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Iranian teens just wanna have their fun

by Joyce M. Davis

TEHRAN, Iran,October 31, 1999 (Miami Herald) -- Increasingly, even young Iranians who care little about politics are rebelling against a society whose architect, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, once proclaimed, ``There is no fun in Islam.''

Instead, many Iranian youth are intent these days on having fun, and their increasing defiance may represent the most potent challenge to one of the world's strictest Islamic societies.
RITES OF YOUTH:At a cafe high atop the mountains, teenagers spend a recent morning listening to music, eyeing one another and flirting. îWe come here to relax,' giggled one 18-year-old girl.
MODERN: Many girls, above, wear as much makeup as Madonna and expose more and more hennaed hair under black chadors.

Typically, they do not feel they have to turn from Islam to live their lives as they wish; many profess to pray and fast.

But two decades after their parents revolted against the excesses of the then-ruling shah's pageants and palaces, more youth in Iran are risking jail, fines and official beatings for things that American youth take for granted -- wearing makeup, slow dancing at a party, holding hands on a date.

In this country whose 1979 revolution was intent on restoring religious values, teenagers get drunk, smoke opium and shoot heroin -- even in the downtown shopping mall.

Risky Behaviour

Riots last summer, which began with university students, showed that many of Iran's intellectual elite are fed up with hard-liners who stifle dissent and resist democratic reform. And increasing numbers of ordinary Iranian youth are risking the wrath of the basiji, the notorious morals police, to have their fun.

Romance between unmarried men and women is illegal in Iran -- a couple can't even get a hotel room without producing a marriage license. But young people find ways to date, even though it's punishable by whipping or worse.

It's also common for Iranian girls and boys to dance together -- even drink -- at parties in private homes, even though the feared basiji  have been known to burst in and arrest everyone in sight, beating them even before their sentencing.

In fact, young people have become more daring since President Mohammad Khatami was elected in 1997 -- as his critics note. Many girls wear as much makeup as Madonna, expose more and more hennaed hair under flowered Chanel scarves and show off painted toenails under black chadors.

Fashion update

An increasing number don't even bother with chadors, the black head-to-toe garments prescribed by Islamic law, and have created a new Islamic fashion industry around loose coats and slacks.

Nowhere is the new atmosphere clearer than in the mountains around Tehran, where young people hike to escape the city's pollution -- and their parents.

At a cafe high atop the mountainsdozens of teenagers spent recent Thursday morning listening to musiceyeing one another and flirting. Irans government may forbid unmarried men women from touchingbut girl playfully slapped boy who tried pull down her scarf. They ended up chasing each other into mountain brush.

Under one tree, a girl arched her back against the trunk and smiled into the eyes of her boyfriend, close enough to feel his breath on her face.

YOUNG ROMANCE

On the other side of the tree, her young cousin was equally enthralled with a curly-haired, green-eyed lad in tight blue jeans.

``We come here to relax and to have some fun,'' 18-year-old Marah giggled, glancing at Korosh. ``He's my boyfriend. We've been dating for seven months.''

Korosh and Marah met at a Tehran shopping mall popular with young people, especially those looking for drugs, they said.

``We don't use drugs, but we know a lot of kids who are addicted,'' Marah said. ``I think more and more are doing it.''

Older people complain that Iranian youth don't seem to care about religion and are obsessed with imitating their Western counterparts, but parents seem to have few answers to what is widely considered a problem. Many, Marah said, are easily deceived by their more sophisticated children.

Marah's parents don't know she's dating Korosh. When she goes to the mountains each weekend to see him, her parents never question her. They don't even seem to notice the flowery scarf and the layers of makeup she painstakingly applies before each rendezvous.

Better for boys

``My parents know about Marah,'' Korosh said coolly. ``Boys don't have much of a problem. Fathers are getting more relaxed with boys having girlfriends, but not with the girls having boyfriends.''

Neither seemed worried about anyone seeing them together.

They didn't even seem concerned about a surprise visit by the basiji, with so many young men and women joking and frolicking or paired off along the mountain cliffs.

Marah confessed to having experienced the wrath of the basiji.

``I have been beaten before,'' she said with no sign of fear. ``I was caught at a party. They took us all in.''

``I was almost caught once,'' said Amid, who was standing with her cousin on the other side of the tree. ``I was driving a car, and I had been drinking. I guess the way I was driving caught the attention of the basiji, and they followed me. I knew I had to run away. I would have no chance if they caught me.''

Disdain for the West

Of course, not all of Iran's youth are so rebellious. Mariam, 16, said she is disgusted that many ``are so silly. They only want to do whatever kids in the West do.

``They don't care about morality. They care about fashion,'' complained Mariam, who devotes herself to caring for her disabled parents. She had traveled with them from their village in northern Iran to the city of Isfahan to give them a vacation.

``If God helps,'' Mariam said, ``I want to be a doctor one day. I'd love to study abroad and come back to Iran to serve my people, but since my parents are both disabled, I don't want to leave them alone.''

Mariam said she was among a core of Iranian youth who were ``more serious'' and who understood the vital role they would play in Iran's future.

``We're a Third World country,'' she said. ``We should be reading as much as possible, acquiring as much knowledge as possible and be ready to use that knowledge to improve our country.''

Sadly, she said, such views are not popular among most of Iran's youth.