In Iran, the Despots Grow Desperate

All dictators are killjoys. We know that dictators the world over will do anything it takes to keep the reins of control, and the sheer absurdity of the lengths they go to merely highlights their desperation.

One of the wittiest chronicles of such desperation is Ben Lewis' documentary film Hammer and Tickle, which documents the Communist jokes that landed people of the USSR and Soviet satellite countries in prison behind the Iron Curtain. The citizens of every society living under tyranny quickly learn their specific regime’s pet peeves and find ways to exasperate and pester their resident despots.

Iranians are no different.

The Iranian New Year, Norooz, is almost upon us. Celebrated on March 21, the vernal equinox, Norooz predates Islam by a couple of thousand years. It is a most beloved and sacred Zoroastrian celebration that Iranians of all ethnicities and religions observe.

The first leg of celebrations kicks off on the last Tuesday night of the year with Chaharshanbeh Souri. Literally translated as "Wednesday eve festival," it's also called the Festival of Fire. This year, it’s observed on Tuesday, March 15th. People gather in the streets to set bushes and brambles alight, leaping over the bonfires to purge their spirit of all the impurity and blight of the passing year. Adding to the celebration are sparklers, fireworks, and a sort of trick or treating done to collect food for the poor.

Since the beginning of the Khomeinist revolution, in an attempt to eradicate all venerable Persian things, the regime's head honchos have cracked down on the festivities every year, going all out to discredit and quash the "pagan" celebrations. But, of course, the harder the regime fights, the more vehemently the people resist.

Now here’s the clincher: People who live in urban areas often buy the bonfire bushes (like Christmas trees) from salesmen. This year, one of the regime’s "czars" has decided to go after these poor merchants, who just want to earn a living. Revolutionary Guard member Taghi Yiervani heads up the Bureau of Protection of Forests and Grasslands (this in itself is laughable: since the advent of the Khomeinist regime, Iran’s environment has been systematically destroyed). Because the ban on bush sales aims at the "prevention of fire hazards," he has announced, anyone seen selling bushes on the street of Iran will be arrested for destroying Iranian natural resources.

Then there's the issue of pets -- especially dogs, which are considered unclean according to Sharia law (I won’t speak of how unclean you'd consider its adherents, given how infrequently they wash themselves). The mullahs' view is simple: pets are simply another form of Western corruption.

In 1999, the then-head of the judiciary, Mullah Mohammad Yazdi, ruled that dogs must not be taken to public places. At the time, he conceded that they could be kept in people’s homes. But in June 2010, the senior hardline mullah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi issued an edict eradicating that privilege. When asked to clarify the position of Islamic religious law on the growing number of dogs kept as pets in Iran’s big cities, the senior cleric postulated that keeping pet dogs was an irrational imitation of Westerners, who often love their dogs more than their husbands, wives, and children. Makarem Shirazi also claimed that there are many references to dogs being unclean in Islam, though the Quran itself does not specifically address the topic.