June 12th, 2014
If you’ve been following the news from Iran recently, you must have heard the one about the group of six young women and men who posted a clip of themselves happily dancing to Pharrell Williams’ hit song “Happy!” As quickly as their video had gone viral, Iran’s morality police had them tracked down, arrested and forced them to repent on state-run television for their unorthodox behavior. I’d happened upon their dance video via a recently discovered Facebook page called “Humans of Tehran” inspired by the original “Humans of New York,” which actually began with Brandon Stanton’s voyage to Iran and a series of photos he took of the people he had met and the sites he had visited in the country. Check this link for the priceless photos he captured.
Pharrell’s song “Happy” has been adopted by people around the world. If you check on Youtube you’ll find tributes to “Happy” from Senegal, Dubai, India, France, Jamaica, Tunisia, Japan, Morocco, Russia, Belgium, Philippines, and many more. I was, however, surprised to see a video paying tribute to Pharrell’s hit song from Iran, given the strict restrictions the government has placed on western music. We have all heard of underground bands (see film “No Ones Heard of Persian Cats”) from visitor to Iran witnessing concerts and performances by musicians behind the closed doors of houses and apartments, in basements and rooftops, hilltops, abandoned barns, and even inside their cars. Iranians are blasting pop music on their sound systems and dancing to their hearts desire. However, to tape a video and post it on a public venue like Youtube for all to see, took some unbelievable courage and perhaps naïveté. The dancers in the video must have thought they were immune to scrutiny or arrest since they were dancing to a sweet and infectious song with global appeal. There is even a video of people dancing to “Happy” in Yemen (a very strict Islamic country). The “Happy” video that got the young people in trouble shows the young women without the hijab and dancing with young men on the rooftop and inside the confines of a small living room. The arrest of these young people has drawn the ire of social media in and outside the U.S. and even Pharrell Williams himself has spoken up and condemned their arrest. In an interview, Williams is quoted as saying: “It is beyond sad that these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness.” Yet even though the authorities clamped down on the young people whose video had been found offensive, another one from Iran has been posted on YouTube as well as one performed by puppets dancing to the Happy on the rooftop as a tribute to the dancers who were arrested.
And then I stumbled upon a video of a couple dancing the tango, an intimate and sensual dance, not in the privacy of their home but right outside a mosque. Looks like no matter how much the morality police try to suppress people, happiness through music and dance has a way of rising to the top and not just roof tops.
Faces of People of Iran
Another site I learned about is the Facebook page is the “Humans of Tehran,” on the Humans of New York page; an enormously successful site with followers all over the world. The images captured on the Humans of Tehran page speak volumes of a country that so few of us living here in the U.S. know much of except what is reported on mainstream news media. What we don’t see are the faces of the children, the teens, college students, couples in love, fathers playing in the snow with their children, the elderly resting on a park bench, street vendors and artisans, images of cities, living rooms, beauty salons, restaurants and cafes, monuments, cityscapes and landscapes, nature and the urban life. Humans of Tehran puts the human face on the enemy and we see that the people are just like us, going to work, to school, cooking, cleaning, driving, skateboarding, hiking, lounging, just existing.
Credit: Humans of Tehran FB (Hilltop view of Tehran)
Credit: Humans of Tehran FB (Beauty Salon, where women can be free of the hijab, at least temporarily.)
Credit: Brandon Stanton (Humans of Tehran)
Credit: Brandon Stanton (Humans of Tehran)
Credit: Humans of Tehran FB (Hiking in the hills outside of Tehran is a very popular outdoor activity amongst Iranians of all ages.)
Credit: Brandon Stanton (Humans of Iran – Firefighters at Firehouse 64, Tehran)
For a look at current state of fashion in Iran, click here: http://ajammc.com/2014/03/11/a-fashionable-revolution/
Credit: Humans of Tehran FB (School children)
Credit: Brandon Stanton (Humans of Iran – Tehran Street Scene)
Credit: Humans of Tehran (The Metro in Tehran; the plans for the metro were drawn during the former Shah’s regime and implemented thereafter.)
Stealthy Freedom: Women Reclaiming Their Freedom
Recently, a brave new page popped up on my Facebook feed called “My Stealthy Freedom.” created by Masih Alinejad, an Iranian female journalist living in London. On this site Iranian women of all ages from different corners of Iran have their photos taken in public places without their hijab. By ridding themselves of their scarves, at least temporarily, they are expressing their right to be free to choose, free to wear or not to wear the hijab. This is a very bold move on the part of these women. In one photo (seen below), a young woman has tossed her scarf into the air as she stands in the middle of a neighborhood street with her arms stretched up to the sky and her long brown hair exposed for the world to see. A smile rests on her face as she looks up into the heavens.
Credit: Stealthy Freedom FB
In a video, another young woman is behind the wheel of her car driving through the city streets with her light brown hair exposed. No hijab, nothing. Women are having their photos taken without the hijab and posting it on this site. Each has something to say. Some express their opinion through poetry, veiled in metaphors and some say it as it is. “I want the freedom to choose. It is my human right.”
Unfortunately, Masih Alinejad, the creator of the Facebook page “My Stealthy Freedom” has been the target of ugly smear campaigns by Iran’s state-run media in order to discredit her. I won’t dignify what was said about Alinejad in this post, but I will share with you her response: “I’ve thought long and hard about how to respond. As a matter of principle, I’m going to sue for damages and file a formal complaint against the state television.” Definitely nothing stealthy about her; her statement is both bold and clear.
To the outside, Iran may appear one dimensional, but that is far from the truth. With its rich history dating back to nearly 3000 years, Iran is a land of dichotomy. A blog worth reading, though a couple of years old, explains this dichotomy in detail.
In spite of the dress code and civil rights restrictions concerning women, more women are engaging in public life through participating in elections, political campaigns and demonstrations. More women graduating from universities in Iran than men; in fact, women comprise 65% of all university students and represent an increasingly high percentage of the workforce in Iran. Women are competing for the same jobs as men, so much so that under Iran’s former President Ahmadinejad’s tenure, a law was to be passed to prohibit women from entering into specific degree programs at universities so as to not take seats away from the men. It is an interesting twist to affirmative action; Iranian style.
Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI