Despite the fervent efforts of their dictators, closed societies are never truly sealed off. The Iron Curtain wasn’t strong enough to keep out blue jeans and The Beatles. And as anyone who has ever visited Iran can attest, 25 years of state-enforced piety has only succeeded in making the West and its myriad of sins all the more alluring.
But if keeping the lid on boxed-in cultures has always been a losing battle, in the wired age it has become downright futile. So illustrates We Are Iran, a new book cataloguing the explosion of self-expression coming from tens of thousand of Persian blogs.
Author Nasrin Alavi’s (a pseudonym) translations provide some fascinating insights about the everyday lives of Iranians, and the sorrow and dissent that bubbles beneath the country’s surface. One blogger describes the consternation when smoke fills her step-aerobics classroom. Dressed in leotards, 20 women debate whether to stay or flee into the street where their outfits are sure to attract trouble. “Either way you’re dead,” is their assessment. Another woman writes of an encounter with the Basij—the vigilante enforcers of the mullahs’ strict morality—who object to her makeup and loose head scarf. “A shameful spectacle?” she writes. “A vision of loveliness, absolutely. But you know what the Basij are like. They see beauty in other bearded men.” “Ibrahim,” a young man, muses on what growing up in a rigid theocracy has taught him. “Religious education is the best way to create agnostics in the modern world.”
Alavi’s thesis that these bloggers are the vanguard of another revolution, Iran’s “antiestablishment heroes,” is a bit of a stretch, given the number of blogs devoted to the mundane—cockroaches in the kitchen, Flollywood films, Céline Dion. But her book is a timely reminder that the belligerent zealotry of Iran’s hard-line government is not the country’s true face. This part of the so-called Axis of Evil is made up of very ordinary people, with dreams and passions that are awfully close to our own. M
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