October 05, 2002

"IN IRAN, SOMETHING HAS TO GIVE." Interesting story on what's going on there. Excerpt:

Down in the basement, a man with an uncanny resemblance to the Sgt Pepper period John Lennon is recording a CD. With him, in the hot, stuffy studio, is a bassist dressed in black, a drummer and a 10-year-old Afghan boy playing small tambour drums. Behind the glass, a sound engineer is flicking switches and twiddling knobs. A girl in jeans, T-shirt and trainers is slouched on a sofa with a young man. Two other girls are watching the session. Not having visited the underground before, I am taken aback. The girls are not wearing the full, officially decreed women's dress code. This includes covering one's hair for fear of "stimulating" any man who might see it.

This discreet studio is one where Tehran's underground bands come to record. It is as if I have stepped through the looking glass into another country. Above us, in the streets, is the Iran of women in all-enveloping black chadors, vast murals of revolutionary martyrs and officially sanctioned demonstrations where thousands chant the old slogans of "Death to America" and "Death to Israel". Here, I am in another, freer Iran that exists in parallel with the Islamic republic. In Iran, there is the public face of conformity with Islamic rules and regulations and the private face, which, as often as not, shuns, ignores or even despises its strictures. . . .

Once a forgotten figure, the US-based pretender to the Peacock throne is now frequently seen repeating a mantra of democracy and secularism. This is not to say that the monarchy has a real chance of restoration, but Pahlavi on TV has had an effect - many young people, who have no memory of his father's repressive regime, have been favourably impressed. Muhammed, 19, who works in his father's restaurant, says, "Me and my friends like [Pahlavi] because we heard from our fathers that the time of the Shah was a time of comfort, not like now, so, if he came back, that would come back, too."

Two years ago, 500,000 Iranians had access to the internet. Today, that number is believed to be 1.75 million, and is expected to grow to five million in the next five years.

As the article reports, a lot of them are blogging, too.