By Rosalía García Moreno
Reconciling the strong authoritarianism of the Islamic Republic with democratic values is difficult to palpate on a day-to-day basis. The impulse comes mainly from young people, especially women.
Ingrained since 1979 in the religious rigors imposed by the Khomeini Shiite Revolution, ancient Persia now roars for the democratization of its political structures. This is attested by the results of the last elections held in the country, when the reformist president Mohamed Khatamí defeated the conservative opposition with 80 percent of the votes. However, his intention to reconcile the strong authoritarianism of the Islamic Republic with democratic values is difficult to palpate on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps because until recently many women have been stoned in Iran in compliance with Sharia (Islamic law), which thus condemns adultery and blasphemy. The latest victims, a pornographic actress in May 2001. In April of this, Ferdows B., while his compatriot Sima has been waiting for his execution since January. Khatami now has another three years ahead of him, backed by the massive female vote, rebellious where they exist. You know, after oppression comes the revolution.
The dream from Isfahan
The impressions and statements collected during my two months of stay in Iran refute the data obtained by the ayatollah at the polls. Youth participation was massive, a reflection of the greed for openness that the new generations long for. This is the case of Azadeh. A college teenager with a deep gaze. Her face is beautiful, but it is the only thing that can be seen of her. We found it in one of the many tea houses that liven up the Zayandeh River in Isfahan, one of the most beautiful cities in Iran. Women alone cannot establish any conversation with the opposite sex. But yes with outsiders. And the young woman, accompanied by her little sister, does not hesitate to establish a curious conversation. He knows that there are countries where he could go out with boys his age - he is no more than twenty years old -, show off his shiny hair and access jobs commensurate with his training. She comments in perfect English that her university studies will help her to do little in the future. All the books he has read begin the same: "In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate." Her legal status, using the Koran as a reference, considers her a minor all her life. When you give up your father, you will need your brother or your husband. She will be the wife of whom her father decides and will stay in her home hidden from the gaze of her countrymen. The dominance that men exercise here begins by hiding their women. And what is not seen does not exist. She is Muslim, but does not understand the oppressive situation to which she is subjected. "Believing in Allah should not be an obstacle to being happy," he says. We eat Abgusht, cooked served in separate pots, very famous in these lands. We smoke narghille. This hookah is common entertainment among Persian males, although some young women take sporadic puffs on them. Iranians love it. It replaces tobacco, just like alcohol tea.
Few women dare to try it, but Azadeh feels protected by the foreign company. And it is that, despite the absolute rejection that the spiritual leaders of this Islamic Republic profess towards Western culture "and its perversions" - manifested in official posters, such as the one located at the doors of the Ali Sadr caves, an enclave of recreation in the surroundings Hamadan - chatting with foreigners is not frowned upon as long as there are women in the "depraved" group. And he continues without pause: "What I really want is to go to Europe to finish my studies, there I will have no problems." Azadeh has mythologized, as libertarians, large European cities such as Paris or London. It is the dream of a curious girl who does not want to waste the opportunities that life in freedom would offer her. But there are many signs that you may soon wake up from this permanent lethargy.
The dream from Germany
At the same time, criticisms of Islamic fundamentalism and the propagation of intellectual maturity in Iranian society are crying out in the Western world. As an example, Solale Shirasi, an Iranian exile who has lived for fourteen years in Constance, southern Germany.
Before Khomeini emerged as the highest authority in the Islamic Republic founded by him, women led an active life in Iran. In the university, artistic, pedagogical… but also in the political sphere.
After the 1979 Shiite Revolution, many Iranian intellectuals were killed. Others, such as Solale and her husband, Ali Shirasi, fled the country illegally in search of political asylum. That was now fourteen years ago in which they have not given up on ensuring education and aid to the sons and daughters of Iranian and Afghan exiles in the local Persische Schule as well as in establishing dialogues with Christians-Protestants and Catholics, in teaching the German population Persian dances - severely punished in Iran - but, above all, "to help the open change flourish in Iran and so that Europeans know the greatness and misery that are possible in the name of Islam," says Solale.
She is a modern woman. And elegant. She is a professor of Farsi at the University of Constance, but she also speaks perfect German and English. Her thick and strong jet black hair stands free by the great lake, the Bodensee. Almost like her. The only thing that constrains her now is the impossibility of revealing her true identity. "But I am happy, although I have no doubt that I will be completely when I can return as a person to my country. We will have to wait a bit, but we will, without a doubt."
Ali, 51, was a teacher when he was only 16, then entered Tehran College of Pedagogy to become a high school math teacher. His attempts to organize a teachers' union landed him in jail on two occasions, first during the Shah's regime and later under Khomeini. "In Iran I experienced what it meant to fight for freedom, but in Germany my weapon against the dictatorship imposed by Khomeini is the pen. With it I try to clarify to the German public how the Islamic Republic was formed and what are the fatal consequences when politics and religion are concentrated in one person. "
They do not make up any Non-Governmental Organization, although they maintain contact with German refugee associations.
