The Islamic Republic Hates Joy: Iranians Fight Back with Dancing

As the Islamic Republic continues its harsh crackdown on dissidents and protesters after Mahsa Amini died under the custody of the Iranian morality police in September 2022, many Iranians are relentless in finding ways to continue their fight against the regime. They discovered a new way to fight against the country’s theocratic government: singing and dancing.

It may seem unbelievable. But in recent days, many Iranians have been posting videos of themselves singing and dancing on social media in support of an elderly man who was arrested for simply dancing and singing and posting it on the Internet.

The elderly man, a fishmonger in his sixties named Sadegh Bagheri (aka Boughi), became an instant Instagram celebrity in recent months after videos of him singing folk songs and dancing at the bazaar in the city of Rasht, a Caspian coastal city in northern Iran, went viral on social media.

His dance and songs attracted the attention of people who often circled him and his fishmonger friends, clapped to his music, and sometimes joined Bagheri and danced with him.

Last week, the Iranian police did not only imprison Bagheri but also many Instagram influencers in Rasht for uploading Bagheri’s videos. Authorities also took over the accounts of these individuals, removed all content, and posted a notice saying that the accounts’ activities had been aborted for “criminal content.

After the Iranian authorities shut down Bagheri’s page and the accounts of Instagram influencers who uploaded his videos, Iranians immediately fought back by posting tens of videos on social media, showing them dancing in parks and streets to the same tune to show their solidarity with Bagheri.

The deputy police commander of Gilan Province, Brigadier-General Hossein Hassanpour, told the media that the police struck down Bagheri’s page and accounts of other influencers because the distribution of videos of Bagheri’s dance in the bazaar of Rasht in social media had “violated public morals” and “broke norms.” He added that four shops involved in the singing and dancing were forced to close down.

Many religious fundamentalists in Iran, who hold important positions in the country’s theocratic government, consider dancing as debauchery and, therefore, falls under the category of entirely unacceptable behavior. They also have close ties with political hardliners and object to most music, especially lively pop music, usually associated with dance. 

Several Iranians have pointed out the hypocrisy of the authorities in Iran, claiming that they did not take legal action against officials in the same city involved in a same-sex scandal or even object to the country’s state broadcaster employing celebrities who lived lifestyles that are completely against the odds with the morality the Islamic Republic is proclaiming. Instead, they attack ordinary people and arrest those like the “happy old man” for simply dancing outside his shop, claiming that the country’s morality is under attack.

A commentary in the Iranian reformist newspaper Ham-Mihan newspaper argued that a “single entity” is responsible for the crackdown that is happening in Iran against ordinary Iranians, such as the arrest of the “happy old [dancing] man,” the Mashhad subway CCTV scandal, and Tehran subway “horror tunnels.”

The commentary also added that by suppressing ordinary Iranians, this “single entity” has control over all institutions in Iran and is sending a message to everyone in Iran, clear and without any reservation, that it can tell people what they are allowed and not allowed to do.

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