prohibition of satellite TV and alcohol; they oppose the restricted internet access and strict censorship. Students had been jailed for writing a play, the Judiciary Committee of Guidance has fined parents because their daughter had been seen in a car with her boyfriend, the behaviour committee were threatening young people for wearing punk attire.

Alongside the youth women are also coming out from behind the veil to become a formidable force for dissent. Fatameh Kadivar, a language graduate slammed the theocratic fascists claiming that:

Those clerics who hold the power in this country are not religious men. They are interested only in gaining more power for themselves. They have sold whatever they could get hold of for their own short-term interests and without thought for the future of the country. They are not interested in the people.

This type of sentiment has found sympathy among even some senior clerics. Ayatollah Jalaluddin Taheri, who resigned in protest at the behaviour of the theocratic fascists accused the system of being 'deeply corrupt, self-serving, hypocritical and repressive’.

Secularism has all too often brought with it a crass selfishness whereas religion on occasion has promoted a spirit of altruism. But the choice of a secular lifestyle is a basic human right wheras the imposition of a religious diktat is a denial of the very same right. Those young people who march against theocratic fascism, perhaps motivated in some instances by what they have read in Kundera rather than Marx — Sabina, for example who in The Unbearable Lightness of Being “would not keep ranks. She refused to keep ranks” — are poking fascism in the eye. Finding inspiration in their example others may finish the job and blind it altogether.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.
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Index: Current Articles

26 January 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Sinn Féin's International Perspective: From Conservative to Radical in the Blink of an Eye
Deaglán Ó Donghaile


Northern Ireland's Political Goodwill Games
Paul A. Fitzsimmons


New Year's Greetings

Jimmy Sands


Why Ireland is Unfree; Continued
Chris Fogarty


Youth Against the Dictatorship of the Clerics
Anthony McIntyre


West Belfast Anti-War Meeting - Belfast March
Davy Carlin


Conversation with a State Assassin



23 January 2003


Answers Needed Now
Francie Perry


Where are the courts of Human Rights?
Victor Barker


Principle, Pragmatism and Lies

Ed Moloney


Historical Unconsciousness
Seoirse McLaughlin


Fallen Anglicans and Other Limping Analogies
Eoghan O'Suilleabhain


A Message from the Heart of the Empire
Michael Youlton




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