HUFFPOST | Masked party-goers celebrated Halloween into the wee hours last weekend. They were decked in Elvis, Herman Cain, and Statue of Liberty costumes, and danced to Gaga’s Poker Face as they twirl in flocks of the Black Swan. By all accounts, they’re like any American teenagers in AnyTown, USA.
Except they’re not. They’re Iranian teens, celebrating just a hair’s distance out of the watchful eye of the Tehran police.
Over the past Halloween weekend some of the brazen young Iranians in Tehran put in practice their aspirations for openness and freedom as they participated in perilous gatherings that spoke to their knowledge of Western culture.
Growing up in Tehran until early adulthood, I encountered how such parties and activities are expected to call for government intrusion.
Under a severe fear of crackdown by the Basij forces — a militia “morality police” that’s a covert branch of the Revolutionary Guard — and other government security forces, the youth risked detainment to throw masquerade parties and flaunt costumes that in no way met the restrains of the Islamic regime.
Far from just reflecting the youth’s frustration towards the regime’s confined social strains, these parties show that America and its popular culture has a strong receptive following in Iran.
Based on personal experience and a continuous dialogue with youth back in Iran — what these parties suggest is that despite the lack of any visible diplomatic, cultural, educational and political connections between the Government of Iran and the United States as well as the never-ending censorship of the media and the Internet inside Iran, there is still a thriving audience that finds every opportunity to take part in social activities that are so naturally woven into the daily American lifestyle.
According to the youth themselves, these Halloween parties and the youth’s engagement in other Westernized activities show that somehow there is an evident influence and presence of Western culture in Iran, despite the clear risk.
“It is so crazy, because if government forces crack down on any of the parties they will accuse you of anything they want — they will make up accusation such as Satanism and Pyrolatry (worshiping fire),” said a 28-year-old interior designer in Tehran whose friends threw multiple costume parties on Thursday and Friday night in celebration of Halloween. Most partygoers requested anonymity out of fear of being detained for speaking to Western media.
According to her and other sources in Tehran, the parties can’t exceed a large number. If so, the risks of a crackdown increases as the guards and special government forces find ways to manipulate their way into the parties as undercover guests.
“Even though there are so many parties for Halloween, everyone’s so careful to keep it to the limit — because they could get a chance to dodge themselves into the party in disguise” she said.
In Iran based on government regulations, party crackdowns usually result in financial fines, possible detainment of guests and the host, as well as verbal and potentially physical abuse while in custody.
After the allegation of an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, Iran’s strong interest in the United States’ withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, its emphatic clash with Turkey over Syria, and of course its strained relations with Mideast’s superpower Saudi Arabia, the Iranian government makes its way back to the forefront of Western media.
While the Iranian regime attempts to enforce a conservative agenda, the Iranian youth — who comprise 70 percent of the population under the age of 35 — party hard and take high risks to show that the West has an active audience inside the confines of the Islamic regime.
With inflation, economic instabilities and lack of jobs, the majority of the Iranian population in Tehran and the rest of Iran face major challenges making ends meet. However, the upper-middle class who engage in such resistant activities represent a forceful demographic that’s a poignant reminder of an existing and growing stream onto the outside world.
As the United States and the rest of the world contemplate over the Iranian government’s political engagements or lack thereof, the Iranian youth find every excuse to reflect on their aspirations; as they show the world that they too are attuned to a free-spirited lifestyle that’s practiced in democratic countries worldwide.
TARA KANGARLOU ON HUFFPOST