Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Shibboleth II

The question posed in the first installment was why the Islamic Regime has been so successful in stifling organized dissent. The assumption, of course, was that brutality, though effective in suppressing dissent, cannot be the sole factor at work here. We do have, as it turns out, political prisoners after all, and they are treated rather harshly. People do disappear, are tortured and killed for their beliefs and their anti-Regime activities. But the profile of our social life is far from that constituted by docile subjects trembling helplessly in the face of the omnipotent Authority.

As Authoritarian societies go, ours is one of the most fearless, and lawless. There is a vast network that smuggles almost everything--music, movies, computer programs and games, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, steroids, women, stolen cars, ancient artifacts, etc, and it involves almost all of us. The American sanctions have ensured that these myriad networks have enhanced their reach to facilitate trade in commodities needed in Iran. Strictly speaking, we are all lawbreakers, and criminals-- contesting and undermining official expectations—domestic and international-- almost daily. The dress code alone guarantees that a vast majority of women are de facto delinquents.

And that, of course, is the real paradox of an authoritarian regime which attempts to regulate conduct on one too many fronts. By overreaching, it undermines respect for all forms of authority and codes of conduct. Nice and dandy for the anarchist within really. Isn’t this what social life is all about? Isn’t this the real stuff of anthropological research and of exciting postmodern treatise? Unfortunately however, academic excitement aside, life becomes almost unbearable in many tangible, unexpected manners one could never have dreamed about.

If you’re habituated into pushing the limits, why should you wait your turn in a bank, or a grocery store really? Pay attention to traffic signals? Or do your homework on your own? Or not pick someone’s pocket? Even a relative’s? Or not pay someone to write your college thesis for you for 15,000 Tomans ($20)? Or not have sex for a pretty pink manteau even if you have enough money and don’t really like your would be lover? Or not be late to work? Or not lie to get out of work? Or do your work when you’re at work? Or not batter some one simply because you can and expect to get away with it? Or not cheat on a spouse if no one may find out? Or not abuse a minor if you can? Or not play your music loudly at 2 in the morning? Aren’t you brave and audacious? Gel crowned embodiment of valor? Pretty, revolutionary bitch in pink?

Again, none of these are unique to the life in Iran really. But, all the trends assume the grotesqueness of a nasty caricature here. All the “thou shalt nots’ that once tempered our conduct have now been discarded since they were/are so intricately bound with the authority of the Regime. Hence, the almost universal loathing for the regime has resulted in the vanishing of respect for the rules in their entirety, with nothing yet to have emerged to help us navigate the ethical challenges of the prosaic, humdrum routines of the daily life.

The ruling clergy and the officials of this regime are incessantly insulted in private and in public spaces. People are generally open towards expressing their disgust with the state of the nation. Not a day goes by that I don’t witness a fight, verbal and physical between some official of the Regime (police, basiji, etc.,) and some angry citizen.

So given this general state of lawlessness and anger, how does the Regime continue its rule? Again, read and think about the Judges 12:2-12:7. This conjecture continues…


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