Iran learns to start loving the Great Satan of the West

THE HARDLINERS were there in force yesterday outside the United States embassy in Tehran, or "Den of Spies", as they like to call it here. Chanting the same slogans of "Marg bar Amrika", "Death to America" - the Great Satan itself - and burning US flags, 10,000 gathered to mark the 20th anniversary of the day their revolution turned its self-righteous rage on the West, the day students took US diplomats hostage and held them for a year.

But the turn-out was lower than before, a sign, say observers, of waning enthusiasm for the fervour that drove the militants to storm the embassy.

Another sign is the piano in Hassan Eshkevari's living- room. He is a mullah, and the mullahs who govern Iran have always considered music a polluting influence of the unIslamic West. But the piano in Mr Eshkevari's home at the other end of town is proof that they are shouting in vain.

Mr Eshkevari does not play it himself - that would be asking too much of a mullah. But his daughter plays it, and Mr Eshkevari tolerates it. If the reforms, led by President Mohammad Khatami, which are shaking Iran to its foundations, are about one thing, they are about tolerance.

Take Mr Eshkevari's views on the hejab, the covering that women must wear in public. "It doesn't bother me at all," the mullah said. "Some women want to wear the hejab and some don't. Maybe personally I don't like to see women without hejab, but it doesn't bother me." Sitting in his armchair, with his mullah's robes hastily thrown on, his turban slightly awry, Mr Eshkevari resembles nothing so much as a country vicar as he fusses over the tea. A clergyman is in essence what he is - it is only Iran's Islamic revolution that has turned the mullahs into political figures.

Now, with the public mood in favour of reform, people are saying the place for the mullah is in the mosque, not the government. Mr Eshkevari agrees: "The clergy will remain religious leaders, but because of the failure of the Islamic Republic, sovereignty will revert to the people."

So, are the angry young men outside the American embassy out of touch, is Iran heading down the Western path to become a democratic, secular state? "Democracy is the most important achievement of Mankind: it doesn't belong to the West or the East," snorted the mullah.

He is one voice among millions, and an ultra-liberal at that. Few even of Mr Khatami's reformers would agree with him about the hejab, or call Islamic rule a failure.

For many in Iran, America is not the Great Satan any more. Reformers held an alternative demonstration outside the university on Wednesday, chanting the rather less fiery slogan "We will deal with the United States with rationality".

But not everybody is clamouring for the American way of life, either. This is the nation that defied the most powerful country in the world for 20 years, and even the reformers are proud of that. "We like the Western countries, but we like their technology, their freedoms," Ali Hosseini, a carpet-seller, said. "But we are Muslims and we want an Islamic way of life."

Neda Tehrani, all but her face shrouded in a chador, agreed: "I want to wear the hejab: it's my religion. And I think women should be made to wear it - these are our values."

But a few miles north, in the smart parks of middle-class Tehran, you find a different perspective. Naheed Abbasi was sitting disconsolately on a bench, in the same black chador. "I want to wear what I like, to meet men, to drink alcohol. I want to live in a Western society. But these things will never come in my lifetime."

Although the conservative mullahs are closing newspapers and jailing the outspoken, people are speaking their minds. "How can we worry about the hejab when we don't even know who we are yet?" Saeed Mohammedi, a small businessman, asked. "First, we have to learn to be individuals."

That process is under way. A people who have had every tiny detail of their lives dictated to them for two decades are demanding the right to think for themselves. On the streets of Tehran there is no one clear vision of the future, but there is debate. "What we need now is not the freedom to drink or not to wear the hejab," said Mr Eshkevari, wrapping his robes around him. "What we need is freedom of thought. We are at the beginning of the way."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game