The capital of swelling desire
September 7, 2000
When there is talk of Love, looming in the background is Danger. Love
is torment, a universe where the unknown, the awe-inspiring is dwelling,
where the stellar space is studded with nebulas, black holes, and gravitational
fields. Love is danger, it is friction and conflict, it is to love-in-the-face-of,
to find desire in the cesspool of the grotesque and the absurd. As such,
it is everywhere to be found.
On the streets of Tehran, in the febrile heat of the summer, bodily
fluid oozing out under the opaque cauldron of the dress code, hands are
clasping in perspiring persistence of reunion. The social is inseminated
with the teeming passion of the youth. In parks, around mushrooming coffee
shops, inside crammed taxicabs, and on homespun dancing floors boys and
girls are twiddling away in liturgical commotion. Glances are stolen, lowered
How ironic, or perhaps only too common sensical, that a society that
for years tried to affect a veritable sexual apartheid can only witness
the changing circumstances of its morality code in the public space. The
avenues of Tehran are these days scene to hand-holding couples of various
social background and religious creed. One can endlessly wonder about the
original logic of imposing such strict separation of the feminine in the
thinly veiled drama of the social: Was it to subdue passions, or to incite
There is no telling.
Second of Khordad brought with it not the security that many found endemic
to its message, but the confusion of danger and the passion of liberty.
No one is immune form the preposterous and the unjust. Daily is the populace
hit with outlandish stories for which there seems to be no end. And, despite
the easing of restrictions in many areas, the morality crusade continues
with arbitrary ferocity.
But ferocity is the common lot of the Iranian youth. She is lanced by
a modus operandi that is at once frightened of her feral potentials
and desiring to give her what in the past two decades it has been unable
to indoctrinate. The regime of power seems not to know how to operate the
elementary control mechanisms that in previous years it so easily yielded.
As such, it has chosen to become a pest, one that is still after blood,
but a creature only capable of throwing wrenches, fits, and bites.
The Iranian youth has also learned the ropes. He knows how serious to
take the morality crusade. There was a time when behind the penetrating
eyes of the Basiji he could find the intransigence of faith, the righteousness
of creed, and the displaced passion of chastity. Now what is to be seen
is the vileness of beggary, the rancor of want, and effusion of lust. He
knows that he is not safe from harassment on Tehran Avenue, but that is
hardly what it was seven years ago.
The nature of danger has changed, not its presence. The lover on Tehran
Avenue has always lived with the fear of vilification. She has had to face
the nocturnal torchlight of inquisition and moral rape. She has had to
spend nights in prison cells, possibly for being caught in amorous embrace
or drunken license, but also for holding hands or occupying the same space.
The Islamic Republic has provided the lover with the perfect third-party
nemesis. What she read in pages of her divination book of poetry surely
reflects the mood of the street: "If you are a wayfarer of love/ then
wait both for accident and danger." The Tehran Avenue lover is immanently
aware of both. She must, in her daily struggle to find love, overcome forces
that have raised the fortress against its expression. She struggles with
abuse and fear of punishment. She is lashed from every side by social forces
that try to control the flow of her desires. In short, she must not love.
This is the test of Love.
In truth, there is no morality in Tehran Avenue because the essence
of the Moral has passed into the order of appearances: in the donned beard,
the worn rosewater, the calloused prayer mark, the stringed incantation
beads, in the Islamization of everything from universities to computers,
in the festooned affiches of governmental offices. We no longer need to
be pious because we have become all too good in play-acting piety. Billboard
piety, hyper-piety, piped piety.
But under the veneer of this denial of the sexual and the rapturous,
Tehran Avenue is swelling with desire, a countercurrent that threatens
the embankments of the mainstream at every turn. Let no one be surprised
by the announcement recently of the head of the Cultural Organization of
the Municipality of Tehran about rising prostitution, drug addiction, and
other such debaucheries. This is the only way the social can manifest its
desires under the terror of external signs. "Nothing offers greater
freedom, in fact, or greater sovereignty, than justified contempt."
And the Iranian society today is free.
In Paris lovers can hold hands in constant reminder of the city's symbolic
heritage, basked under a thousand signs that approve of their sybaritic
union. Signs of amorousness circulate to the tune of accordion and chinking
glasses. To be young, and in love, and in Paris.
But what is never openly admitted in such good-feel tales is that to
love is also to court danger, to open your body to the onslaught of torment,
desire, and weakness, to love-in-the-face-of and against something. The
literature of Love is rife with cases in point.
Tehran Avenue provides for the lover a crucible within which the pyrogenic
forces of freedom and desire are be put to test. Love must be fought and
won over. Iranian society knows this only too well. It is informed by the
dangers lying ahead. It is already aware that it can't force its way, that
it must tolerate harassment and abuse. It awaits danger.
The question once again, after the Mad Philosopher, is not whether you
can find love, but whether you can dare love.
Tehran Avenue is where love is to be dared.