Young, mature and bold
Interview with Majid N.: An image of Iran's youth
December 9, 2005
They have strangled the humming bird
And still in the twilight of the river,
Her song flows... -- H. E. Sayeh
When I went to the University of Tehran this past summer, initially, I had trouble getting into the campus. One guard stopped me at the gate and refused entrance and the next guard gave me permission to enter contingent on certain restrictions. Once inside, I found two students from the Polytechnic Institute who took me on a tour of the University. Later I asked them for an interview and although they were reluctant at first, they eventually acquiesced. They had not participated in the events of 18 Tir (Jul y8, 1999) when students took to the streets and were met with extreme viciousness by IRI security guards.
The next day, their dormitories were ransacked and many young people were injured and later arrested. Neither of the students I spoke with had been old enough to attend the university at that time but like others they had heard of what took place. They were open about the daily problems they had to deal with, and told me about issues that are pertinent to all youth, all over the world. They told me that they hoped to graduate in their field and find a decent job. They wanted to live a normal life making decisions that would benefit them. They said they wanted to date girls as well as have platonic relationships with members of the opposite sex; something they thought was not permissible.
They thought Iran deserved to be independent from foreign powers and have a peaceful nuclear energy program. They thought the government needed to pay attention to the economic needs of its people. When I asked who they had voted for in this last Presidential election, both said that they had voted for Ahmadi Nejad because of his message. They would not vote for Rafsanajani as his name was directly linked to corruption and his family has become notoriously rich and influential in Iran.
Both came from traditional Moslem families of Southern Tehran, yet both insisted that the university atmosphere had increased their awareness of political issues; they believed there is room for Islam and democracy to live side by side. Thus, they were adamant in their hopes for Iran to have good relations with the West, particularly the US, but only on a mutually respectful basis.
One of them said, that it doesn't matter what kind of government we have as long as that government provides for the well being of the society, economically and politically. He said in the remote areas of Iran, people don't have any idea what secular means. Instead, what matters to them is that they have bread on their plate, they have employment, and their children have proper health and education.
These two were students with Islamic tendencies, brought up in traditional families. But I also had the opportunity to conduct an interview with a student who is considered secular. From his replies one could very well conclude that Majid is smart, mature and political. For security reasons, his true identity will be concealed; needless to say, he goes to one of Iran's largest city universities and at his young age is the editor of a journal.
Although things seem bleak at the moment for Iran's large university population, the hope remains with these bright young people. As part of this ongoing struggle for the future of Iran, Majid, like many of his generation does not want any more bloodshed or violence to reach the desired goal. Here is my interview with Majid N.
How old are you and what do you study?
I am 22 years old; I am a senior at the university - double majoring in physics and English literature.
How is life today different at your university than six years ago?
In essence it has not changed much. There is an eagerness on the part of the students that goes back to events prior to 18 Tir and the bloody confrontations at Kouyeh Daneshgah. Mainly, it was the beginning of people's general resentment towards violence perpetuated by the right wing extremists, Khoshounat Talabanone. One of the major achievements of the movement was to publicly denounce violence and show strong adversity towards the violent elements. Immediately afterwards, a law was passed which no longer allows security guards to enter any of the campuses.
This new law has greatly reduced some of the tension between the two parties. But in return, it has paved the way for the semi-military militia to be present in the campus, like University Bassij. This militia is empowered to use force against the students if necessary. For example, last year, they assaulted the head of Tehran university's school of science and Technology department in his office for giving permission for a speech that apparently did not sit well with the administration. He was so badly injured that he had to be hospitalized. After this incident, he and the minister both resigned. One way to control the students is the presence of university herasat which enforces oppressive measures within the campus.
These are guards or members of herasat who are in place at the gates and are usually connected to the Ministry of Intelligence. They have formed disciplinary Committees and create dossiers for student activists which could eventually lead to their expulsion or suspend them for one or more semesters. Remember, in such cases, when both the Ministry of Intelligence of the Islamic Republic and the special revolutionary courts are involved, students are not protected by university officials in any way.
You are a student at one of the major universities of Iran, what is the current political and social atmosphere there?
The present mood prevailing in our university is somewhat negative towards any type of ideological tendency. Most students don't have the patience to talk about the current political system. Because of the failure of religious ideology and mistrust in most Organizations whose basis of work has been religious orientated and their failure to achieve what they hoped for, there is total alienation towards anything Ideological. Even the Islamic factions, in order to recruit new members, give them special bonuses such as dismissal from military service, long term loans, or employment in government entities. An atmosphere of antipathy towards ideology and alienation from politics best describes the present atmosphere within the universities of Iran.
What do students hope for the future?
I am not sure what most students want or if they are after the same thing but from their slogans and their organizational structure I can say they despise the current mafia currents, and look down on party or factional business. As you are aware, we don't really have any type of functional parties in Iran. In other words, they are in a way tired of political engagement. What I can say for sure is that most students in Iran, like the rest of the world, want a future of hope, stability, peaceful atmosphere, work, employment, good relationships, and marriage. Because none of the above exists, the young people are quite unhappy and want to change the current status quo.
What is the opinion of the students regarding recent comments made by Ahmadi Nejad?
