Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Glimpse of the People of Iran

Summary: The populace of Iran has as much desire to emulate Western liberties as any country in the Middle East, and is very likely more at odds with its government than any country in the region. Here’s a brief look at what the people of Iran have to endure as their leadership rushes headlong into a desired confrontation with the United States.

The landscape of Iran is beautiful and variegated. But its current political and social atmosphere is stifling. The current Iran Regime has created (and for 27 years developed) its own monstrous brand of Islamic Fundamentalism to hide its own shortcomings--and its own people are the guinea pigs.

When Shah Reza Pahlavi was forced to leave the government in 1979, it was not a forgone conclusion that Ayatollah Khomeini would rise to the pinnacle of power. Several groups vied for various political solutions to Iran’s problems. In reality, Mehdi Barzagan and Abolhassan Bani-Sadr served as interim prime ministers before the mullahs stirred up enough fervor to gain control of the masses. But the people didn’t know what they were bargaining for, and it is now clear that (1) a predominant majority of the Iranian people despise their current government, (2) the Iranian government is one of the most oppressive in the world, and (3) that government is running the country into the ground (and would have already done so without substantial oil revenues).

I have read estimates that unemployment in Iran is between 15 and 20%. Public workers have not been paid for several months in some cases. And to make matters worse, the government pledged $50 million to the support of Hamas in Israel, angering the people further.

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times has visited Teheran, Iran several times. On one occasion he noticed anti-American graffiti. As he attempted to have it photographed, those people around him pleaded for him not to photograph the graffiti, as it had been placed there at the behest of the government and did not reflect the views of the Iranian people. The only country whose people mobilized in mass demonstrations of sorrow and compassion for America on 9-11 was Iran.

There was a darker side to the government of the Shah. But for the most part, Iran under the Shah was very westernized and very free. In her book Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi recalls of this time that the adults in her youth “could walk the streets freely, enjoy the company of the opposite sex, [and women could] join the police force, become pilots, live under laws that were the most progressive in the world…” Instead, now women are treated as second class citizens, state secret service operatives are everywhere, and the Ayatollah Khomeini has advised such things for men as sexual relations with animals in order to maintain their Islamic sexual purity.

Now, except for various short-lived attempts to convince the people that their government is not so bad, people are not allowed to do such simple things as listen to any kind of music. Most people understand that the mullahcracy is a betrayal of Islamic principles. People live life day to day with a constant, aching dread. The streets of many cities are patrolled by compliance militia, to ensure that people are living by the strict, perverted codes of conduct. The government confiscates satellite dishes—with stiff penalties for their owners when found—because it does not want the people to find out what they are missing in the outside world.

Nearly everything in Iran is now interpreted as through a political filter. If a man doesn’t wear a beard, if members of the opposite sex greet each other in public, if someone says anything remotely negative about the government, if individuals do anything interpreted to be Western, they are seen as being subversive of the government and will be punished in some way. Adultery and fornication are often punished by stoning of the offenders.

The Iranian government still makes a habit of arresting those who express public disagreement with government policy, the punishment being greater the more embarrassing the truth that is revealed about life in that benighted country. With few other outlets for their frustration, Iranians per capita are the most prolific web loggers in the world, an amazing statistic considering that much of what they blog gets filtered out and flushed down the memory hole by the Information Ministry.

Currently the people of Iraq enjoy more freedoms that the people of Iran. No wonder a significant investment from an Iranian government of already meager means is toward the destruction of the liberties that Iraq is now beginning to enjoy. For the Iranian government, which is edging ever closer to the precipice, a strong republican democracy in Iraq would mean the death knell of the mullahcracy. Freedom in Iraq would propel the Iranian people to capture the liberties they thought they were achieving 27 years ago before the process was short-circuited by religious radicals.


Matt said...

Fine analysis, Frank. I seriously wonder what will become of the situation regarding their nukes, as the government wants them so desperately and they keep lying to their own people that it's just nuclear energy. I don't mind them having nuclear energy, but I do mind a state sponsoring terrorist government, one trying to kill our forces in Iraq (like yourself) and Afghanistan, and one that suppresses their own people's desire to be free having nuclear energy, much less nuclear weapons.

Elizabeth said...

"Iran under the Shah was very westernized and very free"

Free as long as you didn't get on the wrong side of the Savak (secret police). Then, you got imprisoned without trial, tortured and executed.

Political_US said...

Hey there! Sorry that I have not been to your blog in a few weeks. I have been really busy lately unfortunately. I'm starting a blog on blogspot as well that will most likely be a copy of my xanga, just appeal to another audience. I would like to put a link to your page on it if you would like, but would like to put your rank and name if I could. could you e-mail that to me? thanks!

Frank Staheli said...


You are correct that the Shah was tyrannical. This caused huge problems, and opened the way for the current, even worse mess Iran is in today. I allude to this when I say in the post "There was a darker side to the government of the Shah."

You'd be hard pressed, however, to find people in Iran who lived under both governments who think the Shah was more repressive than the current regime (except for members of the current regime and those who derive favors from them).

Frank Staheli said...

J. G.:

Welcome to the blogspot community. I checked out your new blog. It looks good!

I check your Political_US xanga site from time to time as well. I look forward to your lucid posts there as well as your insightful commentary here.