Iran’s happy people have to walk a thin line

Claudio Gallo
Claudio Gallo is a journalist, currently working as a culture editor at La Stampa, one of the main newspapers in Italy. He was foreign desk editor and London correspondent. Occasionally he writes for AsiaTimes and Enduring America. His main interest is Middle East politics. He was on the streets during the disputed Iranian elections of 2009 and during the start of the so-called Egyptian Spring in 2011. He writing focuses on the Shiite world: Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran. He is banned from India because he supposedly wrote that the real country is very different from the officially publicized image. He likes to interview the last few thinkers who provide alternatives to prevailing ways of thinking.
Iran’s happy people have to walk a thin line
While the world is waiting for the end of July to see if the talks between the 5+1 and Iran will take the path to a comprehensive agreement or eventually come to a dangerous nothing, Tehran is experiencing a dress rehearsal of a new economic boom.

In the five stars hotels of the Iranian capital you can find businessmen from all over the world who are nervously waiting at the starting block - the end of international sanctions - to run the race to a market of 83 million people, with a highly educated middle class. It is a completely virtual moment, in which hope is overwhelming every complicated rational forecast.

The narrative of the American conservatives or the friends of Israel usually show Iran in the farcical disguise of the villain, the fearsome and ridiculous character of the Mad Mullah. An oversimplified image that the bent western mainstream media promptly transform into a stereotype, forcing the public to think in a rough binary logic of good and evil, us or them.

Take the six young people, recently arrested in Tehran (and then freed on bail on the same day, after an “auto da fé” on television) for a video clip posted to YouTube in which they were singing and dancing to Pharrell William’s song “Happy”. Western media presented the event as the boys were arrested because they were “too happy in Tehran”. Mad Mullah are always against happiness, especially the hedonistic Western concept of happiness. In Iran to rejoice is a crime, is the message. Hearing the usual media, you have the impression that the six boys, acting out a video clip, have become the paradigm of Western freedom.

However, things were different. The main reason for which they were arrested was that the girls did not dress in the hijab in a country in which the law imposes the use of the veil. Well, seeing the show from New York, London or Rome you can feel that the veil is an absurd constraint, but in this case you must not forget that you are wearing your Western glasses. If you look at the world from the point of view of the average Iranian religious woman things would be immediately upside down, although there is a bourgeoisie clearly hostile to traditional duties, mainly in the big cities. The ancient Greek philosopher Protagoras was apparently the first to state this relativism about human habits that both Islam and Western Democracy religion reject in the name of their absolute truths.

If ever, the problem is that a traditional society, as Iran pretends to be, should be based on a choral feeling among the people that in the modern times, even in an Islamic context, is almost technically impossible, with huge masses of alternative information roaming around to destroy any unified vision of the world.

"Westoxication", the Western poison, as Khomeini called it, is difficult to escape. To try to be an Islamic utopia, the Islamic Republic should strive for an impossible isolation in this hyper-connected world: ask Saudi Arabia.

Today, we can hardly imagine how a peasant in medieval Europe felt the Christian universe as perfectly natural. For us, as G. B. Shaw said: the golden rule is that there does not exist a golden rule. In front of the mighty fascination of the Western nihilistic religion of democracy, the Islamic Republic tries in vain to be impenetrable. The result is a widespread use of violence to keep together their “natural” traditional world. Trying to rule in the name of truth, they rule in the name of fear. Between them and the West, there is still the Chinese model: free market without freedom. However, the bureaucratic god of Capitalistic-Communism is much less pretending than the Islamic one, he does not interfere in the limited individual world of the free consumerist; he limits only the possibility to criticize the authority. Freedom, as we know, exists only in the West, where you can say all that you want, although no one is hearing you.

The wife of a friend of mine, with a long painful history of dissent towards the regime, told me, few days ago in Tehran that she was proud to wear the veil, and for nothing in the world, she would abandon it. So, right or wrong in front of the absolute justice (the one that no one can find), the veil was the law and the six boys broke it, even though also in an Islamic context it does not seem a very serious crime.

President Hassan Rouhani commented on Twitter like this: “#Happiness is our people's right. We shouldn't be too hard on behaviors caused by joy.” Even if many Western analysts want to drag Rouhani by their side, he remains a cleric and did not say: “they did nothing wrong” but he said instead: “We shouldn’t be too hard”.

Please, note the irony of this Twitter minuet when the large majority of Iranian people cannot access Twitter because it is censored. The new President asked recently for a free internet in Iran and some Western journalists viewed the boys' arrest as a quick reply to his opening from the conservatives.

Again, it is not that simple, the Islamic Republic is made up of several bodies that the 1979 Constitution foresaw with a check and balance role. Now they look as separate centers of power that are trying to act one against the other. The conservative Judiciary against the moderate Government, for example. This is the real field of action of the Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei that plays these institutions in an ever-changing balance, according to his aims. With this in mind, the flaunted opposition between the moderate Rouhani and the powerful Pasdaran hardliners blurs into subtle nuances. With one hand, Rouhani says that their lumbering presence in the economy is the main obstacle to modernization, with the other hand he negotiates their intervention, also because their firms are the only ones that can cope with the great public projects.

So do not try to oversimplify Iran, it is complicated, it challenges the law of non-contradiction. You cannot put a character from Shakespeare in an Ibsen drama and criticize his lack of coherence.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.