Even some of the conservative student leaders with Islamic tendencies who worked on Ahmadi Nejad’s campaign are scared of what would happen if a semi-military, right wing government takes over. These students are not necessarily happy with their decision or vote. This is even true about the professors who are considered right wing. Immediately after being elected as President, some of the positions were handed over to the most right wing and extreme elements that have no knowledge of their job, whose only credential is that they belong to the Sepah Pasdaran (revolutionary guards). It is natural that with this kind of move, no one will support him. There were so many contradictions and differences among the Bassijis that there was not a single proclamation in his support. People are frightened of what could happen in the near future.
How would you like to see changes in Iran? Do you foresee any changes through peaceful means?
No one likes to see bloodshed and no one wants to pay the price anymore for political or social change. We see Ganji in front of our eyes. With all the international pressure and being in the spotlight, his situation has deteriorated.
His wife has publicly said that they have beaten him so badly that his elbow is broken. These are the kind of people we face. Thus, who is going to confront these extremists who only know and use violence? Can we be able to deal with them by democratic means? In February of last year, they installed machines so that they could control the movement of the girl students in and out by having them finger printed. Collectively, objected to this terrible insult. Some 150 girls had a 4-5 hour sit in. It was even made public in the media and the most watched TV channel of the IR made a big ruckus. The result was that the head of the section resigned and they took their instruments away. in September, officials refused to let some of the same students enroll and they did not allow 20 of them to live in the dormitories.
Our protest was really not effective if you think about it. With the current extremism taking place all over the country, no one wants to pay the price for political activity because it could potentially be very high. Most people, especially students, would like to adhere to peaceful ways to change things around. The very existence of the leaders of the IR is based upon their hold on power and they will try to remain in power at any expense. There was a time when Mr. Hajjarian used the term of pressure from below and bargain from above. in the absence of real sectarian and political organization, most of the pressure on the government was put on the shoulders of the students. but many of the students lack the necessary political and organizational knowledge and skill to take on this kind of struggle. Consequently, they paid a heavy price without getting anywhere.
There is relative silence now in the university scene, which is all so profound and meaningful. And of course the government knows this too well. I am not sure, in my opinion, there is no other way but force to eliminate them (IR) from the political landscape and this becomes more and more clear everyday. Now, the question remains, How and by what means can this take place?
How do you think the outside world should look at Iran?
Iran is quite different from Iraq and Afghanistan, not only in terms of geopolitics, diplomatic and military position, but also in terms of the population of youth in each of these countries. Here, there are no more chants of Death to America or death to so-and-so not only because most people oppose the regime but also because they are tired of this ongoing enemy-making or the constant revolution being waged. our people, after living long years under this regime have not seen the light of day, no happiness, no comfort, no joy, and no justice, all of which they think they deserve. I am not speaking of freedom in the liberal sense. They are looking within themselves to see what went wrong? In my opinion, that is why Ahmadi Nejad was brought, someone who seems to be from planet Mars! It seems as if he has come from a different Iran, an Iran that
We are not familiar with. Where have we gone wrong, they ask? Now, if you look at the programs in the IR channels, images of war and violence in Iraq and Afghanistan are shown on TV. This is not just to scare people of internal and external violence. People really despise and hate violence and they want peace. In the last 150 years, we have never invaded another country except for the tiny country of Oman. Other countries should pay attention to this very fact. Historically, we are not used to war and bloodshed like both neighboring countries and therefore it would be totally unacceptable to wage any kind of war.
When I was at Tehran U. and interviewed two students there, they were mainly concerned about their future, employment, social interactions, relations between men and women, is that case here at your university?
Yes of course these are issues that concern the students. It used to be a joke before that you could not make long term plans in Iran, not more than one day! But now it seems it is a reality. Look, in the last month, we have changed over 46 managers at the university! The only one that hasn't been replaced is the Abdarchi (the guy who takes care of the toilets). Now look at this in the broader picture. In this political climate, with all the financial burdens, most students who graduate don't have a future; no employment is in the works for them. Many just continue with their education because they cannot find a job if they graduate. Jobs that exist in the government are awarded through filtering or nepotism. This is a major issue which is of great concern to the students. They have become cynical, some have turned to drugs, and others are frustrated about tomorrow's prospect.
Are Iranian groups living in the US or Europe taken seriously in Iran?
No not at all and here is a reason for this. The only real contact between people inside and outside of Iran is these Iranian satellite TV broadcasts, which are representative of many Iranians living abroad: most of the channels are dance and music. And the serious programs, are represented by such individuals or groups like Fouladvand, Hakha, Souresrafil, Mojahedin, etc. and Aryamehris. It looks as if there is nobody else. People say if these are the regime's opponents, God have mercy on us! Additionally, Iranian people are extremely wary of foreign hands in their affairs. People will say "well America will come again and put a puppet in power." People are extremely sensitive to this issue, a regime change via a foreign power. That famous insult, Sageh Velgard (Running dog) of Sadegh Hedayat comes to mind and still exists in our psyche. What is obvious is the lack of a real and consolidated opposition front. It is a major problem. Additionally, to be able to identify with a leader who is charismatic is still important for our people. Iranians don't know many of the so-called opposition figures living abroad. Because of a long history of conspiracy theory which is also part of our psyche, they are ambivalent to these elements, where they come from and who supports them. In my opinion, no one in Iran takes them seriously.
If you had one wish, what would that be?
There is a poem that I am reminded of, that says in essence, ”I have tolerated so much pain and suffering that I cannot even cry or shed any more tears." This question, what I wish for, is like those tears - it is not effective anymore. Nevertheless, I still hope and wish that one day Iran can see liberty and democracy and soon.
The entire interview was translated by Fariba Amini.