Monday, 2 September 2013

What Is Progress? Or Even Regression ....

Iran wasn't always a backwater that persecuted its women and made them cover up.

After all, they are the nation that gave us Aladdin (of Arabian Nights) and the computer game Prince of Persia is based on that very nation.

Sure, they were different to most Arabs, in that they were Shi'ite Muslims, as opposed to Sunnis. And they also had another religion called Baha'i (lesser known, and apparently illegitimised in Iran -- but that is a different story altogether).

For the most part, the Iranians were very Westernised, having a ruler who had been educated in a Swiss boarding school and installed by the Americans (yes, the Yanks had to have their finger in that, too) and British.

The pictures below show young Iranians going about their daily life; perhaps some a throwback from the hippies of the 60s, but for the most part, a reflection of their times and their ruler the Shah, who was eventually deposed during the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Iranians having a picnic in the 1970s

The students from Sharif University could easily be mistaken for students from Britain or America. Iran was a developing nation; which some say was on par with South Korea and Singapore.

Students at Sharif University, Teheran in the 1970s

But things took a turn for the worse. When the Shah (Mohammed Reza Pahlavi) was deposed, the mass support went behind a religious leader called Ayatollah Khomeini.

Voters at the June 2013 elections

Today, the women of Iran look very different to those in the 1970s.

Some say it's progression, others say regression.

I think it's a cycle that afflicts nations that have corrupt rulers. The Shah came from a dynasty of rulers, his father was the Shah too before he was replaced by his son under the watchful eye of the Americans.

The new Shah was no better: he didn't understand the hearts and minds of his citizens. His father forbade traditional Islamic clothing, separation of the sexes and veiling of women in Iran.

That was not a good move for a nation that was prominently religious in nature. In fact, it is as equally invasive and oppressive as forcing women to veil or wear a burkha.

When the revolution came, the Shah was ousted by about 3 million Iranians who took to the streets. This was a rejection of poverty (not everyone in Iran was fabulously wealthy), of corruption, and of extravagance.

If you're wondering what extravagance is, the Shah's third wife (he divorced the first two because he had no male heirs) had a Yves St Laurent gown and Noor-ul-Ain Diamond tiara for her wedding.

I suppose that pales in comparison to what UMNO and their minions do to Malaysia by plundering its coffers, but then again, we are peace-loving Malaysians and not as hot-headed as the Iranians.

Shah Reza Pahlavi also grew increasingly brutal and autocratic when he realised that there was discontent among the Iranians. Freedom of expression was stifled.

The Iranians, on their part, had had enough of corruption and what they deemed as Western afflictions. They wanted someone noble and pious, someone who wouldn't rob them of their wealth or blindly do the bidding of the Americans.

Ayatollah Khomeini was their answer.

But like Afghanistan and their Taliban, when there is no "separation of church and state" or perhaps separation of religion and state, there is abuse of power and religious leaders impose their own wills.

And so, Iran is what it is today.

How about Afghanistan? Next up.

Related: Open Letter to Reza Pahlavi
Watch: Argo trailer

No comments: