Despotism, be it domestic in families, or political enforced by the State, is a characteristic of the Iranian culture.
As designed by the ayatollahs, Iran must reach a strong stage of social development, “pious and Islamic”. Therefore, the population is to be reformed vigilantly by pursuing three methods: cleansing “foreign elements”, i.e. persecuting religious and ethnic minorities, the imposition of Shiite Islam in the education system, and a firm control on the flow of information.
In Iran, despotism (zourgoui) and obeying despots is a deep-rooted cultural phenomenon. Since the instauration of the Islamic Republic, it has been perfected by the edicts according to the Sharia. They must be followed unchallenged. Brainwashing is part of parcel of Sharia and the Velayat-e faqih régime .
The “pious and Islamic society” turns out to be a reactionary, authoritarian, nationalistic one and traps not only the population but also the devilish ayatollahs.
The notion of democracy is inconsistent with the Iranian culture. Following a leader blindly and acclaiming him unreservedly is the way of the political scene.
In 1979, the Shiite hierarchy basically substituted a medieval patriarch with the Shah, who had the same absolute divine power.
However, the Shah needed the religious support to rule, while the Vali-Faqih being an ayatollah himself, and a primus inter pares, has no need to make concessions to any internal political force. There is none to worry about.
The smallest social agitation is obliterated as soon as it appears.
The Persecution of Minorities
Since the Shiite hierarchy came into power, the followers of faiths other than Shiism have been persecuted. This is based on the lines of the Islamic ideology: the ones holding the political power are the true believers. Others, even the Muslims of a different doctrine, are impure, kafer: convert them, chase them, or kill them.
The community leaders, be it for religious and/or ethnic reasons, were assassinated and their properties confiscated. The active professional was baselessly accused of wrongdoings. The younger generation were denied access to universities and public functions. Base hate-phrases aimed at them were propagated and their use encouraged.
Those persecuted – because they were not Shiite, because they were from ethnic groups other than those of the Fars – fearing for their lives, left Iran. The country lost the potential of some of its best-educated population and professionals.
The Social Islamic Life
The secular Shiites themselves were not immune from repression. Since 1979, the Shiite’s tyrannical machinery has ruled and learned from its mistakes. In 2015, it is well oiled.
In one’s daily activities, no one must forget the medieval patriarch, the Supreme Guide. His portraits are displayed in classrooms, at one’s workplace, in shop displays, on public transport, and painted on buildings’ façades. When necessary a large picture of him on sheet metal is erected on a sturdy metal structure.
In a poetry-loving country, simplistic slogans suit unsophisticated minds; they are written beneath the portraits in rhyme and can be remembered by all.
In modern Iran, anything printed must be headed with بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم or its truncated version: باسمه تعالی . From academic papers to gas bills, from a class report to an internal memo in a private company, either of these phases is printed first. Miss them on a dissertation, on a letter to officialdom and trouble will start. There is no escape from the Islam Shiite. The resulting effectss are appropriately sublime, in the strict sense of the term: they inspire feelings of awe mixed with terror.
Fear, the Islamic Weapon for Brainwashing and Obedience
To create a society following the pure values of Islam, that is creating a reactionary, authoritarian, nationalistic one, instilling fear and terror is the first step of brainwashing. Minds stifled by fear will not challenge authority; mesmerised subjects of their holiness will not rebel.
The Revolutionary Tribunals hasten to condemn the accused to death or to heavy sentences for being “an enemy to Islam”, i.e. disobeying the sharia diktats. The Sharia is a long list of “don’ts” based on gender segregation and women’s humiliation, restrictive expressions and barbaric punishments for offenders: flogging, stoning, rape, maiming, torture and execution.
Public hanging, for two to five condemned at once, takes place in crowded areas, preferably in the morning rush hour when children go to school and adults to work. “The baddies” will dangle from a crane or a bridge pillar for a couple of hours, commented on and even joked about by the cretins.
