04 July 2004

Naipaul on Revolutionary Fashion

Mehrdad's sister was unmarried, and had little chance of getting married, since too many men of suitable age had been killed in the eight-year war [with Iraq]. She simply stayed at home when she came home from work: silent, full of inward rage, her unhappiness a shadow over the house and a source of worry for her parents, who couldn't work out a future for her. It was too difficult for her to go out; and now she had lost the will. In this she was like the fifteen-year-old daughter of a teacher I had got to know. This girl had already learned that she could be stopped by the Guards and questioned if she was alone on the street. She hated the humiliation, and now she didn't like to go out. The world had narrowed for her just when it should have opened out.

In February 1980 I had seen young women in guerrilla garb among the students camped outside the seized U.S. embassy: Che Guevara gear, the theater of revolution. I remembered one plump young woman, in her khakis, coming out of a low tent on this freezing afternoon with a mug of steaming tea for one of the men: her face bright with the idea of serving the revolution and the warriors of the revolution. Most of those young people, "Muslim Students Following the Line of Ayatollah Khomeini," would now have been dead or neutered, like all the other communist or left-wing groups. I don't think that young woman with the mug could have dreamed that the revolution to which she was contributing--posters on the embassy wall and on trees were comparing the Iranian revolution with the Nicaraguan, making both appear part of a universal movement forward--would have ended in this way, with an old-fashioned tormenting of women, and with the helicopters in the sky looking for satellite dishes.

The very gear and style of revolution now had another meaning. The beards were not Che Guevara beards, but good Islamic beards, not cut by razors; and the green guerrilla outfits were now the uniform of the enforcers of the religious law.
SOURCE: Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples (Vintage, 1998), pp. 225-226

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