On a voluntary basis, they prepare the program, send it to churches and institutions, and they invite them to seminars and more and less informal meetings, always with social and informative purposes. "On the one hand, we teach the refugees to adapt to Germany, we explain their problems to the doctors and we try to provide them with food; on the other, we read them poems and Persian stories, our daughter Mariam shows the Germans our traditional dances to make them see to the rest of the world that Iran is more than a group of fanatics like Khomeiní and his followers, "says Ali.
The daughter, Mariam, spends many afternoons inside Konstanz's largest shopping center, Seereincenter, putting on makeup as her parents and other volunteers prepare the scenography.
The self-absorbed curious crowd around him. They are many and of all ages. Those who know her miss her.
He usually wears jeans with western-style T-shirts and sweaters. But now she is sheathed in the golden gauze and tulle that transport her to her ancestral, not native, Persia. The girl dances with extreme elegance and sensuality, captivating those present. "This is how they come to know the virtues of our culture, because only defects tend to come to the West," says Solale.
The demand they are shouting seems obvious. "Our objective is precisely to constitute a new executive in which a civilian elected by the Iranian people governs us and the religious return to the mosques, which is their site. A democracy," continues his wife. It is now 22 years during which this idea has been taking root among Iranians. Mainly among them, which are the ones that suffer strong discrimination in compliance with Islamic laws. "Now a lot of women are required in Iran for second-class jobs; we are the first civilian force, but unfortunately we are not considered people there." They cannot go to the football fields despite being fervent followers, they occupy separate seats from the men in buses and university classrooms - what does it matter - the beaches of the Caspian Sea to the north and the Persian Gulf to the south have exclusive use areas male and female, just like swimming pools; They are forbidden to put on makeup and go to a disco.
Many of the university students move to study from their rural areas to the big cities, where customs are more relaxed and they enjoy a timid autonomy away from their parents. "Khatamí does not work for women, university students want to go to Europe to live free; but the economic differences are getting worse and worse between the rich and the poor, it is not strong enough," adds Solale.
The hope now lies in getting the conservatives' obstructionist maneuvers to weaken. In that the gradual incorporation of university students into the labor market forces the government to rethink their important role in Iranian society. The few that have succeeded so far must preserve their invisibility at all times. Case of the news presenters or the "models" who illustrate women's magazines. "The first thing is human rights. Mentality, culture, religion ... are always secondary and that is another point on which it is interesting to insist because It is not fulfilled in my country, "insists Solale, who has a son and a daughter, both born in Germany and who, for the moment, will not see the now recesses of the heart of the Silk Road.
But the list of attacks on the foundations of Islam can be stretched almost as much as you like. Always to the detriment of women, "although, fortunately, more and more are trying to violate these prescriptions through their contempt and organization of powerful student demonstrations. Thus, many put on makeup, sit next to the boys at the University and in the tea houses, they have positive expectations even though the regime does not like it and fights these detente through police forces, "he continues.
The protests are not organized by political parties, as they are also censored by the Ayahtollá regime. "The repression generates passivity in a large part of the Iranian population, but the huge uprisings against it are more indications that our women and young people will never tire of conveying their wishes, which are none other than freedom and, paradoxically, all these Forbidden issues have nothing to do with politics. " And it is that two thirds of Iranians are under 25 years of age and the electoral system allows voting from 15 years of age. The doors of hope are open.
Fashion catwalks in Tehran
This circumstance is also being reflected in women's clothing, which wants to reach progressive levels of freedom. The archetypal image of the Iranian woman wrapped in the black chador is being disfigured. Today's Iran no longer prohibits banished fashion shows. Two months ago, Tehran hosted the celebration of a symbolic one, organized by the Foundation for the Mutilated of War. The black on black was transformed into a display of bold colors and textures. The dresses featuring 150 female models were delightfully viewed by half a million women. It seemed like a dream come true. They are the symbol of the great change desired, without losing the reminiscences of the historical and regional costumes. The suggestive and innovative models are a true compendium of the history of fashion in the country, erasing the most recent. In them are elements of the Sassanid, Safavid cultures or the Zand and Kajar dynasties.
They leave the feet exposed and the gauze provide voluptuousness to such beautiful women, so hidden.
Persian culture has always captivated Westerners of yesteryear, with the adventurous Silk Road and the dissemination of the Tales of the Thousand and One Nights - so real when contemplating Iranian buildings - even contemporaries. If you do not look at the informational show in which the auction of the dresses of the late Princess Soraya, second wife of the last Sha of Persia, has become. Now it only remains for these avant-garde proposals to be implanted among the employees of Foreign Affairs agencies, companies and airlines, in a first step, to generalize them by their own weight in a second. The demystification that women are the weaker sex begins to take on the character of retrograde. It is in them that all the gradual openings of the regime are taking shape.
However, the reforms are gradual. This parade required authorization from the Ministries of Interior and Culture, and government control of the press remains unheard of. In fact, the event went virtually unnoticed on newspaper lines. The authorities have not ceased in the provisional closure of the reformists and cybercafés, in cutting off the supply of foreign information that may shake the regime that overthrew Shah Pahlavi. They are censored and clandestinely reopen after a few months. It is the whiting that bites its tail. "But this does not prevent opening ideas from still creeping into the network and getting through, of course, because freedom is not a mentality problem, it is the main right of men. And women." And concludes with a deep sigh.
* Rosalía García Moreno [email protected]