Tehran’s party scene

There’s some interesting backstory to the Tehran protests in, of all places, this month’s UK edition of GQ – which, as chance would have it, sent Ed Caesar off to do a piece on Tehran’s party scene not long before this month’s elections.  His observations are fascinating in the light of subsequent events.

The article’s not on the web, but here are a few excerpts:

Two thirds of Iranians are under 30 years old, a product of the huge loss of life in the Iran-Iraq war of the Eighties and the subsequent baby boom. And, while many of this generation have left (every year 150,000 relocate to America, Britain, Australia and Canada), a significant number have stayed.

Now, a minority of the most daring young people – steeped in Western influences through travel, satellite TV and the internet – have created a home-grown scene that is wild, addictive and constricted to the inside of each other’s homes. In public, they play ball with the Islamic regime. In private, they just play.

[snip]

The Tehran party scene may be the by-product of a repressive state, but it’s anything but a revolutionary breeding ground. When politics is discussed at these gatherings, it is only to confirm who will be voting in the elections, or whether it’s all a waste of time. No plots are hatched. But the Iranian intelligence agencies, clearly, think differently.

[snip]

Jafar, a wisecracking 25-year-old pianist whose father was a member of Frozen Hot Tall, Iran’s first rock band in the Sixties, tries to explain what the parties are really about. “Tehran is out-of-control crazy,” he says. “But it’s not healthy. Everyone is doing everything to extremes. I was at a party the other day. There were 80 people there – from 15-year-old kids to old people of 75 – and everyone was so drunk it was unreal. Our use of drugs, our relationships, our parties, everything is so extreme. And, when the police come, we have to pay them a lot to bribe them to go away.” …

One story doing the rounds in north Tehran concerns a rich, gay art collecter who recently threw the mother of all parties at his house in the suburbs. When the police burst through the front door, they not only found people dressed inappropriately, but a smorgasbord of drugs, including cocaine and ecstasy. The icing on the cake was the owner’s collection of irreverent artworks, including his paintings of mullahs in compromising positions.  The story goes that he had to pay $200,000 for the problem to go away – an unofficial record.

[snip]

Markan … tells me that he travelled to Germany with his band, Dash, to play some gigs but, despite the freedoms he enjoyed there, couldn’t wait to get home. “I was so homesick for my family, I cried when I spoke to my father,” he says, without shame.

Here seems to be the key to understanding the party people of Tehran. They are a generation trapped between the past and the present – a group who still believe in the importance of family, but who want the freedom to express themselves as individuals. When you understand this, you start to see the parties not as displays of Western hedonism, but as something much richer, and more Persian. They are places where everyone knows everyone. They are family.

“Thank God for these peple,” says Golsa, of her friends. “If we didn’t find each other, we’d go mad.”

Would the EU please stand up?

Teheran burning

Over at Hot Air, Ed Morrissey is itching for Obama to get stuck in to the Iranian regime:

We have an opportunity to get the Iranians to use this thick-skulled blunder by the mullahs to press for real regime change.  It wouldn’t take an expression of support for Mousavi from Obama to help increase the momentum in the streets of Tehran and elsewhere for the removal of the theocracy.  An expression of support for self-determination in a free and fair election system in Iran would be plenty.  Obama could use his bully pulpit to point out that the mullahs handpickedall of the candidates, which has obviously left the Iranians feeling manipulated and unrepresented by their government.  Obama could call on the Guardian Council and Ali Khamenei to stage actual elections, without the GC’s interference, and an election with international observers to certify that the Iranian people are allowed to choose their own government.

Morrissey, to his credit, details the other side of the argument – that overt expressions of support from the US could be counter-productive, helping the Iranian regime paint its opponents as stooges of the Great Satan.

I find this argument much more compelling that Morrissey does. It’s not a perfect comparison – but in Pakistan, vocal US support for President Musharraf cut the ground from under the feet of a leader the US was desperate to shore up. Pakistanis love conspiracy theories and I used to joke with them that the Bush adminstration was, in fact, trying to bring down the Musharraf regime – and had chosen vocal praise as a novel, but deadly, weapon.

So I think Obama and his proxies should remain studied, neutral. They shouldn’t recognise the election result, but neither should they get dragged too far in the fray. (Some of Morrissey’s messaging around the importance of democracy would actually work quite well, if the tone and rhetoric were kept low key.)

Instead, I’d like to see the Europeans (with behind-the-scenes encouragement from Obama) start to play bad cop, steadily ramping up the pressure as the regime tries to crack down on demonstrators. In particular, we should look to Germany – a major trading partner for Iran – to take a lead. (The UK probably needs to take a back seat – for similar reasons to the US.)

Will this happen? Probably not. The statement from the Czechs, who hold the EU Presidency, was not just weak – it was barely literate.

The Presidency is concerned about alledged irregularities during the election process and post-electional violence that broke out immediately after the release of the official election results on 13 June 2009.

The Presidency hopes that outcome of the Presidential elections will bring the opportunity to resume the dialogue on nuclear issue and clear up Iranian possition in this regard. The Presidency expects the new Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran will take its responsibility towards international community and respect its international obligations.

But Angela Merkel has gone on the record to says that the election was irregular and to say that she is ‘very worried’ about events that have followed. France, too, has shown some signs of disquiet. Reuters detects signs of an emerging EU campaign to question the election results. So maybe there is hope.

The Americans and Europeans badly need to find a way to work in unison on major foreign policy risks. My fingers are crossed that this crisis in Iran will see the emergence of a deeper, more media savvy, and – above all – more effective mode of transatlantic cooperation. But for that to happen, we need to see the Europeans pull their fingers out and show they too can talk tough.

Those Iranian election results in full

Andrew Sullivan provides a helpful graph plotting the ratio of Ahmadinejad to Moussavi votes in six different counts. That ratio proves to be remarkably consistent at each count:

 

Sullivan’s conclusion:

They didn’t even attempt to disguise the fraud. Which, to me, tells me they panicked. This graph is a red flag to Iran and the world.

Update: Nate Silver’s done a fairly comprehensive rebuttal of this graph – see here. He concludes,

these results certainly do not prove that Iran’s election was clean. I have no particular reason to believe the results reported by the Interior Ministry. But I also don’t have any particular reason to disbelieve them, at least based on the statistical evidence … I am not suggesting that any and all statistical analysis purporting to show tampering in Iran’s election results will turn out to be fruitless. I am merely suggesting that this particular analysis is dubious; it is not a smoking gun.