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Youth grappling with economic, cultural hurdles in modern Iran

Tehran, Iran – Frank Sinatra’s performance of the 1944 song I Fall in Love to Easily made it an American jazz standard. In a dimly lit studio in downtown Tehran 75 years later, Azin Elahi sings it is an act of youthful rebellion. The 19-year-old dreams of a career as a vocalist on the big…

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Youth grappling with economic, cultural hurdles in modern Iran

Tehran, Iran – Frank Sinatra’s performance of the 1944 song I Fall in Love to Easily made it an American jazz standard.

In a dimly lit studio in downtown Tehran 75 years later, Azin Elahi sings it is an act of youthful rebellion.
The 19-year-old dreams of a career as a vocalist on the big stage. But in Iran, where the sound of a solo female singing voice violates strict Islamic codes of conduct governing public life, stealing moments of freedom in private spaces and behind closed doors may be the closest she gets.
“For a female vocalist in Iran, it is not just about [a woman singing in public] being illegal. The society doesn’t recognise you,” said Elahi.

“My entire life, I wanted to sing. It’s like breathing for me. I can’t do anything else. But as a [professional] or an artist, you are not recognised, especially if you want to sing.”
The social stigma attached to the public act of singing, being a woman, can be as insurmountable an obstacle as the country’s Islamic laws, she added.

“We have so many talents here. The thing I want to say in the end is if you feel it in your heart, go for it and don’t let anyone or any religion or anything push you away.”

Despite her ambition, Elahi and her four bandmates acknowledge that American jazz does not fit the public image in Iran, and realising their musical dreams may mean leaving home.
They were all born two generations after the 1979 revolution and the Islamic Republic is the only Iran they’ve ever known. According to a 2013 study by the United Nations and the University of Tehran, a third of Iran’s population are aged between 15 and 29.

But many young people like them often speak nostalgically of a more liberal time before the revolution, an Iran they’ve never experienced.

According to a 2013 study by the UN and the University of Tehran, a third of Iran’s population is aged between 15 and 29 [Al Jazeera]

But the sound of music from small corners of the capital is a reminder that despite the conservative public face of the Islamic Republic of Iran – 40 years after the 1979 revolution – a diversity of perspectives still manages to coexist in the country.

Daughters of martyrs

There is a segment of the Iranian population that says the clerical system of government is over-involved in matters of public life and personal freedoms. But there are also ardent supporters of the system that has promoted and enforced Islamic codes of public and private conduct in place for four decades.

Hajar Chenarani is a member of parliament and was born in 1979, the first generation of Iranians born under the flag of a new republic.

In many ways, she is a poster-child for the revolution: A devout Muslim having humble roots, highly educated, and her father died fighting in the Iraq war.

She’s one of millions of Iranians who see the 1979 revolution as a kind of referendum that determined Iran be governed by Islamic ideals in perpetuity.

“We should accept that we are a country that enjoys a rich culture rooted in the purity of Islam,” said Chenarani, adding that “we should consider we are an Islamic country, in line with [Islamic] ideals.”

“We may not allow some freedoms in the country that are permitted in other countries.”

But Chenarani acknowledges Iran’s youth is restless and blames the government’s failure to address issues of youth unemployment, which has contributed to increasing brain drain.

Many educated young people, who find themselves unemployed or underemployed, have been leaving the country.

“There may be some dysfunction in the country, some officials may make a mistake,” she said. “We always ask, what has the revolution done for us. But I always ask myself, what have I done for the revolution?”

Culture of fear

Iranian politicians often point to an urgent need to engage with young people to address the concerns of an entire generation.

A culture of fear limits open dialogue about even the most benign issues. Criticism of government officials and policies is common, but only behind closed doors, for fear of government retaliation.

Young people born to the children of the revolution, often refer to themselves as the ‘burned generation’ [Al Jazeera]

“We hear the time before the revolution was [economically] better, but I can’t talk about this transparently. In fact, I won’t dare do that,” said one Tehran shopkeeper in his 20s. “I can say a lot. But I prefer to say nothing, to keep my head on my neck.”

In deeply religious parts of the country, like Qom and Mashhad, many young men and women remain stalwart supporters of the ideals of the Islamic Revolution.