Children grow up witnessing these scenes and smelling the grown-ups’ fear. No father and no mother wants to nurse a flogged son, see the miseries of a raped daughter or bury a mutilated corpse from torture anonymously.
Brainwashing in Education: How to Become a Perfect Muslim
To keep them safe, from an early age, children are taught to be submissive albeit cunning, to hide behind superficiality such as deftly avoiding answering questions, and lying.
Each and every child is trained not to trust anyone: be it a schoolmate or a teacher. She or he is closely monitored while learning and perfecting different personalities and behaviour to fit life at home, school and later work. From fear for the safety of their children in a society growing intolerant and violent, the first reaction of parents is to be over-protecting, deleting the personality of their youngsters and stifling healthy curiosity, questioning and openness to the world. By doing so, parents have become unconscious allies to the ayatollahs and are raising the future yes-men, who would otherwise first consider on which side his bread is buttered before making a move.
Many young parents who can afford it, when faced with the teaching at school and realising the disastrous outcome, leave the country for the West. Never to return.
A child grows up as those who have raised him.
The Iranian national education has been overwhelmingly centralised and under the watchful eyes of the censors since it was first established less than a century ago. After the Islamic Revolution, there was nothing taxing about controlling it. “Un-Islamic” teachers were purged; the textbooks printed under the fallen Shah were used with torn pages and blacked-out text, before being totally revised for Islamisation purposes. Pupils and students were segregated by sex, as in all other public institutions and venues. The crackdown took place in the 1980s during the seven years of the “Cultural Revolution”1 as it was called then.
Today there is no tag for it since its guidelines are assimilated by all. Literature, history, and any other subject in humanities is filled with Shiite propaganda and distorted facts. The pupils learn enough by heart for the exam and forget them as soon as possible. A pupil spends some four to six hours per day at school monitored by the Shiite. How can any parent go against it in after-school hours and not only “de-programme” the crap learned at school, but teach their children something else, if they are knowledgeable themselves?
The pupils lucky enough to have a penchant for sciences, such as mathematics or physics, can switch off their minds from the religious instructions and treat them as a mere nuisance while following their curriculum. For them politics and social debates are a motley concept of religion and social oppression, best avoided. By claiming to be “apolitical”, a euphemism for apathy, they dodge their responsibilities as citizens.
Others inclined towards literature, history or such studies called humanities take in whatever they are taught, till it comes the time of pertinent and acute questioning. Then the school’s disciplinary actions enforced by the Ershad officers put an end to it. Many pressured by their parents switch to sciences, considered safe.
For both groups, freedom of thinking is barred. So is freedom of expression, replaced by inhibition and self-censorship to last them their lifetime.
There is a little difference between genders: boys follow the safe, esteemed curricula in sciences, often with little or no enthusiasm, as long as they can add a university title to their name and get a job. Boys have easily adapted and adjusted to Islamic society.
Girls act differently. Often, they confront family and social pressures courageously, and when they have to give in, it is temporarily. As soon as the familial or social constraints abate, they follow their own ambitions. Girls try to change things little by little around them. If not helped by external forces, these little efforts are doomed.
Many in the West are willing to believe that the young generation of Iranians are educated enough to bring major changes to the ayatollahs’ regime. In this they delude themselves: having diplomas says nothing of character, temperament, and personal drives.
Is the “educated generation” earnest enough to build a prosperous country for all? Or is the final ambition to make the most of the present bedlam of corruption for personal profit?
A child grows up as those who have raised him.
The Media: Seeing the World with Distorted Glasses
Naturally, the media outlets have to follow punctiliously the Islamic and Revolutionary guidelines. Bills of law “on publications, press and information” are approved by Parliament at regular intervals.
It should be remembered that members of Parliament – Madjless – are vetted by the ayatollahs in Tehran, and the ballot boxes are monitored by their foot soldiers, Hodjatol-Eslam and Emam-djomeh, in provinces. Therefore, the “right” candidate is always elected. It is a masquerade but gives a sense of democratic process. In long-run brainwashing works.
