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Iran's War On Fun

Iranian police display alcohol after breaking up illicit parties and making arrests in Tehran in October 2010
Iranian police display alcohol after breaking up illicit parties and making arrests in Tehran in October 2010
By Golnaz Esfandiari
A woman in the Iranian city of Mashhad has become the latest victim of Iran's longest-standing and most unconventional war -- the war against fun.
 
The young woman, whose name and age has not been disclosed, jumped to her death over the weekend of September 24-25 from the sixth floor of a building. The apparent reason? -- escape from a raid being conducted by security forces against a mixed-gender party she was attending. Fun mixed with fear of arrest and charges proved to be a deadly cocktail.
 
Hadi Ghaemi from the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran believes Iranian authorities are to blame for her death. "These raids by security forces and police to people's homes are clear human rights violations and attacks into people's private lives," he says.
 
Sadly, the Mashhad woman's fate is not unique.
 
Precise figures are unavailable, but Ghaemi says there have been numerous cases of young people who have been killed while trying to escape police forces at party raids.
 
Lashed For Mingling
 
There's also been scores of Iranians who have been detained, fined, and lashed because of their appearance, for attending parties, for mingling with members of the opposite sex, for drinking alcohol, for participating in water-gun fights, or other activities that are being taken for granted in many other countries.
 
 
It is part of the war against fun being waged by the authorities since the establishment of the Islamic republic some 32 years ago. Religion is most often cited as the main reason for the repressive measures. Some observers, however, say the crackdown has more to do with the authoritarian nature of the clerical establishment.
 
Asef Bayat, a professor of sociology and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Illinois, says fun allows individuals to break free from the everyday discipline of life and from structures of power.
 
Having fun, Bayat says, offers temporary liberation and an outlet for individuality and spontaneity -- and this is something that authoritarian regimes don't like. "They feel that fun somewhat diminishes individuals' discipline and obligations to the big cause; the cause that, by and large, is defined by the regime," he says.
 
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic, made clear that in his eyes fun was not compatible with Islam.
 
"There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam," Khomeini, who never laughed or smiled in public, was once quoted as saying. "There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious."
 
Authorities have since worked hard to banish laughter, playfulness, or other such behavior from public life through warnings, but also through punishments.
 
Laughter has been described as disrespectful to the values of the revolution and the blood of the martyrs. In its place, somber moods, mourning, and sadness have become the norm at public appearances and official events.
 
As Iranian journalist Hossein Kermani explains, state indoctrination against fun starts early in Iran. "We've been told since our childhood, at school, that laughter is bad. We were told it's vulgar and frivolous to laugh. One has to be serious. We were told it has to do with religion," he says.
 
In September, when young people in Tehran and several other cities engaged in public water fights, they were accused of violating Islamic principles. On social media, participants admitted only to seeking "a bit of fun."
 
One 18-year-old Iranian, who was jailed last year and fined for having a party where boys and girls were mingling together and dancing, told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity that having fun in Iran is often accompanied by a feeling of fear.
 
"I spent one night in jail for trying to have a good time," he said. "I didn't kill anybody or steal anything. I had just invited friends over."
 
While in the early years of the revolution those caught drinking or simply enjoying themselves at parties could expect to be lashed, nowadays money can solve the issue. People either pay a fine or bribe officials.
 
"Things have changed," explained one man who was lashed in the 1980s after being arrested at a party. "If you drink alcohol, for example, you pay money and everything is fine."
 
Going Underground
 
As a result of the battle being waged the past three decades, fun has turned into an underground and secretive action. Parties are held in soundproofed homes, or after bribing the police. Those who choose to defy the official ban on alcohol drink at home. There they might listen to banned music and watch banned movies. And there are signs that, despite the obstacles, many young Iranians pay more attention to their physical appearance, fashion, and latest music hits, than values preached by the establishment.
 