But in Tehran, where the success of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s rebellion in 1979 was the catalyst for sweeping change across the country, younger generations seem to be drifting away from conservative religious and political sentiment.

Young people born to the children of the revolution often refer to themselves as the “burned generation”. They say economic circumstances for them are so bleak, the hope for prosperity that came with Khomeini’s revolt is little more than historical record. For them, the revolution anniversary is a reminder of their tough financial times.

“To be honest, it’s like a wound that you can never get rid of,” said Amir Hosseini, the guitarist in Elahi’s band.

“It has never had a huge impact on my life and I was never a fan of these celebrations. Maybe I’m a shame to some guys who are fans. But everyone has their own thing to do and no one can force anyone … it’s a free life, I think.”

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German far-right holds congress with COVID ‘hotspot potential’

About 600 members of AfD due to meet Saturday at an unused nuclear plant in Kalkar city defying pandemic warnings.Hundreds of AfD delegates will gather Saturday for a congress that authorities have warned could become a coronavirus hotspot, as the German far-right party increasingly aligns itself with activists protesting coronavirus restrictions. Six hundred members of…

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German far-right holds congress with COVID ‘hotspot potential’

About 600 members of AfD due to meet Saturday at an unused nuclear plant in Kalkar city defying pandemic warnings.Hundreds of AfD delegates will gather Saturday for a congress that authorities have warned could become a coronavirus hotspot, as the German far-right party increasingly aligns itself with activists protesting coronavirus restrictions.
Six hundred members of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant party are due to meet at an unused nuclear plant in western Germany’s Kalkar city to draw up their first concept on pensions.
To win approval for the huge gathering at a time when Germans are asked to limit their contacts to just two households at a time, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) had signed up to stringent rules including compulsory mask-wearing and distancing in the huge hall.
The party’s own security officers are due to ensure that the rules are met, alongside officials from Kalkar city.
Hundreds of police officers will also be deployed to ward off any unruly scenes, as anti-AfD protesters have also announced plans to demonstrate outside.

The event can “become a hotspot,” warned Kalkar’s mayor Britta Schulz, adding that, while it was “irresponsible” to hold such a big event, the political gathering could not be prohibited.
Because new appointments are also due to be made to the AfD’s board during the meeting, the congress is exempted from rules banning large gatherings in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
More than 15,000 COVID deaths
In contrast, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party has twice postponed its congress to elect a new leader because of the risks of coronavirus contagion. The Greens held their meeting online last weekend.
Shrugging off possible risks, the AfD’s health policy spokesman Detlev Spangenberg claimed, “The coronavirus is comparable to the influenza in terms of the course taken by the illness as well as in terms of its lethality. So the serious measures [taken to fight it] are not proportionate.”
Germany has recorded more than a million coronavirus infections. A total of 15,586 people have died from the illness, according to official data.
‘War propaganda’
The AfD has been the focus of repeated controversies since it began life as a eurosceptic outfit seven years ago.

In 2015, as public opinion soured against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to keep Germany’s borders open to hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war in Iraq and Syria, the AfD morphed into an anti-immigration party.
It was rewarded for its Islamophobic positioning at elections in 2017, when voters sent it into the Bundestag for the first time to become the biggest opposition group in parliament.
A year before national elections, the party is once again positioning itself at the side of groups railing against the government – this time over curbs imposed to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Party co-chief Alexander Gauland recently accused the government of using “war propaganda” to champion its “corona-dictatorship”.
Anti-coronavirus curbs
AfD politicians are now also regularly marching side by side demonstrators against coronavirus curbs.
During the latest round of protests in central Berlin, when violence reached a level that the capital’s police chief said had been unseen in decades, an AfD politician was charged for using a forged medical certificate to claim he could not wear the required nose and mouth covering.
In a separate incident recently, Gauland was forced to apologise after two of the party’s legislators invited to parliament two far-right YouTubers who went on to harass politicians in the building.
Nevertheless, the AfD’s ratings have held at about 10 percent, compared with highs of 15-16 percent at the height of the refugee crisis.
In 2017, German voters sent AfD into the Bundestag for the first time to become the biggest opposition group in parliament [File: Fabian Bimmer/Reuters]Toxic infighting between ultra-conservatives and others in the party has weakened the AfD. Some voters are also turned off by association with neo-Nazi skinheads, as the AfD’s most radical faction “Fluegel” is now the object of official surveillance by Germany’s intelligence agency.
Instead, approval ratings for Merkel – who is due to retire from politics next year – have soared to new heights, as the vast majority of the population voiced satisfaction at her handling of the pandemic.

