It's hard to avoid the fact that that the most striking thing about Iran is its theocracy form of government, or as they call them, the Mullahs. Not surprisingly, the Mullahs loom large on life in Iran. From the TV, which is dominated by religious sermons and "3azaas" which are broadcasted nearly the whole day in three languages (Farsi, English and Arabic, which is pretty impressive), to the religious police which roam the street. What was really surprising however, was the extent to which the Mullahs are hated in Iran. Basically, everyone hates them.
Some people might think that I am being a biased liberal, but honestly I'm trying to be as objective as possible in my assessment. In fact, hate might be too soft a word, loathe might be appropriate.
By everyone, I mean EVERYONE. From the rich echelons of society, down to the taxi driver on the street, passing along the grocery seller, and even the religious elements. Everyone has a story with the mullahs, and none of them are flattering.
Of course, I've only been to Tehran and the north, so I can't speak about all the country. Obviously as well, there are people who have benefited from the regime, and I cannot say that that EVERYONE hates the regime. Added to this, the majority of the people I met (though not all) were from the upper classes of society, which have the most reason to hate the mullahs, but trust me, EVERYONE is a pretty good approximation to the truth.
The extent of this hate was absolutely astonishing to me. I mean, in Bahrain, there is a sizeable group who is against religious figures running the country, but there is a also a very large chunk of society who supports religious groups (as is evident by the strong support of Al Asalah and Al Wefaq). In Iran, however, it seems the only support that the Mullahs have comes from its own ranks, or by people who in public support them to get rewards, while in private, like everyone else swear at them.
Not only the amount of people who hated them suprised me, but the extent as well. I mean, every single person I met wished death upon them. In fact, the extent of their loathing reached the point of most people telling me that they would actually support an American bombing of Iran to overthrow the government, since they themselves have lost hope of being able to change the regime. Others however argue that change has to come from within, and not from outside. What's not debated, however, and everyone is in agreement, is that the regime has got to change.
I found myself asking what is it that made people hate the Mullahs so much? After hearing people's stories, I found myself questioning instead: Is there anything to like in the Mullahs?
So what is the there to hate in the Mullahs (or maybe more appropriately what is there to like in the Mullahs?). The problem is where to start. First, there is the religious police, or as they call themselves the 110. These guys jobs is supposedly similar to that of the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice police in Saudi Arabia. In reallity what they end up doing is just harassing people and sometimes even worse.
Their job is basically to chase people, more precisely women, who they deem not to be wearing proper Islamic attire. They also go and harass any groups of boys and girls standing together and break them up. I have seen these guys in action, and I can see why they are hated. They are unbelievably rude, who come up to people and just start shouting at them and using swear words (some religious police!). They are mostly made up of poor, uneducated people who are not even particularly religious,and they treat everyone like the dirt of the earth. No matter that the people they are harassing might be a young married couple, like what happened to me and friends of mine. Me, a friend of mine and his wife (both in their mid-early twenties) were standing outside a restaurant waiting to get in. Suddenly a jeep of the 110 pulled up, and pleasant looking fellow (note: irony is used here). He started shouting something loudly at us and at the other people gathered around the place. I, not understanding most of his shouting, was simply amused, especially when i picked up the word "cabaret" from all of his drivel. My friends, however, were shitting in their pants. They immediately got out of there with me, bewildered, chasing behind them. I was just slow enough to notice that the policeman actually arrested two women and have taken them with them. Later, they told me that he was basically screaming," Get the hell out of here, what do you think this is, a cabaret? Men and women sitting next to each other. Come on go before I arrest you!"
This apparently, is not something unusual. Basically these policemen would get the order to arrest e.g. 10 people that day (just like there in Bahrain, a traffic policeman might be ordered to issue out ten tickets today before he can leave), so they just go out and arrest 10 people on basically no charges (they can arrest you for not liking your face).
What is more horrific though, is the stories you hear about what has happened to some arrested people. I was told this story about someone a friend of mine knew. She was arrested while driving at night in Tehran (for no reason but that she was a good looking female, and that's suspicious). She was taken to prison, where the guard there had the following conversation with her:
Guard: Do you want to get out?
Guard: You'll have to have sex with me.
Her: Please, I can't do that. It's wrong, and I'm a virgin.
Guard: Well then you can do it from behind.
Her: No please, I can't do that.
Obviously, the guard didn't had much to her pleas, and raped her anyway. Apparently the poor girl has been a bit mentally disturbed ever since. Her personality and attitude completely changed, and she has become a withdrawn person.
You might think this is a bit exaggerated, but this is apparently not too all uncommon. You'll find many people with stories to till. The most horrific one I've heard, however, and I definitely hope this activity is not too widespread (but you can never tell) is once again about a father of some person my friend knew. He was a political activist, and the father simply disappeared. Later, they found out that he was stoned to death. Can you imagine that? Being buried up to the neck in sand, being surrounded by mobs of people who have been told that if they hit you it's like hitting the devil, and chucking stones at your head, while delighting at it? And this is not because of some crime such as murder or adultery (which some, though thankfully few, religious scholars still thinking stoning should apply to), but simply for being a political activist.
These, of course, are extreme cases, but every single person has had a story of being harassed some way or another by the religious police. Whether being stopped at night while driving, whether having their sisters, daughters or mom harrassed, or whether being stopped simply because the policeman needs to reach his quota of ten catches for the day. Heed well Bahrain, do not let people fool you into thinking a "promotion of virtue and prevention of vice" police force will be any good, even if it's wrapped in sweet words.
I wish the policeme were the only problem the people hate, but unfortunately, that is only the tip of the iceberg.