These informants, dressed in civilian clothing, tip off the authorities when citizens deviate from Sharia law, while at the same time toying with the psychology of the Iranian people – they could be anyone and found anywhere – by instilling fear into the public to keep them in line with the Republic’s Islamic policies.
Last December a new policy was implemented that targeted young women who tucked their trouser legs into their boots. If caught they are taken to the police station where they have their mug shot taken and their boots confiscated.
A 19-year-old woman in a coffee shop said with amusement: “They think it’s too sexy, they think it will catch a man’s eye. But they’re just shoes, and there is two feet of snow outside. So why don’t they tell the men to look the other away?”
Oppression and economic inflation have been getting progressively worse in recent years due to an increase of funding to Hezbollah in Lebanon and religious reforms enforced since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president.
Consequently, the government’s supposed charitable actions and attempt to rejuvenate Islam within society have continued to fuel the waning of religious fervor throughout the nation.
A taxi driver, who claimed to be religious, openly criticized Lebanon’s Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah and the mullah regime: “That man steals money from the Iranian people. This country is falling apart and these mullahs want to throw money to Lebanon, they forget to feed and support their own people. They do not represent us, they represent their own cause.”
Another young woman in a coffee shop said, “This country is full of thieves and liars who hide behind Islam. They corrupt and distort it and hold back the people, and the uneducated mullahs cannot support our needs in the 21st century.”
Times have changed since the revolutionary presidency of Muhammad Khatami. That somewhat stable era allowed young men and women to express themselves through demonstrations against the injustices of the mullah regime and provided a normal social atmosphere for young people to interact.
It was considered a social norm for young people to go out to the movies or dinner, or grab a cup of coffee at the local coffee shop.
But now they are forced to meet secretly behind closed doors. Young Iranian women are putting themselves at risk by meeting men in their apartments, a dangerous act and that could potentially lead to rape. But tragically, any women who is sexually assaulted does not dare accuse her assaulter, because the government punishment would be far greater.
Trouble is also brewing in the economic arena. A middle-aged cab driver claimed that the policy of the Islamic Republic was to hold its people down so they don’t demonstrate and will instead keep quiet.
“I have no future. It’s only about surviving day by day to have bread on the table. They keep the people hungry to keep their mouths closed. They create problems in our lives to keep us busy. We have a hard time making a living to feed and support our families. We don’t have time to think about politics.”
An elderly restaurant waiter complained: “I had my own restaurant when the shah of Iran was in power. I had my own house and was my own man. But now look at me, I am nothing. The Islamic Republic destroys lives.”
The economic recession is not just taking a toll on the older generations. Students straight out of college can’t find jobs after they graduate. So instead they are forced to obtain low paying work to make ends meet, such as sweeping filth off the streets or driving a cab.
Despite the harsh reality, the government seems oblivious to the people’s grievances. However, younger Iranians are rebelling against the government by retaliating against Islam.
On the 10th day of Ashura, a day that commemorates the martyrdom of Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad at the Battle of Karbala, young men and women have started the tradition of becoming intoxicated, playing Koranic verses, and driving around the streets to meet members of the opposite sex. They call this the “Husayn Party.”
Despite the rising unpopularity of the government mostly among the young who constitute the majority of the population, the United States should not read this as a sign that military action against the Islamic republic would be seen favorably. Quite the contrary. A military attack against Iran would lose the United States the high rate of approval it currently enjoys among the Iranian public.
Sabina Amidi is a Sarah Lawrence College student from Bronxville, N.Y., USA who traveled to Iran for her research project.