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Friday, 27 November 2009

Children of the Revolution

I’m so angry at how stupid I’ve been. Iran? dangerous? misogynist? fundamentalist? xenophobic? Of course it isn’t, none of these things, and how stupid am I for having thought, even for a moment, for a second, that any country could be suicidal for a British passport holder, or spell instant rape for a single woman.

On our first day a breakdown in communication means we get an impromptu tour of the university campus, the very same campus where 3 days early massive demonstrations started. There’s a hint of political descent from our host, Sammy, but I hide my excitement at being in the centre of today’s history and the paranoia about the security apparatus that might be listening directs me to quickly change the subject.

Less than 48 hours later we have a better measure of the place. We’ve lost our appetite for paranoia about secret police, and in terms of fundamentalism, well this barely passes as an Islamic country. In practice, Tehran is less religious than Istanbul.

Sammy is 28, born 3 years after the Revolution which led to a jump in population inspired by a call for soldiers from the Supreme Leader. Sammy is slap in the middle of that spike. At primary school his parents had to fight to get him a place, again at secondary school, and at university, and now he has graduated there aren’t enough jobs to go round for the Iranian baby-boomers.

And their resentment is aimed squarely at the government, and not just for the lack of jobs, affordable housing. Mostly they are angry because they are educated enough to see that they have just been cheated out of an election where they rejected the hardline party’s politics which injects religious interference into their lives. Cheated, as they see it, not just by the president clinging corruptly onto power, but subsequently also by the Supreme Leader.

The Supreme Leader is the father figure of the revolution, the benign head of the religious ideology people turned to in the early 70s. His constitutional power is superimposed over an electoral system and parliament which is otherwise comparable to that of the US.

After this election everyone expected the Supreme Leader to say that even though it had been fair, because the people were unhappy it would be re-run. He didn’t, and the focus of discontent shifted from Ahamdi Najad on to him.

The demonstration criticising the supreme leader was a first ever, and is a short step to a re-revolution. Everyone agrees that the protests will continue and escalate until the president is replaced, but no one thinks the police or the army will ever quell the protests let alone fire on the demonstrators, and maybe that’s true, but it’s precisely what the students of Tiananmen Square thought too.

Sammy says he doesn’t want a revolution. No one does because the last revolution was such a letdown. But he does want an end to the religious ideology dictating government policy. That sounds like it’s going to need revolution to me.

The 16 year old daughter of another host is disgusted that I am trying to arrange a photo call with President Ahmadi Najad. “Mr Ahmadi Najad,” she corrects me, “He’s not my president.”

Later Hamid takes me aside. “It’s important to the young people that foreigners don’t give credibility to this election”, and my attempt to get is seen as such. I reluctantly give up on the idea.

There’s no need for another revolution. The Supreme Leader is old and not long for this world but the protests will continue until nature takes its course or events intercede.

In The Independent, that Frankie has brought from the UK, there is a short article about the NCRI, a group of exiled Iranians clearly with an axe to grind. They sound like an Astroturf Organisation – purporting to have grass roots but actually totally manufactured to push an agenda. They claim (from the insightful vantage point of Brussels - wtf?), that the Revolutionary Guard has launched a new department to track down individuals involved in the protests. Sammy laughs when I read this to him. “They aren’t that organised.” None of the protestors are scared of “the security apparatus.”

Later I hear of students arrested and held for several weeks undergoing mild torture, after the first round of protests, I see a prison in town where I’m told people disappear, but most worryingly about the Basij, a pro-government militia that aren’t as restrained as the “people-loving” police or army, who might direct violent retaliation at protestors.

But descent with the government is so widespread and so close to the surface, there’s maybe some safety in numbers. A neighbour sparks up a conversation with me while I am working on the bus in the street. Within minutes he is vocally telling me what a prick Ahmadi Najad is, and how he was at the protest and isn’t scared of the inept police.

I explain to my hosts how my media push an agenda that the Middle East is populated by irrational, hate filled, religious zealots intent on murdering western infidels, in order to justify us relieving them from their oil revenue. There’s a long silence after my tirade. Perhaps they are in shock, perhaps disillusionment, or perhaps they’re freaked out by this ranting Brit.

The Independent piece is another story in the western media, which as I’ve discovered effectively manipulate my fears, persuading me that Iran is mad, bad and dangerous. Orwellian thought control. I really thought I was smart enough to see through it. Thankfully the undeniable truth is clear to me now: A safe, and overwhelmingly welcoming city.

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