Islamic rule and Iran's generation gap. Schooled in new ways, kids teach parents `revolutionary values'
Brussels — Removing her head scarf was the first thing Shahnaz did after getting off the Iran Air plane at Frankfurt airport a few weeks ago. ``This was my first trip outside Iran since the revolution,'' Shahnaz explained, ``and thus my first occasion to rediscover this atmosphere of freedom I had so enjoyed during my studies in France, 20 years ago.
``But all my joy vanished,'' the Iranian woman continued, ``when my 15-year-old daughter, Sarah, refused to take off her veil and told me I was immodestly dressed because I had rolled up my shirt sleeves.''
For Shahnaz and her daughter Sarah, their European holiday became a discovery of how estranged their generations have become - as a result of the far-reaching impact the 1979 Islamic revolution has had on younger Iranians.
``Our government has entirely Islamicized the educational system and is reshaping our youth on a pattern of religious values that had been banned by the Imperial regime. What strikes me is how efficient it has been so far,'' says Shahnaz.
Western observers in Tehran say this story is typical today.
A 1986 census shows that Iran's birth rate has skyrocketed since the overthrow of Shah Muhamad Reza Pahlavi. Iran now has 50 million inhabitants. (Figures from the late '70s show less than 40 million.)
Thus, say Western observers, there are more and more Iranians who don't even know what life under the Imperial regime was like. This, they note, renders the prospect of a return to a Western-style society slimmer with each passing year.
The Islamic government has put millions of dollars into reorganizing the educational system. Officials admit that all teachers who opposed the new Islamic style were removed.
At school, boys and girls are strictly segregated. Girls, even in primary schools, are required to wear a scarf all day. Shahnaz recalls how the late Shah's father ruled that, in everyday life, men and women dress and behave in a Western manner.
A schoolmistress contacted in Tehran insists the new educational system provides absolutely equal educational opportunities for boys and girls. ``Also,'' she says, ``we render them capable of teaching revolutionary values to their parents.''
This schoolmistress says officials are striving to mix children from different social backgrounds. Schools in Tehran's well-off neighborhoods have been ordered to enroll those from poorer areas, where the core of the Islamic regime's supporters can be found.
A quick comparison of first-grade school books says a lot about the cultural changes that the Islamic regime has brought to Iran. The old book pictures an Iranian family sitting around a table, the father in shirt and tie, the bare-headed mother between two children. In the new book, the same father wears no tie and has a moustache. The family sits on the floor, the veiled mother surrounded by several children.
Most references to Iran's national history have been replaced by texts on Islam. And the drawings show scenes of Iran's traditional rural life, in contrast to an urban, Western life seen in the earlier manual.
The Persian vocabulary is being transformed as well, Shahnaz says. The Shah banned all words of Arab origin from school books. The new regime has introduced many Arabic terms with religious connotations. ``That means,'' Shahnaz says, ``that I don't always understand all the nuances of what my own daughter says.''
But has the new Islamic education completely uprooted references to Western culture? No. Sarah knows the words of most of the songs by pop stars Madonna and Michael Jackson. ``So do all my classmates,'' she says. ``We hear them on BBC or Voice of America... .''
But, when Sarah saw excerpts of Madonna's recent show in London, she says she was shocked by the singer's behavior. ``Is that what you call freedom?'' she asks.