The Persian Gulf

The divide between young Iranians and the regime is widening every day.

Karim Sadjadpour ("The Ayatollah Under the Bed (sheets)," May/June 2012) vividly illustrates how the Iranian regime's "curious fixation on sex" has become central to its rule. Sadjadpour usefully reminds us that while Iran heads the world's security agenda, the country's senior officials are distracted by lust -- their worldview and understanding of the West shaped by stale seminary taboos and repressed desires.

The article correctly skewers the Islamic state for its present hypocrisy, but it's important to remember that 30 years ago many Iranians agreed with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's stern moral code. Only after the exit of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi -- whose rule many conservative Iranians viewed as depraved -- did millions of traditional families allow their daughters to move away from home to attend university. Back then, even educated, Westernized Iranian husbands weren't particularly upset about their wives having to dress more modestly and cover their hair. That was as much the culture of Iran in those days as it was the culture promoted by the leaders of the early Islamic Republic.

Young Iranians today are changing all that, pushing the shame culture and misogynistic attitudes of the past out of the social mainstream. Their attitudes toward sex are, as Sadjadpour notes, warped by having to lead double lives. Dating and premarital sex are slowly becoming acceptable, however, and many Iranian parents are adjusting. For the majority of young Iranians, faith is no longer wrapped up in blind obedience and chastity. That is why what seemed true and pure in 1979 seems like craven hypocrisy today, and the gulf between Iranians and the regime -- which finds the pretense of an Islamic society as holy as the reality -- widens each day.

Author, Honeymoon in Tehran
Cambridge, England


Visualizing the War on Women Debate

A look at how the most popular cover story in Foreign Policy's history ricocheted across Twitter.

With some 70,000 Facebook "likes" and 3,000-plus comments, Mona Eltahawy's article became the most popular cover story in Foreign Policy's history. It unleashed a torrent of reactions online -- so many, in fact, that the essay was the fourth-most discussed topic on Internet blogs during the week it was published, according to the Pew Research Center.

Some reactions were critical, others complimentary, and still others conflicted. "I found myself bristling, yet simultaneously felt guilty for doing so," Nesrine Malik mused in the Guardian. But there was no denying the intensity of the discussion. "Never before has the Arab American, particularly Muslim American, social activist community been given access to multiple media platforms simultaneously to openly debate a topic that for many has been on the back burner for some time," Nadia S. Mohammad wrote on WashingtonPost.com.

The essay also took Twitter by storm. Above is a visualization of Twitter users linking to the original Foreign Policy article within roughly 24 hours of its publication. The graph, created by Marc Smith of the Social Media Research Foundation and posted by Alex Hanna of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, shows follower relationships (green lines) and replies to or mentions of other users (blue lines). The network analysis produced 169 groups, with Eltahawy's Twitter account at the center of Group 2 (the red lines highlight her connections) and Foreign Policy's account at the center of Group 5. The image doesn't track the tweets' sentiments, but according to Hanna, it shows strongly polarized reader groups, including Egyptians, female American journalists, feminists, and academics.