Iran's Islamic "paradise"
Their cheeks were bitten by the threat of snow, but the sisters didn't have anywhere else to go. They'd coated their faces with makeup and painted their eyelashes until they looked too heavy to blink, gaudy faces to offset drab denims and black coats. This afternoon, their spirits hung as low as the brooding clouds over the mountains.
"This country is very dirty," said Mansureh, a pale 23-year-old who answers telephones at a law firm because she wasn't accepted to a university. "Nobody likes the regime, especially the youth. There are so many restrictions, we can't do anything."
It was Friday afternoon, time for prayers in the Islamic Republic, but the sisters and hundreds of other young Iranians trekked into the mountains on the outskirts of Tehran instead. Droves of twentysomethings flooded the rocky paths as if they were headed somewhere in particular — a concert or a rally. But there was nothing at the top; they were simply climbing their way out of the smoggy urban mazes.
The mountains were alive with hormones and directionless potential. Forget black robes and beards; these young Iranians dressed as if they'd just come from a rave, with faded running shoes and aviator glasses shoved high into their hair. They slouched along, glassy-eyed and smoking cigarettes. Many of them looked stoned. Boys and girls held hands. The winter light slanted through the dying trees. The mood was nihilistic.
"I think the government wants the youth to be on drugs so they keep quiet," said Mansureh's sister, a 17-year-old high school student who also gave only her first name, Mona. "They say it's a problem, but they're the ones importing it."
As their government squares off against the West and vague rumors of outside intervention run in the streets, the youth of Tehran move through the months as if dreaming, passing moodily from pop culture to Persian traditions, groping for their place in the world. Conversations with dozens of young adults in Tehran painted an overwhelming picture of a generation lost, disaffected and stained by longing.
A quarter of a century ago, Iran's fiery youth drove a revolution in the name of Islam and anti-imperialism. But those students grew up, and their zeal faded as they softened into graying bureaucrats. The babies they birthed en masse at the feverish urging of the clergy have inherited a legacy of double-digit unemployment, widespread drug addiction and gnawing religious disillusionment.