The Tehran Times recently praised what it referred to as: “A new epic song with the theme of generational support for the Islamic Revolution …” Hello Commander, sung by schoolchildren across the country, is an attempt by the current Conservative government of Iran to unite the youth around their particular interpretation of Islam and Iran.
It is nothing more than a cultural war against ideas that are considered dangerous to the power of the conservative establishment advocated by many Iranians in the country and those educated abroad, including in Europe and North America. Het.
Iran occupies a special place in the imagination of the world. This is an old country. It is Persia, Cyrus the Great, the seat of some of the most enchanting empires in world history. It is also a country that is on the threshold of nuclear capability. Therefore, it is crucial to understand Iran and to do so without falling for platitudes.
Prior to the 1979 revolution, Iran had a lively, self-indulgent shah in Mohammad Reza Pahlavi who loved his glass of vintage Moët & Chandon champagne, while many Iranians viewed him as an American puppet. After the revolution, Iran was ruled by an ascetic, strict and incredibly Stoic cleric, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He quickly banned many ancient Persian indulgences in the name of his Puritan interpretation of Shia Islam.
Today, the remnants of this paradoxical historical setting still drive Iranian culture. This is true within the country and beyond, among the extremely successful Iranian diaspora who are equally caught up in this struggle for Iran’s “real” identity.
Hello Commander should be analyzed against that background. It is a state-sponsored effort to unite a beautiful diverse culture. The song depicts a version of Iran from the perspective of the religious conservatives. This is how Iran should be, they tell everyone: vigilant, religiously conservative, ready to sacrifice for a higher cause. The problem, of course, is that this is not how Iran really is – and that explains the continuing disagreement against this restrictive version of the country.
Many Iranians simply object to being formed into one ideological corpus.
It is driven by hardline religious conservatives whose candidate, Ebrahim Raisi, took power in the 2021 presidential election. Their Iran is just, combative, always on the lookout for the evil enemy. They feed on the paranoia that brought about real imperial invasion of Iranian sovereignty until the 1979 revolution and in many ways thereafter, especially by the US.
In 1980, the country was invaded by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq – one of the most brutal dictators in the modern history of the region. And yet Saddam was backed by the US and Europe during the devastating war between Iran and Iraq between 1980 and 1988 – even when he used chemical weapons.
For the religious conservatives, these are literally God-given themes. They are incredibly useful for their attempt to freeze their Iran in an eternal battle with the world. As such, the song Hello Commander is an ode to the “martyrs” of that horrific conflict during which tens of thousands of young Iranians and Iraqis perished.
In the official video of the song, Iranian children hold up the photos of their loved ones who were killed in the trenches. At the same time, Hello Commander is a “hopeful” song as it is meant to express the willingness of this Iranian youth to fight for justice.
With its slightly martial yet strong ritualistic melody that speaks to emotional religious themes, the song targets a youth culture as diverse as the aforementioned Iranian experience with the world. In a cultural environment where Iranian rap music dominates and where most middle-class Iranians listen to pop songs produced in diasporic pivots like Los Angeles, Hello Commander’s rather clumsy attempt to bring such worldly preferences to the conservative establishment’s extremely particular and restrictive switch interpretation. of Iran.
The ideal youth that the song envisions has long been socialized to adulthood and the harsh social realities that are exacerbating the U.S. sanctions regime for ordinary Iranians. There is no time for ideological indulgence. The lyrics of Hello Commander invoke the Imam Mahdi, the eternal commander of the believers. Imam Mahdi plays a major role in the teachings of the pious Twelver Shia, the Islamic minority sect that dominates Iran, Iraq, southern Lebanon and elsewhere.
The song also pays special tribute to General Qassem Soleimani, who was assassinated in 2020 on the orders of Donald Trump. It is against the eternal torment of the believers by external enemies.
Read more: Qassem Soleimani air strike: why it’s a dangerous escalation of US assassination policies
But Hello Commander preaches to the converts. The narrow script does not capture the vastness of the cultural repository emanating from Iran. Iranian youth, like young people around the world, are diverse and are not easily included under one narrative.
Iran has a highly educated population and successful universities. It is also a country besieged by US sanctions. Most Iranians are trying to get by. The hopeful thrust of the song may boost the morale of the converts, but it should seem rather cynical to many Iranian workers who suffer under the yoke of sanctions and the hard conservative focus of the establishment.
In light of this complexity of contemporary Persia, I asked what Iran “is” in my most recent book under the same title, referring to five pieces of Iranian music. The answer could only be caught in large open brackets. Iran is the love poetry of Rumi, the architecture of Persepolis – Shia Islam too. The ancient historical diversity of the country can not be reduced to plains. Whenever this happens, history has shown Persia breaks loose.