A new bill of law approved by the Madjless is always more restrictive and kills freedom more than the previous. On the radio, and TV broadcasts, the Glories of the Revolution (شکوفایی انقلاب) are repeated ad nauseam even in a gardening programme on growing cucumbers.
The press contents are a shame to the profession. Making up stories based on spurious “facts” seems to be the core of the job. Enigmatic sentences using complex Arabic words is the style of it. And reporting on which ayatollah said what on a religious matter or an international issue fills pages.
Lies are said and repeated till they become facts. By which time delirium has blinded minds.
In this, propaganda has gone a long way to cultivating thin-skinned nationalism and chauvinism. The media huffs and puffs that “we are the greatest nation, we will crush the enemies”. By using big words about virile honour, female dignity protection, Ta’assob, mardanegu-i, etc. the will is to impress friends and foes alike.
Give the media a subject, any, and they will have the words and the fabricated facts of how the Islamic Republic of Iran is the champion of justice with natural benevolence and bravura.
In a “pure Islamic society”, the outward expression of inner emotional feelings and thoughts is prohibited. Therefore, artistic expression is only permissible and can reach the public when it qualifies as Islamic art.
The artists, those who obey their spontaneity and freedom, flee Iran after episodes of dense and maddening interrogation by the Ershad, and a prison sentence. Later, they are to be found in the West, starting their careers from zero, since what in Iran was a sin and a major crime, leading to some public notoriety, in the West is insignificant.
A shroud made of propaganda, rumours, and misinformation based on superciliousness, and parading male virility makes up the media and journalism. It has such a strong effect that arrogance and nationalistic huffing and puffing is heard even from the Velayat-e Faghih critics, who use the same words in a different context.
The Glass Dome on Iran: Access to the Site is Prohibited
Satellite TV first, and later the internet and smartphones gave the highest hopes yet of being the means of breaking despotism, propaganda and censorship. Now, after some years of development, the hopes run low. In Iran, those in charge of digital technologies are ahead of users because of their invention, Halal internet, which filters access and meddles in social media.
In this, the computer scientists are helped by the West’s best software producers on internet security matters. Deleted information is replaced with propaganda from the numerous state-run and state-affiliated networks and publications. The Ershad agents are paid to troll and comment on thousands of platforms.
This not only blinds those in Iran, but is also an effective means of propagating misinformation to the West.
Certainly not everything is perfect for the ayatollahs and a few paths are still open to knowledgeable and technical-minded recalcitrant, but not anymore for the average user.
No one, I repeat no one, is immune to decades of brainwashing and social pressure. However, reforming the society to fit the Islamic utopia of the ayatollahs is realised by pretence. The official speeches are rejected and even mocked in private, but conformed to in public. Nevertheless, the search for information, so as to be fully informed, is a 24-hour hard job, impossible for those with a family to look after and a job to keep. The collected titbits of information are, therefore, dots linked together with some embellished rumours to form a story that one wants to hear.
Even with a keen mind, Iranian expats arriving from the West, after a lengthy and continual stay in Tehran, develop blurred views and a sluggish mind faced with facile interpretations of partial facts and repeated rumours. In the absence of public criticism and open debates, the phoniest theories become acceptable before being twisted for another one, in contradiction to the first.
The consequence of Brainwashing: A Surrealistic World
Today’s Iranians are brought up within a closed system that controls education and the flow of information tightly. In such an atmosphere people adjust their thoughts and behaviours, and create an artificial egocentric “breathing space” filled with illusions and false facts: a surrealistic world.
Those in the West, watchful of Iranian society’s evolution, are also affected by illusions and surrealism: they cheer when they read about women defying the regime by wearing make-up, or publishing un-scarfed pictures of themselves taken in an isolated place far from any Ershad agent. They talk about “victory” when women are allowed to see a volleyball match in a confined part of the stadium.
