Monday, March 21, 2016

Iranians defying the Mullahs by celebrating Nowruz, the pre-Islamic Persian New Year - Shokooh Mirzadegi

by Shokooh Mirzadegi

Despite 38 years of effort to suppress the non-Islamic Persian New Year celebration of Nowruz, civil disobedience is widespread in Iran

A simple definition of "civil disobedience" is an objection to obeying certain orders and rules of an oppressive government or an entity that have imposed their will upon people without resorting to violence. According to this definition; the Iranian people’s observance of Nowruz, * (Iranian New Year) falls into this category.

Commonly, whenever the issue of “civil disobedience,” appears, we are reminded of the Indian peoples’ struggle against British colonialism which was led by late great Mahatma Gandhi. We can also refer to the history of Martin Luther King Jr., an American civil rights activist, who led the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and pursued the struggle against racial discrimination of black Americans. In some cases, the non-violent civil protests of Iran's Green Movement of the year 2009, is also mentioned.

Today, on the eve of the International Day of “Nowruz” on March 20th, I as an advocate and admirer of Iranian culture, would like to affirm, according to the definition of "civil disobedience," the ceremony of Persian Nowruz, which for the past thirty-eight years has been celebrated by millions of Iranian people across the globe, has indeed been the most beautiful act of "civil disobedience" that has been happening in our current era.

This cultural movement, immediately was born in Iran, right after the Islamic revolution of 1979 and grew rapidly and is still growing. On the one hand, the religious fanatics resorted to violence while showing off their military might and simultaneously engaged in propaganda and psychological deterrence for anyone who disagreed with their kind of “religion.” They were determined to keep assaulting and expunging the Iranian culture from its own past history.

On the other hand, people had no choice but to succumb to the regime’s demands in order to save their lives, while at the same time, they stood firmly opposed to the government’s forces so that they could salvage their cultural heritage. The Iranian people, by hook or crook, kept the burning light of freedom within their hearts alive and it only kept growing greater with each passing year, not only in Iran, but all over the world where millions of Iranians live in exile. In practical terms, they resisted the government’s invasion.

Indeed, what can we name this civil movement once witnessing the endurance of millions of Iranians after more than three decades of torture,  imprisonment, and discrimination, but correctly as peaceful civil disobedience? If this is not “civil disobedience,” then what is it?

For so many years, the Islamic government in Iran with all the excuses and all sorts of threats, under the pretext of religious sanctity and security, has been unable to stop people from exercising their national Iranian customs, practices and traditions.

The Iranian people started the Nowruz celebration weeks ago, one by one, like coordinated troops, beautiful and with their heads held high, marching forward to execute the rituals of the “chahar shanbeh soori” festival, a precursor to Nowruz (a fire jumping festival celebrated by the Iranian people and some other nations). The Basij militia (a paramilitary volunteer group) are always organized and well prepared to intervene, weeks before the celebration of the “fire” festival begins.

The government elements call them the most profane of epithets, such as fire worshipers, infidels, etc. and then beat them up. They threaten them with arrest, yet they go forward by jumping over fire, even though they are aware of dangerous firecrackers, they still jump over the fire.  The government agents try to block them from the joy, dancing and singing of their spring songs, but people simply ignore them. The officials issue a military and religious ultimatum, fatwas of imprisonment, but they don’t pay any attention and still carry out their celebration of joy and freedom.

It is ironic how the Iranian government holds Islamic religious holidays, such as the birthday of prophet Muhammad to Eid al-Ghadir (The appointment of Ali ibn Abi Talib by the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, as his successor according to Shia beliefs) and Eid al-Fitr (Festival of breaking of the fast) and al-Adha, (Festival of the Sacrifice), with such lavish celebrations while spending millions of dollars, advertising on radio and television 24 hours a day and blowing a loud trumpet both night and day, and while trying to block any celebration of pre-Islamic Iran.

During the Islamic religious celebrations, the government agents force shopkeepers, to keep their lights illuminated throughout the entire night. However, the same government does not apply the same rule when it comes to Nowruz and other Iranian festivities. In order to disrupt the Nowruz celebration, the government tries to find any and all excuses, such as locating a religious martyr to stop people from enjoying and commemorating Nowruz.
But, each year, the aroma of spring fills the hearts of millions of Iranians rejuvenated with love and they repeat the magnificent Nowruz celebration once again. Albeit, Iranians are hurting economically, they welcome the arrival of a new day and a New Year, passionately.

In the same way, that the American blacks in the 1960s refused to ride in the back of buses during an era of segregation, and walked to their destination with corns and calluses on their feet in order to be treated as equal to white Americans, Iranians too, in the worst situations, have refused to obey their government’s ultimatums, whether small or large, and preventing them from celebrating the Nowruz ceremony.

As black children were attacked for trying to attend white schools in the American South, in the same way, the Iranian government punishes our young children asking them why do they want to jump over the fire during the fire festival and why do they want to dance and sing? Worst of all, for over thirty-eight years, the religious authorities have psychologically manipulated and abused Iranian children by telling them that God will turn His back on them and they will end up in eternal Hell if they don’t refuse their orders.

Efforts of the Islamic Republic to ban Nowruz in Iran has thus far been futile, as most Iranians still view and celebrate their ancient Persian heritage as a source of pride and dignity. The Iranian people have been fighting non-violently for the past thirty-eight years to keep their heritage alive, and have been putting pressure on the Islamic government to recognize them and respect their culture and traditions.

As the people of India walked in protest, while wearing their own handmade white garments, defying the British colonialists and thereby creating fear in the hearts of British authorities; the lovers of Iranian culture, these “parrots of love, sugar and nectar” also, with joy, dancing, and celebration of fire, will shake the earth and undermine the “ravens of death “ and the dying Iranian government.

I think, and in fact I have come to the conclusion that our people, some even without realizing it, are going through what is known as "survival of the fittest" or the very basis of "natural selection" a Darwinian interpretation. In order to survive, Iranians have had no choice but to resort to the essence and fabric of their culture of joy, beauty and kindness. Iranians have discovered that culture can be the best antidote to a government’s inhumanity that has brought them nothing but despair, sorrow and anger.

This year, on the eve of yet another spring and at the dawn of the thirty-eighth year of civil disobedience, we, the lovers of Iranian culture, will once again renew our struggle with this current culturecidal government of Iran. A struggle for our natural rights of freedom and our rights to be happy and inevitably bring down this sullen army of anti-liberty and anti-happiness, ultimately to their knees.

* UNESCO Recognizes Nowruz as Part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
 This article has been translated from Persian to English by Amil Imani. Source: Gooya News

Shokooh Mirzadegi began her literary work, both as a novelist and a poet with Ferdowsi magazine and Kayhān daily in the late 1960s in Iran. Over the past four decades, she has been one of the most active figures in the Iranian literary community, both inside and outside Iran. She is currently residing with her husband in the US.


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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