Ultraconservatives dominating the Islamic Republic are calling on Iranian youth to find joy and fun in the “economic war” their country is engaged in.
“Cheerfulness among youth will not materialize through illegitimate music and dancing of a handful of vagrant girls,” said Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, leader Friday prayers in Mashad, Iran’s second city.
This was a reference to videos that emerged earlier this month of schoolgirls dancing to rap – a social media phenomenon authorities are now investigating.
Sermons across the country by the representatives of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on May 24, made similar calls.
Declaring war against fun, joy, and music in Iran goes back to early days of the Islamic Republic, when its founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini banned all music from Iranian radio and television on July 23, 1979.
Fresh back from exile, the 76-year-old cleric was conducting an audience with the employees of Radio Darya, a radio station that aired songs for holidaymakers heading to the Caspian shores of northern Iran.
“Music stupefies persons listening to it and makes their brain inactive and frivolous. Music is no different from opium,” the Ayatollah said.
Since then, Friday-prayer leaders have repeatedly stressed the necessity of following Khomeini’s guidelines.
Referring to the devastating eight-year war with Iraq, Alamolhoda said: “Joyous were the Iranian youth engaged in military battles, and the joy of our youth today is stepping into economic war", which refers to the country's struggle in the face of U.S. sanctions.
Despite such directives, Iranian youth have always found a way to ignore the government approach towards music and fun, taking music and dance underground – at great risk.
Social media has opened a new horizon for the Iranian youth to share their favorite music and dancing clips. And of course, many of them have paid the price for it.
In July last year, state TV aired the so-called confession of a teenage girl whose Instagram account had close to a million followers.
The clips showed 18-year-old Maedeh Hojabri dancing to Persian music or songs by artists such as Justin Bieber and Shakira.
In her so-called confession, Maedeh said that she did not intend to encourage others to copy her.
Nonetheless, the Islamic Republic judiciary sentenced Maedeh to four years in prison and 80 lashes.
Hundreds of Iranians circulated videos of themselves on social media dancing in protest, while thousands more posted Maedeh’s pictures and wrote posts supportive messages on Insta.
The battle against fun is still going on Iran, but the youth of the country have never surrendered; they believe that they will ultimately win the war.