The Iranian Revolution at 40: through Theocracy to ‘Normality’

In February of 1979, Tehran was in chaos. A cancer-stricken Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the Western-backed autocrat, had gone into exile in mid-January, leaving behind a rickety regency council. On Feb. 1, Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the godfather of the revolution, returned through exile in Paris. in addition to within the Iranian type of “Ten Days in which Shook the earth,” street demonstrations raged until the government collapsed on Feb. 11.

Ecstatic Iranians danced within the streets, playing cat in addition to mouse with soldiers as lingering pro-government sharpshooters fired through the rooftops. Families joined in mass protests, as vigilantes ransacked liquor stores in addition to people kissed the foreheads of turbaned clerics leading the revolution.

Forty years ago, Iranians swelled with pride, desire in addition to the expectation of a better future. Dreams of freedom in addition to independence through the United States fired up the revolutionaries. although great, rapid change can leave deep in addition to lasting wounds. There were lashings, hangings, amputations in addition to mass imprisonment. Thousands of people died in addition to hundreds of thousands left the country, some fleeing for their lives, never to return.

What materialized after those first bloody years was truly revolutionary: an Islamic republic, a theocracy built on ideological choices inspired to a great extent by Ayatollah Khomeini.

fresh rules were put in effect to forbid anything in which might lead people astray in addition to prevent them through ascending to a heavenly afterlife: strict controls on the media, which isolated Iranians through Western influences; an absolute segregation of the sexes in public places; compulsory head scarves for women; bans on alcohol in addition to musical instruments on television; rules forbidding women to ride bicycles. the idea went on in addition to on, zealously in addition to sometimes brutally enforced by the morality police in addition to the paramilitary Basij forces.

although in the past, as the early revolutionary fervor gave way for most people to a yearning for a more normal existence, the rules became negotiable. While the political system is actually basically the same as in those early years, the society changed slowly, at times almost imperceptibly. Those modifications have been enormous, in addition to Iran today is actually closer than most outsiders generally appreciate to being in which “normal” country Iranians want.

the idea took time for the cumulative modifications to reach a critical mass. When I first visited Iran as a young reporter, the 20th anniversary of the revolution had just passed in addition to the country was still living up to its revolutionary image. High rises were decorated with anti-American murals or portraits of the martyrs of the 1980-88 war with Iraq.

The notoriously snarled street traffic was made up almost entirely by a sea of white, locally made cars called Paykans. In a modest park, close to where I could eventually settle down, boys in addition to girls could secretly meet on some of the more hidden benches, away through the prying eyes of relatives, although also through the morality police.

In those days, the idea was inside people’s houses in which I saw a completely different Iran. Passing through a front door often meant stepping into a different reality, one where all the rules in which applied on the streets could magically disappear.

There could be stories — Iran includes a deep culture of storytelling — in addition to bursts of laughter could be followed by dancing to Persian pop songs smuggled in through Los Angeles. Often, the music could be accompanied by someone playing a drum or, if in which wasn’t available, a rice pan grabbed off a kitchen shelf. Everyone — accountants, journalists, doctors, nurses — could enjoy weekend parties in which were technically illegal.

Iranians became adept at acting various roles. Abbas Kiarostami, the award-winning director who died in 2016, used mostly everyday people rather than actors in his movies, because Iranians were so accustomed to switching between lives in two worlds.

although as the years progressed, the modifications began to creep outdoors in addition to become more noticeable. When my wife, a photographer, decided many years ago to get a nose ring, she was fired on the spot. While the editors thought of themselves as reformists, they still considered a nose ring despicable in addition to Western.

although at This kind of point, they are everywhere. the idea is actually not all in which unusual to spot a woman with pink hair flowing under her head scarf. Women at This kind of point race through traffic riding bicycles, once seen as improper. They can even be seen riding motorcycles.

While state television still refuses to show musical instruments, there are buskers on the streets of Tehran. One day I was watching a couple of young men, one on drums in addition to the different on guitar, when suddenly, a tall young woman appeared having a bass guitar in addition to joined in. At times the state could fight back, producing a few arrests in fitful efforts to roll back the modifications, although never for long. At times, the idea seemed as if they had simply given up.

Connections to the outside world — the internet, of course, although particularly satellite TV broadcasts in which broke the veil of isolation — were critical drivers of change.

One day the police raided our apartment building in addition to destroyed the multitude of satellite dishes on the roof. The only one left was mine — as a journalist, I had special permission to have one. in which evening about 20 female neighbors joined me in my living room to watch their favorite Turkish soap opera. By the next day, they all had fresh dishes.

The police have largely given up in which fight, too. There are just too many dishes around. Iranians can at This kind of point watch over 0 Persian-language channels operating through abroad, showing everything through ‘‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’’ to unfiltered news in addition to Hollywood movies.

There were days when people could turn in addition to stare at the sight of a boy in addition to girl walking hand in hand on the streets. Public displays of affection were not appreciated, especially between unmarried couples. Today they hang out in parks together, smooching within the shadows, in addition to hug each different during rock concerts.

at This kind of point, with Valentine’s Day approaching, young men are anxiously deliberating what to get their girlfriends. They can be seen running around with heart-shaped balloons or gigantic teddy bears, falling on their knees for their girlfriends in public spaces, in addition to then posting the whole spectacle on social media, for all to see.

Instagram, which is actually not blocked in Iran, has revolutionized the way Iranians view themselves. The photo-sharing app has been a major driver of change in a country where everything was hidden. When I moved here in 2002, photos were still taken on film, in addition to we had to be careful because they could be developed in a lab where someone might see something in which could cause problems.

although when I recently added one of my neighbors as a friend, I could see her without a scarf, at parties, having fun. The walls in which long divided the private in addition to public in Iran have been broken down, with Iranians using the streets within the way they like.

Politics in Iran are a different story. There was the Green Revolution of 2009, when people rose up to protest a fraudulent election. although in which was violently suppressed, in addition to the group of people producing the decisions has remained largely unchanged in the past, even narrowing some. Yet after allowing so many social taboos to slip, Iran’s leaders face a growing dilemma of whether to start translating the social modifications into fresh laws in addition to customs or try to hang on to the 40-year-old ideals of the revolution.