These weak signs of change, are pendulum movements; they come and go. Soon there is to be a crackdown on women relax with their scarf (bad-Hedjab), and those going to see a match are called whores, zanan harzeh. In the meantime, Parliament, Madjless, is passing laws to tighten the grip of Islamism; the judiciary is busy imprisoning and executing cartoonists and Facebook users, keeping critics in confined custody on the vaguest charges of being enemies of Islam and/or on account of spying for foreign powers.
To sum up, for an Iranian, fed with repeated but simple propaganda, and in the absence of facts, what I think and what I say, now, becomes more important than how realities shape the world. This is despotism, zourgoui, and a common practice, from family relationships to the highest political level.
Opportunistic opinions are expressed in such peremptory fashion as to make rational conversation impossible. Debates end in disorder and personal insults. For the worse, conspiracy theories thrive. The young and active Iranian generation is the product of such Islamic propaganda and the climate it has created.
Islamic Brainwashing Backfires
If the first generation of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s ruler could count on an active population that was still “connected” to the world, today it has to make do with a population that it has itself nurtured but cannot solve the problems of the country. It adds to it.
The young and active generation is not trained to be pragmatic, talk with sincerity, and be confident in its moves. It is told to obey and duck responsibilities. It has learned to be suspicious-minded and to trust no one, be it wife, husband, boss, teacher, friend or offspring.
The graduates are produced in their thousands but their shallow commitments in any undertaking, their superficial but peremptory opinions, their undisciplined minds, and their inexperience and incompetence in teamwork and planning sound the death knell of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The generation of revolutionaries is getting old and nature is taking care of its number. One by one, they are buried amid large media coverage and the officialdom condolences. The Supreme Guide’s circle, made of early companions, is thinning fast. Many are being replaced by the God’s Army veterans of the Iran–Iraq war of the 1980s. Today’s Iranian policymakers have the smell of garrison sweat and are only interested in the deadly weapons of the new technologies: missiles, nuclear centrifuges and enriching uranium.
The Islamists who do not wear Shiite’s hierarchy toga (Ghaba) and turban, the offspring and in-laws of the ayatollahs, have a firm hand on higher education and the technical aspects of major ministries, despite their flagrant incompetence. The authorities have to recruit professionals amid homegrown graduates who have no experience of the world and are narrow-minded. Their commitment is measured by their abilities in exhibiting religious rites and boasting about their faith, but they are unable to distinguish the facts from the repeated lies. They have grown up in a rigid structure in which social encounters are organised by the Islamic gurus: either one adheres to them or drops out without having the possibility of experiencing something different.
Anyone in Europe and in close contact with a freshly arrived Iranian student, there to complete their university degree, soon becomes aware that behind the friendly face and the knowledge of their own field – however, this is more the encyclopaedic type and less the analytical form of knowledge – hides a socially handicapped person. They shy away from student associations and groups, lack organisational skills and in the case of an internal dispute they prefer to disappear from the scene with a shallow excuse, rather than give their opinion.
Some students adapt to the Western lifestyle after a little struggle with their inhibitions and stay in the West and build their lives.
Others return to Iran. Their first worry is to find the right religious recommendation to join the elite and be protected by an ayatollah or two.
If they fail, which is often the case, they vegetate – frustrated – in the private sector. They are on the look-out for titbits of activities not worthy of the ayatollahs and their cronies. They build houses of cards with rumours and misinformation and imagine a prosperous future for themselves that is never to be. They have a pernicious role in Iranian society. In order to save face and convince themselves of the rightness of their decision, they make up stories of success and a rosy comfortable life to convey to others.
