Dienstag, April 08, 2008

First Post: The children of the revolution

While the western press focuses on Tehran's decision to stone an adulterer...

I don't see
cracks in the system

A crowd of some 100 people are pushing against a small police cabin in Tehran. Several middle-aged policemen look embarrassed as they try to disperse the crowd. Hysterical sobbing can be heard from inside.

Inside the cabin, an agitated teenage girl has ripped her headscarf off, letting her highlighted hair come tumbling down. She screams insults at a policeman who begs her to put back on her hijab and stop causing a scene.

Taking it from his hand, she throws it back in his face in one violent gesture, her indignant screams growing louder.

"This is the new generation," says Houri, a middle-aged Iranian woman. "They're not scared at all. If I was stopped and told to fix my scarf, I'd be so terrified I'd pull it over my nose. But today's girls are not afraid, they will take the scarf off their head and throw it in the face of the police, even the bassij [Islamic militia]."

Houri is talking about a new generation of young Iranians best described as the children of the revolution.

Their parents redrew the political landscape of the region by deposing the Shah in 1979 and establishing an Islamic theocracy in his place. Eight years of trench warfare with Iraq and the ongoing confrontation with America have defined their society.

But a post-1979 baby boom, urged on by Ayatollah Khomeini, the dour cleric who led the revolution, has resulted in 50 per cent of the Iranian population today being under 25 years old.

Khomeini wanted children who would feed the military machine in what looked like being an endless war with Iraq. Instead, he unwittingly created a generation that is now pushing the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, and demanding change.

While the western press focuses on Tehran's decision to execute sex offenders or stone an adulterer, on the capital's streets this generation follows a different agenda.

Heavily made-up young men and women cruise the streets, flirting with each other and engaging in one-night stands. Others party, dancing and making light-hearted fun of their staid parents.

Then there's religion. Unimpressed by three decades of orthodox Shia doctrine, heavy on mourning and permeated with the hundreds of thousands of martyrs of the war against Iraq, many young people are turned off by guilt and sorrow - they are attracted instead to Sufism, a religion that emphasises peace, serenity and release.

Their elders, naturally, are upset. "They sit and watch their satellite channels, the news of the foreigners, and they absorb their culture and want to be like them," said Seyyed Amir Abdollahi, who lost both his legs in a rocket attack during the 1980-88 war with Iraq.

Yet despite its reputation in the west for intransigence, Iran enjoys a tradition of listening to the people, of bending with the wind. And, just because the young want a less rigid lifestyle, doesn't mean they don't believe in President Ahmadinejad's desire for national pride - including his nuclear programme.

"The state is flexible, they will accept what the youth is pushing on them," said Mohammad Moussavi, a former Iranian ambassador. "Over the next five years we will see the transition start. I don't see cracks in the system but evolution."