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25 years after the Islamic Revolution: Anger and despair among Iran's youth

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  • Tarek Fatah
    Monday February 9, 2004 Anger grows among children of Iran s 25-year-old revolution By Dan De Luce in Tehran The Guardian
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 9, 2004
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      Monday February 9, 2004

      Anger grows among children of Iran's 25-year-old revolution

      By Dan De Luce in Tehran
      The Guardian
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1143887,00.html

      They slice through traffic on their motorbikes, racing each other at
      breakneck speed while holding their mobile phones. They listen to
      heavy metal, read G√ľnter Grass and admire Tom Cruise. They don't go
      to the mosque the way their parents did, and they have given up on
      politics.

      A third of Iran's 65 million people are aged between 15 and 30,
      struggling to find jobs, queuing for visas, and frustrated with the
      theocracy they have inherited.

      As Iran this week marks the 25th anniversary of the revolution that
      toppled a monarchy and delivered clerical rule, members of
      the "third generation" won't be celebrating an event that they don't
      even remember.

      "It was a futile revolution," says Sohrab, who is as young as the
      Islamic Republic. "It brought nothing but harm for the people."

      He speaks amid the roar of traffic and choking pollution in the
      working-class district of Shoosh in south Tehran, a place where the
      revolution enjoyed enthusiastic support in 1979.

      Now Sohrab and his friends blame the clergy for Iran's
      troubles. "You cannot accuse anyone else," he says. "The revolution
      was in their hands, they made it happen. They were responsible. They
      started with a slogan of Islam, but they betrayed Islam."

      He complains about the social restrictions that make having a
      girlfriend a clandestine project; the risks of speaking out publicly
      against the theocracy; the inflation that eats away at his wages;
      corruption; and his country's pariah status. "Ask me what doesn't
      bother me," he says.

      He worries about friends who have turned to drugs. More than a
      million young Iranians are addicts, and hundreds of thousands of
      young men are in jail for drug offences.

      With the clergy so deeply identified with politics, young people are
      turning away from religion, he says. "After all this, do you expect
      us to go to mosque and listen to them?"

      Like his peers, he wears his hair long and slicked back with gel. He
      has a "hidden friendship" with a girl; "people have learned to do
      everything they want in society behind closed doors". He adds: "We
      are human beings. It's natural."

      Although he failed to secure a coveted place at university, he says
      he is lucky, because he works for his father's small transport
      business. His friends are scraping by and desperately seeking decent
      jobs.

      Hoping for real change, Sohrab, along with millions of other young
      Iranians, voted for reformists four years ago in parliamentary
      elections. But the reformist majority was overruled in a system that
      gives final authority to appointed ideologues.

      "They know how to fool us" he says. "I had a lot of enthusiasm at
      the time. But I won't vote again. Even if my father becomes a
      candidate, I won't vote."

      At Tehran University, where student unrest in the 70s helped force
      the Shah from power, Islamic militancy lost its appeal long ago.

      "The ideas of that time are now outdated," says Hooshang, an
      electrical engineering student. "Politically, we can't speak out. If
      we speak freely, they'll compile a file on us."

      Some students who have dared to speak out have been imprisoned or
      summoned to court. One of them, Ahmad Batebi, appeared in a dramatic
      photograph on the cover of the Economist in 1999, holding up the
      bloodied T-shirt of a classmate beaten by vigilantes. Batebi was
      convicted of endangering national security and remains behind bars.

      Apart from student leaders and a few young journalists, most
      Iranians are tuning out of politics. They are focusing on finding a
      job or an emigration visa, or the next heroin fix.

      Unable to contain the vast youth population, the Iranian
      establishment has been forced to grant a limited degree of social
      freedom, allowing couples to hold hands on the street, spicing up
      programming on state television and permitting concerts and billiard
      halls.

      Journalists say the leadership hopes to follow China's example,
      easing social and economic restrictions while holding on firmly to
      power.

      Among young couples sharing ice cream at a shopping centre, there is
      no gratitude for the new social allowances.

      "It's not a matter of tolerance. They were forced to act because
      society was about to explode," says Sadjad, 19, a university
      student.

      "We are not the youth of 10 years ago and we have more access to the
      rest of the world, so they have to give us more freedom."

      His girlfriend Mara says the concessions are meaningless. "Freedom
      is not only about going with your friend hand-in-hand. It's being
      able to speak freely, even in front of a policeman."

      After Iraq invaded Iran in 1980, the founder of the Islamic
      republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, called on families to produce
      children for the defence of Islam and the revolution.

      But instead of being disciples of the cause, the generation now
      coming of age poses a daunting challenge to the survival of his
      theocracy.
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