We Are Iran book review

“We Are Iran” (Soft Skull Press, Brooklyn NY)

By Kent Manthie

With all the rumblings and saber-rattling going on in Washington regarding Iran these days, it looks like the media, once again, is complicit in the call to arms that George Bush wants. It’s so badly veiled-the media’s collusion with the government–that anyone who denies it or tries to mitigate or explain it away is obviously a hack at best or a paid-by-the-administration writer, injecting their views but putting them down as your own like the now discredited and disgraced Armstrong Williams did regarding Bush’s inane “No Child Left Behind”, the horrible, brainwashing program that the Right want to embed in our children.
Anyway, there is actually good news out there in the big, bad world outside the US: Iran right now is brimming with people under 30. In fact, the majority of the population is young; but it is run by anachronistic, aging mullahs who literally stand in the way of modernity. Well, they may seem (to themselves) omniscient, but they can’t live forever and that is exactly what the youth of Iran are counting on. Not only that, they are actively, vocally doing everything they can to make their discontent known.
Iranian writer Nasrin Alavi has put together a book that sheds some light on this phenomenon: the fact that Iran’s people are seething underneath all the anti-western rhetoric spouted by the government. She has been a student abroad in England and the US, has taught engineering and currently lives part of the time in London and partly in Tehran. Alavi has assembled samples from just a fraction of the thousands of weblogs that are even now continuing to sprout up all over the country; this despite the growing backlash and subsequent crackdown on all this anti-government speech, which, of course, creates a kind of loop wherein the more the government cracks down, the more intense the protesting gets. Reading through these bloggers, one finds an amazing level of frustration with daily life and constant complaints of harassment, abuse and lots and lots of hypocrisy.
A few examples: on May 23, 2003, “Our Voice” had this as the beginning of his (her?) entry: “I just love these mullahs who are constantly critical of our ruling clerics…they are instrumental in exorcising the fanaticism of the donkeys of this world…” Pretty harsh words from someone who has lived under the thumb of the self-same “donkeys”; later on in the posting he says, “…when the mullahs are dethroned…it will be like the Berlin Wall coming down…a little patience…our dawn is near.” Another one, from February 3, 2004, written by one at doomdam.com writes that “If the Sharia Islamic law and punishments were ever to be applied, 80 percent of the population would have to be punished and 90% would be considered enemies of God and the Prophet…” And par.blogsky.com wrote, with some surprise, “I was able to read my blog last night and my heart started shaking…I had no idea so many of you were following my reports from campus.” So, there are many, many bloggers out there and many, many readers out there, all are starved for freedom, sick of the ruling clerics that are keeping them down.
To put some cohesion to it all Nasrin has not only edited this but has a running commentary going between the blog samplings, detailing some of the ideas behind the blogs and putting in some historical context for those not up on their Iranian history, letting the reader see parallels between things that happened long ago to the actions of the youth today. She even goes back a thousand years to tell the story of Ashura, a holiday that commemorates the slaying of Hossein, the grandson of Mohammed, which actually took place in Karbala, which is in modern-day Iraq (for now…) in 680 C.E. Ashura is a 10-day period of mourning that the Shi’ites of Iran take part in every year, when Iranians fill the streets and hold candlelight vigils.
Another interesting fact that is native to Iran, they have celebrated, for a long, long time, a pre-Islam festival, called Charshanbeh Suri – the fire festival, held on the last Wednesday of every year, when Iranians leap over small bonfires, chanting (in Farsi) “Capture my yellows, grant me your reds”, which means “Take my weaknesses and offer me your radiance”. In the early days of the Islamic Revolution, the ruling mullahs and ayatollahs tried to quash this pre-Islamic, Persian tradition, which has always been unique to Iran, but eventually, this custom, this holiday proved to have too strong of a bond with the people that the ayatollahs had to finally let them have their holiday.
All the Iranian bloggers have these funny, non-sequitur handles, slapdash nicknames, very American sounding, most of them; aliases that provide a level of anonymity, but, at the same time, they want to leave their missives with a signature of some kind. One needs to be able to see a thread through particular people’s eyes and know that “Wild Mint” wrote that one too, or that one is the new posting from “The Social Worker” or “The Hungry Philosopher.” Identity matters, even if it’s a fake one. These youngsters are starved for a new way of life, a place where their individualities can flourish and expand.
One curious thing I noticed among many of the postings, many young Iranians, after a lifetime of getting religion shoved down their throats, being suffocated by a draconian, middle-ages set of ideals and laws (Sharia), is that there is a big wave of cynicism, increasing signs of losing faith, agnosticism, apathy with the clerics that run their lives. In other words, after 25 years of intense, fundamentalism Islam, forced on a whole country, the youth of Iran are sick of it all. I wouldn’t say it’s a majority, but increasingly these kids see Islam as just a sham; nothing but another form of control, a way to govern, like communism or capitalism or monarchy. This can be traced, at least in part, to the kind of surprising fact that one of the results of the revolution in 1979 was to start up a massive wave of education, opening universities all throughout the country, educating, very well, a whole generation of people who are now fighting their oppressors with this knowledge; knowledge that they received from the very people they oppose now.
This is all very good news and reading through “We Are Iran” is a heartening experience. I am much more hopeful after reading this than from watching anything on TV that deals with Iran. I believe that this ought to be widely distributed and read by everyone in Washington, including the White House and Congress, I know that it isn’t a secret that there is dissatisfaction with the government in Iran, but it seems that they’re being ignored because of this furor over Ahmadenijad, which is not unfounded, however. The new Iranian president, “elected” in elections last year, is a big-mouth and a hothead. But, if only these kids in Tehran, in Isfahan, in Tabriz, can get a helping hand (not from the CIA though, they’d only screw everything up) and really be able to stand up to Ahmadenijad, who is a lunatic, really.
Anyway, “We Are Iran” is a start and I am glad it is available in English and in the US. If the majority of Americans read this and were then able to understand Iran better, I think things would cool off a lot quicker vis a vis their nuclear ambitions.
For a look into some of these Iranians minds, check out some of these blogs: http://hekayat.blogsky.com; http://i.hoder.com; http://www.webneveshteha.com. –KM.

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