If Iranians are willing to avoid a bloody trap such as the one plaguing Syria and Libya, they must have a functional country run by capable professionals. The first Iranian Supreme Guide and medieval patriarch, R. Khomeini, ruled a population of 35 million and defied the USA in a relatively calm Middle East. Today’s Iran has a population of 80 million in the midst of barbaric wars among Muslims, in which friends cannot be distinguished from foes. The weakening power of the ayatollahs drives them to flex muscles in the Middle East, but in the bedlam that they helped to produce they will be losers, as will anyone else involved in it. Cynically, the only ally to the present Supreme Guide and medieval patriarch, A. Khamenei, seems to be the very same USA.
The checklist of Iranian forces to build a future for the country is blank. Iranian women till now have been heralds of resistance to the ayatollahs by their acts and consistencies and have competently occupied the little spaces left by men.
Businesses, associations, and non-profitable organisations are run by women. They talk less than Iranian men, but do more and do by far a better job. The most vigorous and effective human-right activists inside and outside the country are women. The female Iranian writers in the West are amazingly aware of the social problems and work hard with meagre means.
Iranian men, on the other hand, are still discussing international matters with big words, revisiting the Shah period, and writing a poem or two. They enjoy being called “Master – Ostad” and “Dr”. They receive the flattery expressed by their honey-mouthed entourage, as a cat would wolf its milk.
The Iranian diaspora in the West are professionally capable, and have built a reputation as being talented and honest citizens. But they are passive when it comes to their own country’s matters. They have turned their back on it. Those in the West, who believe in the force and listen to the Mujahedeen Khalgh as a credible opposition group, are either naïve or on their paid list.
In 1979, the only organised movement to the Shah’s dictatorship was the Shiite hierarchy. Today, the Shiite hierarchy runs the country but by his own doing has failed to raise capable and young professionals whom it can trust and would be able to run the country or even hold it together in a rough ride.
Someone was heard saying: “Live the present, learn from the past and prepare the future”. Wise.
In Iran, people live the present, but weep on the past without learning from it, and each day starts without a little plan for how best to spend it. Unwise.
A Glimmer of Hope in the Darkness
Despite all the international hullabaloo on the Iranian nuclear issues, and all the official blabber on a meaningful historical agreement or its hollowness, the tidal wave of little hope might come from an unexpected quarter.
Not from the USA advocating the ayatollahs’ interests better than themselves. Not from Europe, which is too busy counting the cents and pennies left after the repeated financial disasters.
Not from Russia either, Iran’s big brother and neighbour, or China, which is only interested in the country’s raw material.
Wherever they are, whatever their philosophy or upbringing, far from the politics and the religion, only one thing fills Iranians, men and women, with enthusiasm, joy, fairness and the love for their country.
Football. Silly? Just think of it.
No Iranian in the West would cheer if Hassan Rouhani took a trip to the West. But all are eager to cheer the Iranian football team in their thousands from the bottom of their hearts in a stadium.
Despite various sabotage by the religious and political hierarchies in Iran, football players enjoy a particular social prestige.
Perhaps, one day, free women and men will go and cheer their heroes in an Iranian stadium. That day, the ayatollahs will have run away from Iran, as rats do when a boat sinks, as the ministers and VIPs of the Shah’s regime did in 1978-79. The glimmer of hope is avoiding another dictatorship or a civil war through team spirit, and football players are the only ones able to produce it today.
Still a silly idea? Perhaps, but this is the only one that has the merit of being a fact.
Ta Gueule! Dessins pour Amnesty, 1977, Albin Michel, Paris
• Willem (Holtrop), Netherlands/France (added Farsi words)
• Tomi Ungerer, France/Irland (Edited)
• Ivan Steiger, CSSR/W. Germany
• Sam Gross, USA
• Jan Tomaschoff, CSSR/W. Germany
André Barbe, France (brother), Roland Searle, Great Britain/France (Me), Bernard Cretin, France (Sister), Gal (Gerard Alsteens), Begium (Dad), Fernando Puig-Rosado, Spain/France (Mum), Jean-Pierre Desclozeaux, France (Guide).