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Paris Tehran
The capital of swelling desire

September 7, 2000
The Iranian

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 or braved.

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 them?

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.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment to the writer Soma


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