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Saudi Aramco says customers unaffected by Houthi attack on Jeddah

Monday’s attack knocked out a tank that contained 10 percent of all fuel stored a the Jeddah plant, Saudi Aramco official says.Oil giant Saudi Aramco says customers were unaffected by an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on a petroleum products distribution plant in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah. One of the facility’s tanks…

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Saudi Aramco says customers unaffected by Houthi attack on Jeddah

Monday’s attack knocked out a tank that contained 10 percent of all fuel stored a the Jeddah plant, Saudi Aramco official says.Oil giant Saudi Aramco says customers were unaffected by an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on a petroleum products distribution plant in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah.
One of the facility’s tanks was hit by a missile in early on Monday.
The attack knocked out 10 percent of all fuel that was stored at the plant, a Saudi Aramco official said on Tuesday, adding that the tank – one of 13 at the facility – is currently out of action.
The official described the site as a “critical facility” that distributes more than 120,000 barrels of products per day.
A fire caused by the attack was extinguished in about 40 minutes with no casualties, he said.
The attack was confirmed by a Saudi official who told the Saudi state news agency (SPA) it was a “terrorist attack with a projectile”.
The oil company’s production and export facilities are mostly in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province, more than 1,000km (621 miles) away from Jeddah, across the country.
Announcing the attack, a military spokesman for the Houthis warned that “operations will continue”.
Yahya Sarea said the attack was carried out with a Quds-2 type winged missile. He also posted a satellite image with the label: “North Jeddah bulk plant-Saudi Aramco”.
“The strike was very accurate, and ambulances and fire engines rushed to the target,” Sarea said.
That facility is just southeast of Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport, an important site that handles incoming Muslim pilgrims en route to nearby Mecca.
Renewed violence
Yemen has been mired in conflict since a Saudi-led coalition intervened in March 2015 to restore the Yemeni government, which had been removed from power in the capital Sanaa by Houthi forces in late 2014.
Cross-border attacks by Houthi forces have escalated since late May when a truce prompted by the novel coronavirus pandemic expired. The Saudi-led coalition has responded with air raids on Houthi-held territory.
The Houthis control most of north Yemen and most large urban areas. They say they are fighting a corrupt system.
Sarea said the attack was carried out in response to the Saudi-led coalition’s actions in Yemen.
The claimed attack came just after a visit by outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia to see Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The kingdom also just hosted the annual G20 summit, which concluded on Sunday.

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US appoints first Venezuela ambassador in a decade amid tensions

The two nations have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations began to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.The United States has its first ambassador for Venezuela in 10 years despite Washington having no diplomats at its Caracas embassy amid a breakdown in relations. James Story’s nomination as ambassador was confirmed on Wednesday by a…

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US appoints first Venezuela ambassador in a decade amid tensions

The two nations have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations began to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.The United States has its first ambassador for Venezuela in 10 years despite Washington having no diplomats at its Caracas embassy amid a breakdown in relations.
James Story’s nomination as ambassador was confirmed on Wednesday by a US Senate voice vote.
The South Carolina native takes the job that he will carry out from the capital of neighbouring Colombia as Venezuela endures an historic economic and political crisis.
The US and Venezuela have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations first started to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.
The two nations totally broke diplomatic ties last year, each withdrawing its diplomats shortly after Washington backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s leader.
Story, 50, will likely play a key role in helping guide US policy on Venezuela during the transition of President-elect Joe Biden.
Biden’s win has sparked debate among those who back President Donald Trump’s hardline approach of isolating his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro and others who say it is time for a new course.
The critics say heavy sanctions have failed to remove Maduro from power, opening Venezuela to US competitors such as China, Russia and Iran, while making life harder on millions of residents of the South American nation.
The US leads a coalition of dozens of nations that rejected Maduro following his election in 2018 to a second term in a vote Washington called fraudulent.
The US has since heavily sanctioned Maduro, his inner circle and the state-run oil firm, attempting to isolate them.
The Trump administration offered a $15m reward for Maduro’s arrest after a US court indicted him on drug charges.

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