Fun has created a gap between the establishment and masses of people who through the act of fun have --intentionally or unintentionally-- become dissidents.
 
"Since in Iran everything that is fun is banned and seen negatively, young people, for example my friends and I, quickly realize that whatever they do to have fun, whether they want or not, is an act that goes against the official view."
 
Professor Bayat says whether having fun is an act of defiance or not doesn't really matter because in both cases it contradicts the ethics of regimes such as the one in Iran.
 
"In fact these regimes often find fun ethics as a competition that can take away people from their support base," says Bayat. "So, in that way it of course diminishes their power."
 
Roya Boroumand, executive director at the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation that documents human rights abuses in Iran, believes Iran is waging a war it cannot win.
 
She says instead of turning into docile citizens who follow the principles dictated by the establishment, Iran's youth have become more eager to break the rules. "Whatever was banned and was supposed not to happen is happening. It demonstrates that Iran's policies have [failed]," Boroumand said.
 
In one of the latest warnings against potential fun, hard-line Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi said last week that students should spend less time surfing the Internet.
 
"If a young student surfs the Internet until late in the night and is not looking for 'scientific subjects,' or if he watches movies and forgets his morning prayers, he cannot become a pious man," the cleric was quoted as saying.
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by: Locksmith luke from: Canada
October 02, 2011 14:02
"banishing laughter, playfulness and all-around positiveness grows hate, negativeness and harbours desperation! For we can pay our respects to God (Allah, Mohommad, Jesus Christ) and laugh within the same breath! Love comes from the heart, so does laughter! We must learn respect for eachother, and for ourselves to further the future of mankind!! God Bless you all!!
In Response

by: yippee kayay from: USA
October 02, 2011 20:39
Iran's misguided repression is equal parts religion and corrupt tyrannical oligarchy no different from Zimbabwe or North Korea. The reason Islam is so susceptible to devolution into tyranny is the falseness of it's portrayal of God. The simple fact is that either Islam is right or Judeo-Christianity is right about who God is. He is either the absolutely good and loving and compassionate Creator of the Bible, or the vengeful, chauvinistic, aloof and hate-filled caricature described by Islam. Both can't be right and it's the height of relativistic nonsense to pretend that they can be. It is a fundamental principle of all rational thought that A cannot simultaneously equal non-A. Until the West gives up it's own secularist delusions and rationally admits the truth of matters, it will continually be susceptible to manipulation by the Moslem extremist establishment.
In Response

by: Rob from: Nicaragua
October 04, 2011 00:15
One should look within before attacking others. The "battle" between ideas of existence, good, bad, morals, and ethics is certainly more complex than a war between Islam and US Christian Nationalism. We humans lived for millions of years and were self-sufficient, before these two systems of thought were even contemplated.

Let's just learn to live a responsible life. That means not killing people due to their beliefs or appearance, not destroying our living environment, allowing persons to express themselves freely, helping our neighbors, abolishing warfare ("Thou Shall not Kill"). If all of us would live by our professed principles, things would go much better.
In Response

by: Kiumars from: Iran
October 02, 2011 20:51
Who is this article for?
If it is for the Iranians inside Iran then they must know what the situation is like and judging by their vast support for the government they either want this situation or the situation is not really as bad as the voice of America (i.e. Satan!) says!
Surely you Satans can do better than this!
In Response

by: Eric from: Canada
October 04, 2011 18:35
Or..... it's because people fear for their lives, if they do NOT support the government of Iran, but... you choose... You know, like the people who were shot at for claiming the election was a fraud.........

by: Maryam from: Tehran
October 02, 2011 17:54
70 million Iranians are victims of the war on fun!

by: Eric from: Canada
October 02, 2011 18:14
All I have to say is, "WOOOOOOOOWWWWWW!!!" This Iranian upper power is completely and profoudly rediculous in any and every way possible. You clerical figures will have to answer to the people at some point. When they finally become bored of your banterings.... Does that put the fear of 'GOD' in you?? Like you do, the innocent citizens of Iran.....

by: Sey from: World
October 02, 2011 18:46
"Whatever was banned and was supposed not to happen is happening. It demonstrates that Iran's policies have [failed],"

No, it just demonstrates that people is very, very stupid. For example, drugs are prohibited in the majority of countries in the world and people is not supposed to take them because they are bad for them, yet people take them and experiment with them with even more satisfaction.

