Seeing the Ayatollah Khomeini from the Iranian perspective was jarring: Rather than the impression I'd long held — of a threatening, unsmiling ideologue — many Iranians consider Khomeini a lovable sage...unpretentious, approachable, and a defender of traditional values. After the Shah's excesses and corruption, locals seemed to overlook Khomeini's own brutal tactics. Khomeini's simplicity and holiness had a strong appeal to the Iranian masses. Locals told me that Khomeini had charisma, and if he walked into a room, even I, a non-Muslim, would feel it. To the poor and the simple country folk, Khomeini was like a messiah. As the personification of the Islamic Revolution, he symbolized deliverance from the economic and cultural oppression of the Shah. Khomeini gave millions of Iranians hope. Khomeini's successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has had much less of an impact on the people. (I imagine Shia Muslims miss Khomeini like Catholics miss John Paul II.)
Iranians who support the Revolution call it a “Revolution of Values.” Many conservative Iranians I met told me they want to raise their children without cheap sex, disrespectful clothing, drug abuse, and materialism — all things they associate with America, and all things that, they believe, erode character and threaten their traditional values. It worries them as parents. It seemed to me that many of them willingly trade democracy and political freedom for a society free of Western values (or, they'd say, "Western lack of values"). It's more important to them to have a place to raise their children that fits their faith and their cherished notion of “family values.” One mother told me, “We don't want our girls to become like Britney Spears.”
Of course, there's plenty of drug addiction, materialism, and casual sex in Iran. But these vices are pretty well hidden from the determination of the theocracy to root them out. In general, the Revolution seems to be well-established. For example, in terms of commercialism, Iran and the US stand at opposite extremes. Back home, just about everywhere we look, we are inundated by advertising encouraging us to consume. Airports are paid to drone commercials on loud TVs. Magazines are beefy with slick ads. Sports stars wear corporate logos. Our media are shaped and driven by corporate marketing. But in Iran, Islam reigns. Billboards, Muzak, TV programming, and young people's education all trumpet the teachings of great Shia holy men...at the expense of the economy. Consequently, many in Iranian society tune into Western media via satellites and the Internet, and barely watch Iranian media. Iran's youth are very Web-savvy.
Despite all of this, when it comes to religion, I was surprised by the general mellowness of the atmosphere in Iran compared to other Muslim countries I've visited. Except for the strict women's dress codes and the lack of American products and businesses (because of the US embargo), life on the streets in Iran was much the same as in secular cities elsewhere. In fact, ironically, despite the aggressively theocratic society, the country felt no more spiritual than neighboring, secular Muslim nations. During my visit, I didn't see spiny minarets and didn't hear calls to prayer — a strong contrast to my experiences in some other, more moderate Muslim countries, such as Turkey.
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You are reading "Iran's "Revolution of Values"", an entry posted on 31 March 2010 by Rick Steves.