Rock music and female cyclists: resistance in Iran’s holiest city

For Iranian rock musician Pooyan Gandi, the roar of the crowd and the excitement of live performances are what he dreams of.

The 34-year-old man lives in the religious city of Mashhad. After hardliners in the theocracy argued that they violated Islam, the concert was banned for more than ten years.

Although this restriction is rare in other parts of Iran, it is possible to see live music in Tehran, but Gandhi and musicians like him spent the most sacred city in Iran with music that they are unlikely to play in a crowd .

“There are many people like me in Mashhad sitting in their rooms, working with a computer, uploading their music and publishing it to the audio streaming platform,” Gandy said in his studio. .

“Mashhad’s music has become [a symbol of] He added that there was a “muscle bending” between reformers and hardliners. “It is not rooted in religious beliefs, because the call to prayer is music. Recitation of the Quran is music.”

Since the centrist President Hassan Rouhani will step down after two terms, hardliners hope to win the presidency in the June 18th poll. Three of the seven candidates, including the front-runner Ibrahim Raisi, are rooted in Mashhad, the largest holy site in Iran. The eighth imam of Shia Muslims, Reza, is buried in Therefore, it is also a stronghold of hardliners.

If Mashhad’s experience is worth learning, then Laisi’s victory may mark greater social and cultural repression. Raisi’s father-in-law is the leader of Mashhad and one of the most controversial clergy in the country. The 76-year-old Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda banned concerts in Mashhad and said that women have no right to ride bicycles in the city. Ayatollah has previously expressed concern that some Iranian women are more likely to imitate Sophia Loran than Fatimé, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad.

Rock musician Pooyan Gandi lives in this city, where concerts have been banned for more than ten years © Najmeh Bozorgmehr/FT

Four years ago, when Ressi ran for president last time, there were rumors that he would build a wall on the sidewalk to separate men and women. “Raisi will manage the cultural sector based on Islamic values,” said Hamid-Reza Taraghi, a hardline politician in Mashhad, who opposed holding music that promotes Western values ​​and allows men and women to dance together. meeting. This month, his daughter said on national television that her father had set up a women’s area at Mashhad Shrine. She said that he would build “bridges” for men and women, not walls.

But even if Raisi tried to copy his father-in-law’s plan, analysts said that Mashhad’s experience clearly showed that even in the most conservative city, it is difficult to ensure compliance.

Despite the religious ban, women can still be seen riding bicycles. Cafes that play Western music records have opened. Young women dress stylishly and sometimes have to wear a headscarf on their shoulders. Private parties are very common. Analysts say the main difference from other big cities is that if you are arrested for drinking, you will almost certainly be sentenced to whipping.

“Hardliners, if elected, may try to impose more restrictions in the cultural sector but it is very difficult to put Iranians back to the pre-internet, pre-Instagram era,” Majid Fouladiyan, a professor of cultural sociology at Ferdowsi University of Mashhad .

He said that Mashhad’s stricter restrictions have cultivated a resistive identity in the city, and others agree. Ali Alavi, editor of Mashhad’s conservative media Khorasan Daily, said Mashhad now has the most private music studios in the country.He added: “More than 40 years in power have shown us that the announced policies cannot [necessarily] Forced implementation. ”

For most ordinary Iranians, the biggest concern is not moral or social issues, but economic issues. “We have one of the largest economic cartels in the world in Mashhad [affiliated to the shrine] But there are people in this city who eat ketchup bread,” an analyst said.

Analysts said that because the sanctions have dealt a heavy blow to the economy and people’s disillusionment prevails, the poor may become the biggest threat to the Islamic Republic, “maybe even an existential threat”. The first riots against economic difficulties occurred in 2017 and began in Mashhad, which has a population of 3 million. “We can see signs of hunger and barefoot people’s uprising here, because one third of Mashhad’s population Living in a poor suburb”, he said.

The 8th Imam Reza of Shiite Muslims is buried
The shrine of the eighth Shiite Muslim Imam Reza, who was buried in the city © Najmeh Bozorgmehr/FT

For many in Mashhad, this disillusionment has led to their reluctance to vote. “I won’t vote anymore. In the past four years, I haven’t saved a penny,” said Reza, a 37-year-old grocery store owner. “Managers are either weak or powerful, or powerful. Why should I deceive myself?”

There are also some voters questioning the hardline party’s concern about regional policy. For Cyrus Milani, a Mashhad singer and musician who likes Gandhi to also work at home, it is difficult to rationalize Iran’s support for Syria and Palestine where there are “places with live concerts.” , But concerts are forbidden at home. He said: “I am very frustrated. I have very little income, but I can’t do anything except make music.” “This is the first year I don’t know who is running for president, and I have no plans to vote.”

People in Mashhad say that other values ​​are also important, especially integrity in public affairs and fairness. Workers at the site said that not far from where Gandhi lived, a 33-storey residential area was being built by a politician in his 30s. Billboards in English indicate that the building will house billiards and banquet halls, as well as a spa.

For Gandhi, the lack of income and performance constraints affected his creativity.

“We could have achieved beyond dreams. We could have helped improve people’s music taste, performance and music quality,” he added. “We now see what happened to music, bread and butter also happened. When a tree [Iran] Not well taken care of, the first is the leaves [music] Drop, and then it gets closer to the root. “

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