It's simply the stupidity of the young mind "Oh so this is prohibited and bad for me. Well, I'm going to make twice as hard because I'm against the system."

The issue of Iran's youth is the same in every country in the world, young people wants fun, young people wants to forget their problems, young people drinks, drugs, goes to crazy parties, has unprotected sex...the only difference here is that they do this under the "watchful eye" of some crazy Islamist government who seeks to ban it...

Young people is stupid and impulsive, they like to pretend they are against the system and fight against the system...and they might be in Iran, but not everywhere else in the world. If the Iranian regime collapses, then they will be able to party hard and have a good time....but they'll be in the same situation with problems like poverty, lacking a decent job or a job at all, and facing the harsh reality that this world is, like the youth everywhere else has to deal with.

So good luck Iranian youngsters with your parties, you'll be forced to face reality one day and realize the world is not a party. And not even Allah will save you from it.





In Response

by: John from: Canada
October 03, 2011 23:48
I totally agree with your comment and I think it is spot on when it comes to describing reality and how naive the youth of the world are today. Thank you.

by: Kaveh from: Middle East
October 02, 2011 19:42
This article is clearly written by and for an LA quasi-Iranian or as they like to call themselves “Peeersiian” audience and naive Western, specifically southern US audience. Has this author ever been in Iran? In Tehran’s Park Mellat or Jamshidiya? No fun in Islam? What an Islamophibic statement, a well known hadith of Prophet Muhammad (AS) says “Smiling is charity.” Imam Khomeini never smiled? What a primitive lie, just Google his pictures and you will find at least a dozen where he smiles. Here is a link to one - http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_pictures/5034780.stm

HR managers at RFERL should hire professional journalists and not tabloid minded activists of the Iranian opposition. It really diminishes RFERL’s credibility. At least demand your “reporter” to do basic research, like Google Khomeini’s picture smiling.
In Response

by: Kent from: UK
October 03, 2011 07:14

This really does sound like tabloid news! I guess the economic crisis hit RFERL also, cannot afford to hire sophisticated journalists.

by: Ahmad
October 02, 2011 19:46
Khomeini gave his first speech at Beheshte Zahra which is a cemetery near Tehran. When he was asked how he feels about returning to his homeland after years of exile, he said 'nothing'!!! I will never forget it.

by: Jack from: US
October 03, 2011 00:48
Koran forbids alcohol. Koran does not forbid opium and other drugs. Which is why you won't see alcoholics in Afghanistan, but half of Afghanis are drug addicts.
In Response

by: Siamak
October 16, 2011 01:45
This is also why Iran has the world's highest drug addiction rate. Heroin and crack have ravaged the society, but alcoholism is almost nonexistent. In my opinion, it's choosing the worse of two evils.

by: Anonymous
October 03, 2011 01:39
Keep having fun you brave young Iranians!

by: Bill from: Vancouver
October 03, 2011 03:27
You can Demonize Iran all you want. Hoping for war of Offense against Iran not Defense

But Iranian president is the only one telling the truth about 9/11 being inside job. If god came to earth today, would he find more sins and deaths
for US, or for Iran.

Think about that one

by: Adam from: World
October 03, 2011 07:11

Well, in the US also police raids parties where people are having fun. A party organized by the California University of Pennsylvania was raided just a few days ago - http://www.southpointetoday.com/or/story11/10-01-2011-Cal-U--fraternity-suspended

I assume US is just like Iran then. Plus, why is this article news anyway?
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