In Iran, no room for 'Happy' (+video)
Young Iranians who filmed a version of the viral hit 'Happy' were arrested, then released. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini once said, 'There is no fun in Islam.'
Istanbul; and Tehran, Iran
Their offense was to have too much fun.Â
In Iran, social freedomÂ has long beenÂ measured by the prevalence of male-female hand holding or how far back women push their headscarves.Â So theÂ six young men and women who danced together on rooftops, hair bouncing, in their version of the viral feel-good hit "Happy" were taking a risk.
A generation ago, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of Iranâs 1979 Islamic revolution, laid down an uncompromising standard when heÂ said that God âdid not create man so that he could have funâŚ There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam.âÂ
The was also no music. Mr. Khomeini told Radio Iran to battle it âwith all your mightâ because there was âno difference between music and opium.â
The six dancers were arrested, and last nightÂ they were presentedÂ on Iranian television soon after their arrest, with their backs to the camera.Â Tehran police chief Hossein Sajedinia said the video was âa vulgar clip" which "hurt public chastityâÂ and warned Iranians against further âcorruptâ acts.Â
The arrest, which sparked a firestorm of international criticism on social media, came after President Hassan Rouhani called in a weekend speech for greater Internet freedom. Today, amid reports that the âHappyâ group had been released, Mr. Rouhani tweeted a quote from a speech of his last June: â#Happiness is our peopleâs right. We shouldnât be too hard on behaviors caused by joy.âÂ
Waging a war
From the outside, Iranâs culture wars may appear banal and quibbling.Â
ButÂ a coterie ofÂ fundamentalistÂ officialsÂ see themselves as the guardians of the Islamic Republicâs cultural purity and warn against "cultural invasion" by the West.Â With Pharrell Williams' hit video for "Happy" spawning copycats in 140 countries, it is not surprising Tehran's version, which garnered 165,000 hits even before the arrest, eventually prompted a heavy-handed response.
Producing such a video was always a risk in Iran, where strict rules govern womenâs hair covering, forbid dancing in public, and limit public contact between unmarried men and women.
This is what Rouhani is up against as he tries to fulfill campaign promises of greater social freedom, which have so far seen limited progress, such as theÂ opening up of music and media.Â
âWhy are we so shaky? Why have we cowered in a corner, grabbing onto a shield and wooden sword, lest we take a bullet in thisÂ culture war?âÂ he said this weekend, before the "Happy" arrests. âEven if there is an onslaught, which there is, the way to face it is via modern means, not passive and cowardly methods.âÂ
Push and pull
Several other Iranian versions of âHappyâ have been produced, coinciding with a separate new Internet phenomenon, in which Iranian women post photographs of themselves outdoors but unseen, joyfully casting off their headscarves.Â
Two weeks ago a protestÂ was held in TehranÂ against the anti-headscarf campaign and a broader loosening of modesty standards as spring temperatures rise.Â Fundamentalist protesters, including women wearing long black chadors, complained that those women were wearing âbad hijab."Â
The arrest of the âHappyâ group could well backfire, spawning mockeries of the rules, such as anonymous postings of fun-less versions of âHappyâ in full Islamic covering.
In the TV broadcast after the arrest, the six stood with heads hung low as if forced into a confession, and said they were duped into making the video, claiming they thought they were taking part in an audition.
The Tehran police chief boasted that when the order came to arrest the six, his agents identified them within two hours âÂ their names were prominently displayed on the video credits âÂ and picked them up within six hours. No oneÂ mentioned the fact that the video had already been posted for weeks.Â
The news website IranWire quotedÂ one source saying,Â âAll of the young producers received phone calls informing them that a friend had suffered a car accident and required their help. When they arrived at the address they had been given over the phone, security forces were waiting toÂ arrest them.âÂ
The source told IranWireÂ yesterdayÂ that they would be released today if they posted a $10,000 bail and agreed not to speak to the media.