Iran’s hardliners are losing the youth

Videos of children dancing to a sexy pop song trigger a serious political scandal in Iran and reveal the opposing world views of rulers and population. Details by Iman Aslani

By Iman Aslani

"It's time to kiss your lips, it's time to sexy dance": USA-based Iranian pop singer Sasy is currently making waves in Iranian elementary schools with his song "Gentleman". Clearly having a great time, headscarf-wearing girls and boys in school uniforms jump and shriek to the fast rhythms. Sometimes there are even teachers present. They co-ordinate the kids and then proceed to film the whole thing using their mobile phones.

Yet they must surely all be aware that they are crossing a major red line – after all dancing and public celebrations have been forbidden in Iran for 40 years.

It is not clear whether this trend constitutes an organised campaign, or whether it is merely coincidence that several schools have been using the song to entertain their pupils. The videos have been making the rounds on the Internet since 5 May and have triggered an avalanche of comments, both for and against. While caricatures have already been published on social networks, totally unrelated individuals have also begun recording and posting their own dances to the song.

Politicians also have their say

Ali Motahari, vice-president of the Iranian parliament, known for his misogynistic remarks and whose father was one of the architects of the Islamic Republic, condemned dancing in schools and demanded the dismissal of "irresponsible" teachers and a statement from the Minister of Education. Parliamentarians also condemned the "un-Islamic" behaviour.

Education Minister Mohammad Bathai has since set up a three-member information committee. "To protect the children from such harmful influences, common prayers should be held in the schools. Close links to the Koran and a way of life as preached by the imams should mean children grow up optimally in an Iranian-Islamic culture," Bathai is quoted by Tasnim, a news agency close to the Revolutionary Guard.

The new regulations introduced by the Ministry of Education re-inforce the old ones: that girls and women are not allowed to sing solo, that any participation of male teachers in the leisure activities of girls' schools is forbidden, and that in all schools exclusively "age-appropriate" songs may be played that refer to "the cultural and historical values and customs of Iran".

This is a direct reference to Islam – before the Islamic Revolution of 1979 dancing and dance music were not forbidden in Iran.

Many red lines at once

The dancing children and teenagers have crossed several red lines at once. Critics complain that the content of the song is neither age-appropriate nor suitable for schoolchildren. Sasy's song is about love, eroticism and the body beautiful – all taboos in the Islamic Republic. That's why the singer emigrated a few years ago and has been living in American exile ever since.

From the point of view of the conservative Shia clergy, a song may not be "sexually arousing". Thanks to this freely interpretable formulation, most love songs and dance pieces can be forbidden.

Another red line is women singing, which is not tolerated by Iranʹs conservatives at all. Time and again concerts that have already been approved and sold out are cancelled minutes before they are due to begin, either because female musicians or backing singers are due to appear on stage. A solo female singer performing for men is taboo anyway. And some of the lyrics in Sasyʹs song are sung by a woman.

What has gone wrong?

To conclude: young people should not have role models like pop singer Sasy. Iranʹs hardliners want to see praying children reciting the Koran, who are willing subsequently to die a "martyr's death" – without hesitation – for the ideology of their parents.

Mamak Khadem & ensemble perform during the New Sounds of Iran Festivals at the Cologne Philharmonic in 2013 (photo: DW/Shirin Kasraeian)
Solo-Gesänge von Frauen als rotes Tuch für die Mullahs: Iranische Sängerinnen, wie hier im Bild Mamak Khadem, dürfen in der Islamischen Republik keine öffentlichen Konzerte geben, da bis heute ein Verbot für Solo-Gesänge von Frauen gilt, weshalb viele Musikerinnen gezwungen sind, ins Exil zu gehen.

But the parents of the dancing children are the products of a revolutionary Islamic epoch. They have felt the darkest chapters of Iran's recent history in body and soul: the beginnings of the Islamisation of public life, the bloody persecution of opposition members, the Iraq-Iran War (1980-1988), the sanctions, international isolation, and want. Is this why they are giving their children the freedom to enjoy life? Or has something gone wrong with the "complete Islamisation" of Iranian society, that much vaunted aim of the Islamic revolutionaries post-1979?

"Lost values"

The dancing children are proof that the "values of the revolution" have been lost, a critic complains. "You can't destroy Israel with happy children," tweets another. Still another Twitter user posts a film showing little children singing religious laments and vigorously beating their own chests. This scene, typical of religious celebrations in Iran, is highly praised by the owner of the account.

The dancing children reveal the great discrepancy between two world views predominant in Iran at the moment: on the one hand, the anti-Western and metaphysical views propagated by the regime; on the other, the secular views – based on simple pleasures – of the majority of the population.

And what does the "evildoer" himself, Sasy, do? He writes the following to the vice president of the Iranian parliament: "Instead of focussing on halting the depreciation of the rial and curbing inflation, you should address the fallout from my song!"

Then he invites Motahari to listen to the song himself. Sasy is sure that he too will be unable to resist dancing to it.

Iman Aslani

© Iran Journal 2019