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the Shiite state is a hymn to death

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One can understand the Iranian revolution as a hymn to death from its origin, and until its very near end. It has changed register, timbre, intensity and rhythm, but death remains its horizon of meaning. It is first of all the sacred death, the Shiite martyrdom, which is set in motion. The revolutionary and specialist in the sociology of religion Ali Shariati was the cantor of this death which was to seal the destiny of the Muslim, by bringing together in an explosive mixture the Shiite and Marxist eschatologies, the end of the times of the Messiah (the “Imam of Time” Shiite) and that of Marx’s “classless society”. Death is liberation, insofar as it opens up the long-desired end of an unjust world. In the long war against Iraq (1980-1988), martyrdom turns into “martyropathy” among some of the young people who no longer wish to live – the paradise promised by Ayatollah Khomeini having turned into hell in reality day – and intend to die to reach a better world, in paradise, in reward for the sacrifice of their life in the prime of life.

Iran: freedom against the mullahs

At the end of the war, it is the Shiite theocracy which is established in all its rigor and which imposes the death of the joy of living with an endless cascade of prohibitions. These go far beyond the conceptions of traditional Islam, which had a de facto tolerance for human weakness: dancing, promiscuity, alcohol and homosexuality, condemned in public, were widely tolerated in the private life. The theocratic version of Islam imposed by the new regime intends to penetrate into the heart of the Muslim and into his private life. Any deviation is punished, even at home, in his intimacy, by a series of penalties that can go as far as death. For this new police state and its overinterpretation of Islam, transgression risks leading to death, since all insubordination is a fight against God (moharebeh) and an act that spreads depravity on earth (fessad wire arz).

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With the reformists (1997-2005), the regime temporarily opened up to a timid pluralism, but the digression quickly closed in the second year of Khatami’s presidency: the first democratic student movement was fiercely repressed in 1997. Since that date , the regime is increasingly autocratic and corrupt, moving from plutocracy to kleptocracy. And to finish with the “thanatocracy”, with this ease to strike the death common to all totalitarianisms. The “hymn to the sacred death” is transformed over time into a terrible cacophony, where the repressive State imposes an unbearable straitjacket on the civil society which does not want it (hence the numerous revolts ferociously repressed ), and which constitutes the framework of a deadly fascism.

The movements emerging from 2009 are the rejection of a power that is not only repressive, but also:

  • ecocide: the environment is abused in a totally irresponsible way;
  • exocidus: immigrants, especially Afghans, mostly Shiites and Persian speakers like the Iranians, are mistreated, are denied the right to stay even after two decades of work, and are sent, in exchange for a hypothetical residence permit, to the front in Syria, where they find death by the hundreds;
  • gynocide : women who protest against the constraint of the veil, or in the name of feminism and equal rights, are perceived as sub-humans who can now be massacred on an equal footing with men, although they are not do not have the physical capacity to defend themselves on an equal footing;
  • homicide: homosexuals are liable to the death penalty;
  • addictocide: addicts are very often sentenced to death or treated as sub-humans in prisons of death, without medical care worthy of the name;
  • apostatecide: Muslims who convert to another religion, notably Protestant evangelicalism which has the wind in its sails, are often condemned to death or to long prison terms during which they are dehumanized and treated like cattle;
  • thanatocrat : the execution of opponents is done with disconcerting ease, torture is commonplace in the many prisons belonging to different repressive bodies;

And the list is far from complete. Iran is second in the world after China for the total number of executions, and first for the number per capita.

The Iranian eruption has only just begun

What distinguishes Iranian totalitarianism from others is its fundamentally killjoy nature, which is absent from classical forms of totalitarianism (Stalin’s Communism, Hitler’s Nazism, Mussolini’s Fascism). The Tehran regime is the enemy of the joy of living, of dancing, of singing freely, and especially for women (they are forbidden to sing, whereas Iranian classical music until the 1979 revolution counted famous singers), the joy of tasting leisure, of simply strolling in the street, man and woman, without being spied on by the morality squad and without being accused of an attack on good morals. Even Syrian totalitarianism has tolerance for the simple joys of life. In Iran, the revolt of September 2022, which turned into generalized insubordination paving the way for a revolution, is above all the expression of a subjectivity eager for the joy of living: the young women who were its initiators seek to live more freely, to give meaning to their existence without being made guilty or accused of transgressing norms and taboos from another age. Many men joined them, contrary to the vision of “Islamic virility” which wants the man to show his supremacy over the woman.

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Protests in Iran: “If you kill two, thirty will replace them”

The denial of the life of this killjoy and fascistic regime, killjoy in addition to being fascistic, is also expressed by an antagonistic attitude vis-à-vis the outside world, in particular the West. In the demonstrations, young people chant: “Our enemy is here/They lie (the supporters of the Islamic regime) saying it’s America. »

This feeling that the Islamic Republic is a “killer of joy” state is revealed in the deep despair of Iranian rappers, some of whom are under threat of execution. One of them, Emad Ghavidel, just before the revolt of September 2022, sang against the dismal domination of this predatory state:

” Destiny [Zamaneh, sous-entendu l’Etat théocratique] killed my joy of life, destroyed it well and truly, he beat my tired body, today I regret yesterday, tomorrow I will cry for today,I can’t sing with feelings anymore, I’m from the burnt generation, let me stir in the ashes. »

The new subjectivity tries above all to recover its sovereignty by rejecting the leaden screed that has descended on Iranian society for more than four decades. The first generation had acquiesced in this perpetual mourning in the name of revolutionary sacrifice, and of the veneration of the martyrs of the war against Iraq (it lasted more than eight years, from 1980 to 1988). The second has risen several times (the revolts of 2009, 2015, 2016-2019…) but the repression has been bloody. Today, the young and the very young have less hesitation than their parents and grandparents, they seek joy without wavering, without a guilt complex, without being tempted by what is called “Shiite pain (the virtual absence of festivals and the extremely high number of mournings that characterizes traditional Shiism).

In short, it is a generation which does not let itself be impressed by the clergy, by theocratic Islam, nor by the heavy apparatus of repression which had succeeded until now in imposing a bloody silence on an entire society. From now on, the Iranian state is naked, and this time everyone knows it and everyone says it.

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Farhad Khosrokhavar is director of studies emeritus at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He is currently working on a book about the social movements that agitate Iran.

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