In the eyes of Iran’s ruling clerics, music, the arts and youth culture are among the permanent prime suspects in fostering what they perceive to be “deviance” in society, and what might elsewhere be classed as progress. The essence of these suspicions is rooted in tradition, and their reading of Shia Islam, which takes a hostile approach toward all three phenomena just as it does to women. A recently-published scholarly article has examined the Islamic Republic’s views on one particular cultural trend: the underground music scene in Iran.
For years deep, organic and wide-ranging changes to the fabric of Iranian society have taken place all on their own, without state involvement and buoyed along by social media and the internet. These changes have exposed all the more starkly the inefficient, inhuman side of Iran’s ruling regime, and the empty-handedness of Shiite clerics in the face of the tide.
Every year, the Islamic Republic spends billions of tomans promoting Twelver Shia doctrine and its version of Islamic jurisprudence, and on undermining aspects of modern life that don’t sit well with it. These efforts to subjugate women, blinker Iranians’ understanding of the world and censor alternative views have been hampered since the mid-1990s, with the expansion of the internet, satellite TV and other modes of mass communication.
For all its trumpeting of “young revolutionaries”, never has the regime’s worldview been further than that of the average Iranian young person. Despite this, the clergy and security apparatus under their control continue to make every effort to snuff out fundamental change in Iranian society, even as the young distance themselves from religion in record numbers.
Police and Judges’ Alarm at ‘Fast Rhythms’ and ‘Unusual Relationships’
The Iranian police, at the very least, appear to be fully aware of this. A new study published in the latest issue of the police-affiliated quarterly Social Order admitted: “Underground music is now an influential phenomenon in some socio-cultural spheres, [and] one of the most important trends in society today... This constitutes a key aspect of Iranian music and shows the spread and popularity of informal music in Iran."
The article, entitled Identifying the Ethical and Security Challenges of Underground Music, went on to feature interviews with some 32 Iranian police officers and judges. The survey found that 59 percent of judges, and 54 percent of police officers involved in clamping down on the practice, agreed that “the intoxicating nature of underground music” and “inciting moral and security crimes" were the biggest “challenges” the genre posed to society.
Another 63 and 61 percent respectively said the second-biggest issue was “the unsupervised character of underground music”, while 69 and 71 percent said they were worried about “unusual relationships” between gig-goers. Half agreed with the statement: “Singing together and keeping the members of these groups together for a long time can lead to excessive intimacy and closeness and increase the possibility of abnormal behavior."
In a telling display of near-unanimity, the study found that 94 percent of judges and police officers agreed: "Being underground and outside of control, surveillance and oversight can be dangerous and perverse in itself." More than 70 percent also expressed concern about lyrics about romance and sexual attraction, saying they “objectively promote and propagate immorality [and] lack of honor”, while 90.4 percent said lyrics accompanied by a fast rhythm could be conductive to “perverse behavior”.
This study also showed that judges and police in Iran think that the formation of groups of three or four people in the form of a music group (68.34 percent), the establishment of intimate and friendly relations among the members of the groups (about 80 percent), travel and consecutive and continuous communication between the members of the group to produce their music (nearly 81 percent), the people of the underground music groups being next to each other at different hours of the day and night R (87 percent), following the style of clothing of foreign singers or Iranian singers abroad (91 percent), imitating the behavior and lifestyle of foreign singers or Iranian singers abroad (87%) are the cases that set the stage for the "occurrence of moral crimes" in Iranian society.
Based on these findings, the study concluded: "The occurrence of moral crimes in underground music groups is possible, due to components such as the impact of rave-like characteristics, a lack of supervision, the lyrical content and unusual relationships among group members.”
'Teach Them Anger Management Skills'
Apart from that ominous report, Social Order has published a plethora of other content that strives to paint a dark picture of Iranian youth culture. One article entitled Structural Modelling of High-Risk Youth Behaviors. This study examined high-risk behaviors among Iranian young people, which included negligent driving, smoking and drug consumption.
This police-sponsored study concluded: “In our country, a large number of young people are studying at universities. On this basis, if they are taught anger management skills, the future of society could be less risky or more tolerant.”
A third study, called The Impact of Virtual Networks on Women’s Social Deviations, declared social media was leading Iranian women a stray. “Social networks,” it posited, “have posed a serious challenge to our values and moral system in various social and family areas." It stressed that the anonymous environment was giving women freer rein to “violate” social norms.
The study cited as “evidence” data on women who had been arrested in Jahrom, Fars province, some of whom had told police they intended to speak out about it on social media. Ninety percent of them had never been charged with a crime before and all were charged with “minor offences”, the nature of which or its connection to online activity was not explained.