Iranians call my cohort the ‘Burnt Generation’. We grew up during the 1970s and 1980s in the abyss of revolution, an eight-year-long war with Iraq, mass executions, pervasive violence and revenge. We took shelter from missile attacks, and heard gunshots and horrific tales of poison gas on the front. Families and friends lost loved ones to combat, death sentences, imprisonment or – if they were lucky – exile.
Strict morality was enforced on the streets, in schools, in universities and in public buildings. Those who did not believe in or practise the values and restrictions of the Islamic Republic were forced nonetheless to abide by them. The fear of state-administered violence – beating, torture or death – made even non-believers internalise a practice of outward submission. Parents of the Burnt Generation started to impose even stricter rules, rules they themselves did not believe in, to protect their children.
We learned the art of quiet dissent. In private, non-religious families led a double life, defying rules for the most normal activities: watching satellite TV and foreign movies, listening to non-approved music, dancing, attending mixed family gatherings, taking secret pleasure in life. In school or other public arenas, we were not to confront authority on issues of religion, politics and values. Everything about our own identity was illegal. Worse, schools invaded our privacy by ‘morally policing’ what we could wear, how we could act, what we could think. Non-compliant youths would be turned in to the authorities.
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Dr. Mahsa Rouhi is a Research Fellow at the Center for Strategic Research at the Institute for National Strategic Studies at National Defense University. The views expressed are the authors own and do not reflect those of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.