August 6th, 2008
08:25 AM ET

Under the Iranian cloak – designer clothes, hip-hop and tears

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/08/05/hijabhijab.jpg]
Reza Sayah
CNN Islamabad Correspondent

The tears came pouring. They belonged to a 29-year-old Iranian man who drove me to a story shoot. I’ll call him Amir to protect his identity. He started crying next to me in the car, midway through a song about Iran’s soccer team. “I cry every time I hear this,” he said.

Amir tells me Iran’s soccer team represents the freedom he and millions of young Iranians yearn for, a freedom to let loose, celebrate and scream in public, a freedom to dance, a freedom to hold a girlfriend’s hand on a city street, a freedom to follow dreams.

When the Iranian soccer team made it to the world cup in 2006, tens of thousands poured onto the streets of Tehran and danced. “There’s a lot of emotion built up inside,” said Amir, “we need to let it out. Soccer is how we let it out.”

Amir’s tears reminded me how different my life could’ve been. I was born in Iran but left with my family when I was 10. We took a few suitcases and started a new life in Philadelphia. That same year both Amir and Iran’s Islamic Revolution were born. Amir never left. He grew up with the revolution. They’re the same age.

The revolution changed everything in Iran.
An increasingly westernized and modern country suddenly had women wearing hijabs. Men were forbidden from drinking. Violators sometimes paid the price with beatings by police. To many, Iran’s revolution created the perfect model for an Islamic state.

Today millions of visitors a year still visit Imam Khomeini’s shrine just outside Tehran. To them, he was Iran’s savior from the poisons of western culture. To others the Islamic revolution brought a regime that stifled individuality, self-expression and personal freedom.

Thirty years after I left, I’m thrilled to be back in Iran. I love the country I was born in more than ever, but I’m saddened to meet so many young Iranians who tell me they haven’t been able to follow their dreams. Yet they still find ways to express themselves and release pent up feelings. Women do it with designer sunglasses and shoes. Men do it by blasting hip-hop from their car stereos. My new friend Amir does it with tears to a soccer song.

Filed under: Global 360° • Reza Sayah
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Minou, New York City

    women could be seen in mini-skirts with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other pre- revolution.
    if a woman's hijab accidentally slips off her head, she can be arrested by the watch dogs today.
    there's no freedom of the press, no freedom of speech and expression whatsoever, and people are not even allowed to have a satellite dish.
    After the revolution women were not allowed to practice their professions.
    If some uneducated farmers out in the country side married off their daughters, and forbade them an education, than that was hardly representative of Iran as a whole under the Shah!
    if you seriously think your statistics make the Iran of today a better place to live in compared to the old Iran, than maybe you should read a few books written by Iranians? That might help...

    August 6, 2008 at 6:06 pm |
  2. Mike in NYC

    Funny, but the link to this article from the main AC360 page says “…designer clothes, hip-hop, and tears,” but the title on this page says “designer clothes and tears.”

    Speaking (or not speaking) of hip-hop, the Iranians, whatever else you may say about them, are to be commended for keeping it out of their country. Call me small-minded, but I really can’t blame them for not wanting their young people to emulate the kind of behavior promoted by that “art form.”

    August 6, 2008 at 12:12 pm |
  3. Hass

    Some people have a false nostalgia about the Shah's time. Iran was not "increasingly modern" under the Shah, and the "Westernization" was superficial at best. You only had to travel 10 minutes outside of Tehran, and you'd see the real Iran behind the Shah's fake facade. The fact is that Iranians are now living longer, have far better literacy rates, have much improved access to health care and medicine, and women in particular have risen to constitute more than 65% of university students. These changes happened AFTER the revolution. These are statistical realities.

    August 6, 2008 at 9:13 am |
  4. Cindy

    It's sad that the Iran government seems to care more about their political agenda than their own people. It's obvious they'd rather have a lot more freedom and less rhetoric and heavy handedness.


    August 6, 2008 at 8:39 am |