By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS
Berkeley–I take my title this week from the French cinematographer, Jean-Luc Godardâ€™s Masculine / Feminine produced during the 1960s of which my forenamed title was one of the names of the Frenchmanâ€™s fifteen cinematic episodes / chapters; therefore, the name for this article, for your author feels there is much in common between this past week in Tehran and those heady days in Paris during 1968.
Almost four years ago this week, the young Iranian-American journalist, Azadeh Moaveni, came to Berkeley to promote her, then, recent memoirs Lipstick Jihad about growing up conflicted between her two cultures — American and Iranian. Her experience has much to say to second generation immigrants of many sorts and to their parents as well. This book for all its flaws does help them better understand their own bicultural children, and for us to better understand both their divergent generational peer groups.
After college Azadeh moved to Tehran, her natal land. What she discovered was not the fantasy of the past as held by her parents and the expatriate community, but the oppressive and even decadent lifestyle of her contemporaries in that nation of her infancy. (Iran is a modern and in many instances a personally progressive State on a fast track to Post-Modernism, and not the stern theocracy that is too often portrayed in the West.)
For some reason my mid-May 2005 interview with Moaveni came at a time when Tehran was at the beginning of an exhilarating period of political reform as it is there now. The youth demonstrated in the streets as during this past week against an Islamist regime they considered overly harsh. The young rebels she meet during the middle of this decade can even be considered hedonistic — totally unlike her imaginative homeland created during her American formative years.
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, 60% of their population is under the age of thirty! If anything, this shows they have a promising future. Intimate versus public life is very finely etched in that realm that is ethnically dominated by the Persians. To understand Iran, one has to comprehend the shifting role of her younger women which has been developing within the middle and upper urbanized classes, and it is these classes that have violently been dominate on the streets during this past week. For â€œa woman it is an exciting time!â€
The great rifts between the classes is most disturbing, though, with the lack of international observers recently, it is difficult to perceive whether there was massive vote rigging or not although small scale â€œdirtyâ€ tricks and denial to the polling stations has been proven. Whether there was enough fraud to throw the elections has not been demonstrated. The grave tensions between the urban elites and the rural Subaltern (a word employed to describe a wide range of the lower classes) exists within contemporary Persia.
Although Islam is still central to the state and society, the youth are still referred to as a lost generation. Western videos and other cultural artifacts have been officially banned, but they are openly smuggled, and popularly consumed. What is demographically notable about this upcoming generation is that there are notably more women than men within it. Noteworthy about the old Kingdom of the Shahs was the openness of Platonic relationships between the sexes, but this social custom has been discouraged by the current gender segregation encouraged by the Revolution. The authoress remarked because of this, â€œ…How can the younger generation be so obsessed with sex, but know so little about it?â€ It is thought in the Republic that â€œBeing a couple is petty and bourgeois.â€ Then she repeated a profundity: â€œLife in the shadow of the struggle is merely in the shadows.â€ Many women from conservative families have only become partially â€œliberated,â€ (but in essence there has been little change even for them.) Again, feminine identification is only attainable by the upwardly mobile!
Azadeh confesses that Iran was disappointing for her. â€œAny gathering could degenerate into a protest against the governmentâ€ as is the case today.
An anxiety of violence has been acclimatized by the State. The youthful — even during the period of Bush — still perceived America as a symbol of freedom.
They strove after a Western lifestyle and Modernism and Post-Modernism, too, but their governmental regime is formally anti-American which creates a conundrum between officialdom and the emerging anti-Modernistic society. The young people are almost purely positive towards America only because it is the antithesis of their own regime which they despise. (This could become a potentially dangerous if the Medes became more hegemonic within their region!)
The subtitle to Moaveniâ€™s book is A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran. She was raised in Santa Cruz (California) and studied at the University of California campus in Santa Cruz on the Northern shores of Monterey Bay. Winning a Fulbright, she lived in Cairo for three years studying Arabic as well. Time Magazine then employed her to cover the Middle East for three years. Lately, she has covered the Iraqi insurgency for the Los Angeles Times. Although Azadeh Moaveni now covers Baghdad, she makes her home in Beirut.
I think much can be perceived from Moaveniâ€™s comments on the situation in Iran. The split between those who chose to stay in Iran and those in the Diaspora is most pronounced: Much like the Havana Cubans and the Miami Cubans. So, when the local American domestic reporters talk to Iranian immigrants who have settled in the States, they, of course, are not the ones who have chosen to stay in their native land for many reasons; and, thus, are less likely to have a positive view of the 1979 Revolution. Most of the protestors on the streets of Iran are college students. Until legitimate international election observers can be put on the ground, it is almost impossible to say whether these polls were free and fair. Having been an election observer in a much smaller country myself (El Salvador), I can attest to the logistical nightmare of monitoring deeply contested polls.