My parents allowed me to choose the restaurant I would dine at for my 8th or 9th birthday. I chose an Indian restaurant near our home in Tehran. This was more because I was fascinated by the idea and the spicy exotic food than I wanted to eat it. The owners of the restaurant seemed to be playing to ethnic curiosity by raising the Indian-decor factor to 11. You could see the tapestry with an elephant-adorned statuette or Mughal prince, no matter where you were.
It was dark and secluded, with dim lighting. The dining room felt like an extension of our living rooms. My mother must have felt a sense of comfort and safety in this place. She took off her head scarf and placed it on her chair.
I will never forget the reactions of our friends, or the waiter who was watching in the background–or that mixture of fear, fear, and excitement. We could all have seen one of those Shiva statuettes come to life to announce that the age was over in an inexplicable tongue and otherworldly voice. My mother noticed something amiss in her appearance, and although no one spoke a word, the shock looked alerted me to it. All said silently that Iran doesn’t allow this. She raced one more time to conform to the laws of the land. Soon, the torn fabric that is everyday reality was reconstructed and we, my mother, and the waiter, started laughing about it.
Now, almost three decades later that fabric is falling apart on a much larger–indeed national–scale. The country will not be the same when it is reconstructed.
Mohammad Jafar Montazeri (the country’s attorney general) announced that the gashte-irshad morality police had been disbanded. He said that the government was reexamining the mandatory hijab rules that had been a problem for more secular-minded Iranian women like my mother and my maternal grandmother back to the beginnings of the revolution. It is still unclear whether Montazeri’s statement represents a shift in policy. However, it is notable that his off-the-cuff comments were recorded by state-run media. Other state organs have often contradicted them.
The old order de facto dead. Omid Dana, a nationalist vlogger and far more reliable than Voice of America and BBC, has reported that approximately half of large-sized cities’ women are not covering up. Dana claims that the figures are higher in more wealthy neighborhoods. Enforcement is not more. In the hope that they will soon be allowed to show naked women on state television, filmmakers who deal with domestic scenes are apparently doing two takes of each scene. One with hijab-wearing female actresses and one without.
In the Islamic Republic, what was once impossible and unsayable has become commonplace. A cleric called Reza Gholami spoke on state television about Iran’s social turmoil.
We have made many mistakes in governance over the years, and they are only getting worse. The increasing complexity and delicacy in the governance arena is one reason. Governance today is not the same as governance 30-40 years ago. . . . We must accept that today’s security forces did wrong in this environment. First, it is wrong for security forces to enforce hijab. Second, this woman [MahsaAmini, the woman whose murder at the hands the morality police sparked weeks-long protests] was not wearing bad hijab enough that she had to be detained. . . . We have been facing a social polarization in the last months as a result a long process. This polarization is now accelerating and elements within Islamic leadership and systemcaused it to widen.
These are amazing words. This is a member the ruling clerisy blaming not the United States or Israel nor Britain but his own mismanagement of popular demand. They are very popular. According to internal surveys, Mostafa Rostami (the representative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to the universities) admitted last month that 55 per cent of the population, which is roughly 44 million Iranians, supported the anti-hijab demonstrations.
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It is not clear what the future holds. Some people in the West believe these transformations are a precursor to a regime-change scenario. I was once one of them. However, my experience in the Middle East over the past 20 years has taught me to be cautious of turmoil.
The regime has a core group of loyal supporters who believe in its message and are able to materially profit from it. The number of people who have sacrificed their lives for the Islamic order established by Ayatollah Khomeini, and who also happen to be the leaders and most prestigious parts of the security forces, I’d estimate is between 20 million and 20 million. Iran is also a multi-ethnic state that is divided by sectarian and ethnic fault lines. It may be welcomed by some as a sign of internal turmoil and violence. I don’t. I don’t think anyone should if they want to avoid a civil war scenario that would make Syria’s seem like child’s play.
As I wrote in Commentary 2018 and New York Post 2018, the safer route is one that involves figures within the security forces. These men realize that Khomeini’s brand of Islamism is dead, and that an Iran governed more along nationalist lines could deliver the normalcy-not necessarily liberal democracy–for whom the people are so desperate. It is the stability and territorial integrity one of the most strategically important nations on the planet that is at stake.