Science & Technology

The End of the Affair, in Iran


Here's a lovely piece in the Virginia Quarterly Review by the dual-passport Iranian-British journalist Kamin Mohammadi, about her long and mostly submerged affair with an Iranian lover from the countryside, and the complex web of pressure and release created by the government, technology, Islam, and more. Pretty hard to excerpt; here's a chunk that focuses more than the overall essay does on Liberation Technology:  

He also started to accompany me to the local internet café where I joined all those lined up at the banks of computers to connect with the outside world. That was the beginning of another revolution that has changed so much in Iran; the ever-watched youth of Iran—a colossus in number—suddenly found in the internet two things they did not have in their everyday lives: an instant connection with the outside world, and anonymity. In a society in which most are forced to dissemble to some degree, to wear some sort of a mask in order to survive, a way to express oneself unhindered and without possible repercussion was intoxicating, and soon became addictive. In separate groups boys and girls were squeezed into the booths, giggling while tapping away. And pornography, of course, was the most popular search, any kind the limited bandwidth and censors would allow. This was before cell phones and before people had internet at home, before pornographic material started being passed around over Bluetooth and on CDs, and perhaps something about looking at this illicit material in a public space, its heady thrill, made what came after easier, made the chat rooms and the virtual dates inevitable. […]

Given the Sharia laws that govern Iran, there are few places where young people can go. Most live at home with their parents. Like that of American teenagers of the 1950s, most recreation takes place in cars, where there is at least a small patch of autonomy and privacy. […]

I noticed a group of girls nearby, elaborately made up, the season's latest fashion in headscarves perched on the back of piled up hair, their manteaus worn almost as short and tight as they were in Tehran. There was a lot of looking over in our direction and a lot of conferring before S's cell phone started to beep furiously. After this happened a few times, I asked him why he didn't answer, and he explained that these were not text messages but requests to connect through Bluetooth with nearby mobile phones—an ideal way in a watchful society like Iran to contact someone nearby who has caught your eye, since an open approach is impossible. Of course you run the risk of not being quite sure whose request you are accepting, and once the information has been exchanged you may still not be sure of whom you are then calling, or who is calling you—a sort of dating lottery with nothing and everything at stake at the same time.

Whole thing, well worth your time, here. Hat tip to Richard Abowitz, who covered the John Stagliano trial for Reason. And make sure to brush up on Charles Paul Freund's Reason classic, "In Praise of Vulgarity: How commercial culture liberates Islam–and the West."