Totalitarian Iran

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on April 25, 2010


The human rights situation in Iran continues to appall, as is evident by the fact that Iranian homosexuals are no longer safe in the country:

Homosexuality is punishable by death in Iran, and human rights groups estimate some 4,000 gays have been executed since the Islamic revolution in 1979.

The atmosphere has only gotten more tense since the arrival in power five years ago of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who famously proclaimed in a 2007 speech at Columbia University that there are no homosexuals in his country. An official memo sent to government departments last year called on employees to either marry or resign – a step seen as aimed at seeking to weed out homosexuals.

As a consequence of the situation, Iranian homosexuals are going to Turkey–where, of course, the atmosphere is only marginally better for them. To the extent that Iranian homosexuals feel they have to flee Iran–or even feel that they have to lie low and take themselves out of the ebb and flow of daily events–the persecution of homosexuals only serves to augment the effects of the massive brain drain that is harming Iran in so many ways. Once again, we see how the country’s leaders are determined to undermine and destroy it. And they have the nerve to present themselves as patriots.

Of course, it is not enough to persecute homosexuals in Iran. The regime also believes that it needs to persecute rock music. One hopes that this form of repression–along with the others–fails completely, and there is some reason to believe that it might:

The great Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski used to say that one of the most crushing flaws of communism was its totalizing vision. It had opinions about everything — art and science and what you ought to be thinking. The same holds true for a theocracy like Iran, where the state weighs in on how people dress, what they do with their pets — Persian cats, for example, can’t be taken outside — and what culture they’re allowed to enjoy, a bullying well documented in Azar Nafisi’s superb best-seller Reading Lolita in Tehran and in Jafar Panahi’s wonderful movie Offside, about teenage girls who disguise themselves as boys to attend soccer matches because women aren’t allowed to attend. It’s worth noting, by the way, that Panahi — the key Iranian filmmaker of the past decade — is now in prison for protesting last summer’s election.

Now, you can understand why the mullahs hate rock music, which doesn’t merely possess an unruly energy, but enters people’s heads as the siren song of the West. They’re well aware that rock ‘n’ roll became one big way that Soviet and Eastern European dissidents showed their rejection of communism. It was no mere coincidence, after all, that Vaclav Havel, the king of Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution, was a huge fan of The Velvet Underground. That said, the Iranian authorities are stuck with the same paradox that boomeranged on the communists: When you crack down on rock music, you only make it a more powerful and alluring metaphor for freedom.

Insh’allah. Of course, even if liberalization comes soon to Iran–and there really is no sign of that happening any time soon–an entire generation will have been destroyed by the depredations of the Islamic regime. No country should be plundered by its leadership the way that Iran has been, and as a consequence of that plundering, it will take a very long time for Iran to overcome its collective national trauma.

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