Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Perspectives From Central Asia: Installment Two

In the next few days I want to note the various ways that people in various parts of Greater Central Asia have been coping with a modern world in which the certainties of the past no longer obtain or are at least contested. Iran is a curious example of one place where Islamism has been victorious, but its success has bred a sympathy for western cultural forms among many of its young people, who in fact constitute a substantial portion of the total population: 70 percent of the country is below the age of 30. Officially there is no doubt about the "certainties" of our times but unofficially the social conventions demanded by the state are resented or rejected. The state has found one measure that attracts genuine public loyalty among the Iranian people, namely its nuclear program. This is one reason President Ahmadinejad continues to press for nuclear power. Even so, the religious zeal of his government creates a careful dance between the official enforcers of the state and a superficially compliant public.

Here is a note on the tension between the requirements of the government and the behavior of many of its young people: from an article on underground rock music among Iranian young people by Michael Slackman:

After the 1979 revolution, when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was fashioning Iran into a Shiite Islamic state, one of his many sayings was, "Keep the appearances of Islam." Public profile is important and so, if Iranians chose not to fast during Ramadan, well, O.K., but they were expected to eat in the privacy of their homes. . . . . [Someone told Slackman] "there is no written law . . . , You are allowed to do everything, unless you want to share it [openly]." That seems to be the unwritten law in Iran today: no sharing. The act of publicly sharing ideas that challenge the system is forbidden, because, at a minimum, that amounts to challenging the appearance the government would like to promote. . . . And so people in many spheres - arts, sports, politics, business - find themselves pressing
against the limitations of what is deemed permissible. Mostly, this is done behind closed doors, in the privacy of people's homes. Some people, like the rock musicians, do risk public sharing, but watchfully.

So the body complies, but the sentiment is elsewhere. All the more reason not to suppose that "Iran" is being truly represented by Ahmadinejad.

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