Tehran Blues: Youth Culture in Iran, by Kaveh Basmenji, London, UK: Saqi Books, 2005. 272 pages. $22.50.
Warring Souls; Youth, Media, and Martyrdom in Post-Revolution Iran, by Roxanne Varzi. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006. xiv + 217 pages. Notes to p. 262. Works cited to p. 268. Index to p. 290. $21.95 paper.
Reviewed by AIi Akbar Mahdi
Since the election of Mohammad Khatami as the seventh president of Iran in 1997, Iranian youth and women are perceived as two major sources of social change in Iran. It is believed that these two groups were largely responsible for Khatami's 1997 presidential victory, as well as his re-election in 2001. Young students also were involved in protests and riots following the forced shutdown of the Salaam newspaper in July 1999, resulting in a confrontation between government forces and students in several major Iranian cities.
Ever since these events, however, the Western media has generated reports describing the disenfranchisement of the Iranian youth in the Islamic Republic and its political implications. Most of these reports anticipated another political upheaval. Reform was deemed inevitable, and the clerics were regarded, and still are, to be on their way out of power.1 The conclusion drawn from these reports by Western governments, especially by the US government, was that Iranian youth are the most likely agents either for forcing the Iranian regime to change its behavior or changing the regime itself. This conclusion led the US government to revamp its Persian radio and television programs produced for Iranian audiences. Radio Liberty's politically-focused discussion forums were transformed into a youth-oriented program renamed Radio Farda (Tomorrow's Radio), which is headed by the author of Tehran Blues. Voice of America was also transformed by the addition of numerous programs designed for Iranian youth and operated by younger Iranian-Americans. The objective behind these changes was to reinforce the Iranian youth's affinity for American culture and resentment of the Islamic Republic. Youth access to satellite TV and the internet was believed to be the primary reason for the waning influence of the religious elite. It was assumed that young people were ready to change the face of the country by initiating another revolution.2
As the Iranian government succeeded in clamping down on the political protests of the late 1990s, and Khatami's disappointing second term ended with the election of conservative Mahmud Ahmadinejad in 2005, the content of these Western reports changed: the politically active Iranian youth now became less idealistic, less proactive, and more interested in their immediate pleasures and gains. Drugs and addiction among youth became rampant, prostitution spread widely, and alienation characterized urban youth. New reports from Iran are filled with discussions of a new youth culture of indifference, indulgence, and self-annihilation. The two books under review are the latest publications in this genre.
In Tehran Blues, Basmenji seeks to offer "a factual, objective, impartial, and fair picture of 'the youth movement in Iran.'" The book is a journalistic account of youths' deeds and thoughts regarding post-revolutionary Iran. In 11 chapters, Basmenji discusses the historical contradictions in which Iranian youths have found themselves - the ups and downs of the student movement, the emergence and transformations of the Islamic Republic, the ironies and fallacies of the Islamic Republic and its ideology, the Pahlavi regime and its downfall, the reformist movement and its constituencies, the Iranian economy and its effect on the political developments on domestic and international relationships, the suppression of dissent and lack of political freedom, the generation gap and youths' newly developed underground culture, the problems of drugs and prostitution, and the election of Ahmadinejad as president.
While full of lively vignettes, stories, cases, and quotations, the chapters in Tehran Blues are disconnected, and they do not follow a logical order. …