The dual language
Personality: Being raised in Iran and abroad
This is what I learnt when I was six: Lying. We did lie however,
because we had to. At school you were supposed to cover your hair
tiny scarves (black in my time,and white or in bright
colours nowadays ), and at home you could easily have access to
Videos - considered illegal then - containing musical stuff.
this article is not focusing on the funny or rather unbelievable
it is to foreigners - issue of restrictions in my country.
I am not talking about the basic rights of human beings to live
their personal lives - about which too much has been said -, nor
am I pointing to a regime or a government who imposes these restrictions.
In contrast, I want to point my finger to people, and to the culture
which has been there for several decades, if not centuries.
However, one can't deny that the socio-political situation
in the last 30 years or so ,has magnified this bitter feature,
and has merely created a new Language which I call "Dual Language".
The dual culture in which little kids learn to lie at school about
their moms wearing or not wearing a scarf in front of men, to
lie in high school about their ideal writer or favorite book,
to lie in the uni about their activities, and to lie at home to
parents about their friends and relationships.
of unauthorized investigations in people's personal lives and
the consequent discrimination based on personal judgments, ends
up in formation of a language in which things have dual meanings.
Before exploring the idea, I would rather have a quick glance
at the Persian's interaction with religion as the ruling power
for the time being.
Back in the last century, Persia, being
a constitutional state, has had more similarities rather than
differences to the western countries. On the other hand, the religious
establishment of Islam has provided moral and religious bases for
the community for centuries.
Presumably, there are no known societies
that do not have some form of religion, although religious beliefs
and practices vary from culture to culture. All religions involve
a set of symbols, linked to rituals practiced by a community of
believers. However, what happened in Persia in the last century,
was an abrupt change of values, in a system based on a revolution.
Religion was the key point of this power shift, however this
was only the cover of the book. Having read the entire book of
life in Iran, I can claim that in this system, religion could
have more than one meaning, if you know the dual language which
was initially based on religion and then developed as a means of
In the dual language ,one can live two lives and speak two tones.
You can be religious at school, take part in the prayers held
in the school yard, celebrate the anniversary of the revolution
,and call the previous regime names in your history text books
at school. Then you can get home, get changed, dress up, attend
a party, drink and dance.
All you need is a fraction of a second
to forget about school or your work place, and to cope with the
new situation. All you need is a few minutes to switch you mind
to another channel. In my personal opinion, this practice activates
an area in the brain, an area well-developed in the Persian,
at least in the past 30 years.
One can't be proud of this ability though, which is based on
pretending to be what others want you to be. This "Other
your key to survival, or in simple words, is your way to get accepted
by the rulers as a citizen. Let alone the political labels
which are developed in the recent decades - such as Degar Andishaan (
meaning Strangers in general ) which is applied to journalists,
writers and intellectuals who from the main body of the government,
evolved as protesting minds -, there has also been created a rather
new set of social vocabulary, which is unique to this specific
location and this specific era.
I am trying to draw attention to
another aspect of this phenomenon: The mental and psychological
development of a trait which is basically far from healthy models
of human behavior, and is yet inevitable: Learning this language
and practicing it unintentionally through everyday's life.
at history, one can realise that unlike Europe where the church
was replaced by impersonalized state, Islamic clergies
enjoyed the wide range of political and social power through informal
religious corners such as Mosques and Howzeh. On this basis, the
seeds of Islamic Republic were planted in Iran during 1970s by
Islamists discourse which was basically against westernization.
Contrary to the discourse of modernity which was the basis for
constitutional revolution of 1906 and followed by Pahlavi dynasty
(1925-1926), Islamist discourse aimed at constructing an Islamic
version of modernity which defends Iran "Cultural Invasion
of the West" and "Cultural Imperialism of the United
States". With the rise of political Islam in 1970s, the legitimacy
of religious regulations - which were not necessarily based on
Islam itself - imposed additional pressure on people's lives in
terms of freedom of speech and the ordinary life styles by which
people had lived for years.
At this point, one had to either
cope with the abrupt change in values,or leave the country.
Among people who stayed ,was crawling a new form of language and
which included survival codes. Codes were devided into good and
bad, and the young generation was the target of this new education
: they had to learn the rules, which even included the body
To understand the subtlety and specificity of the spoken language
in Persia,one needs to develop an ear for the whisperings of
irony and an eye for the traces of paradox. The fundamental
cultural, economic, and social transformations of the post-revolutionary
era have provided
the Persian with a degree of sophistication and
at the same time untruthfulness previously unimaginable.
generation who has been brought up in Persia after the revolution
of 1979, has merely developed this delicate sense of picking
up unordinary meanings from ordinary words, using the expected
vocabulary at the right time, and shifting from one type of Persian
to another as quickly as necessary.
Being used to this imposed
pun in the language ,one simply neglects the complicated
mental processing which is happening every single moment. It
easier to notice it when you step out of that land, and
realize there should normally be no such a pressure and complexity
in a healthy society.
For this generation, it is usually through
where comes up this ironic observation in which one has
an effort to think simply, interpret simply and speak
simply. Speaking out of experience, I reckon it is such a relief,
combined with sorrow.
This together with many other dilemmas such
as personal family restrictions, cultural conflicts with the
media, political insecurity at school and university, financial
problems, flaws in
and so on, makes me wonder about any possible significant
difference between the young generation aged 20-30 who have
Persia, and the one raised abroad, in terms of mental
health and personality types.
It would of course require ample
and research,as well as broad knowledge about the details
of this very true experience which can only be gained through
at this very moment of frustration in Persia.
To what extent this experience has affected the young
generation's mental health, and at what price one
can get over the social
and behavioral consequences of this experience,
are questions for
professionals to answer. One can only hope that
the price would be lower than what has been paid so far.
Orkideh Behrouzan is a medical doctor doing a
PhD at Oxford Univeristy in the UK. She has also studied literature
. See her weblog at: koochi.persianblog.com.
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