Iran riots
Iran riotsiStock

“The opposite of war is not peace, it’s creation” - Jonathan Larson

Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979 marked a profound cultural shift in the nation, whose relationship to the Arts stretches over millennia, ensnaring it in the nets of religious fundamentalists for whom innovation and free expression rhymes with blasphemy and apostasy. That’s when the Iranian people fell prey to Ayatollah Khomenei’s reactionary revolutionary movement— condemned to live under an absolute theocracy.

Khomeini, and his clerical class of radicals, purged Iran from any Western, non-Islamic, influences from academia, the arts and media. An enemy of modernity, Khomeini’s philosophy and “Cultural Revolution” was one born from nihilism.

The purported long-term goal of the Cultural Revolution was to “Islamize” Iran’s universities, and establish Khomeinism as the only worthy expression of Shia thought, which asserts that to precipitate the advent of the Mahdi, a perceived Muslim messianic leader, Iran had to act as a cornerstone to his future government. And so, the religious fundamentalists waged a war on the Arts to curtail dissent, and prevent, through censorship, any new thought from taking flight that could delay the Mahdi’s rule.

For absolutists, ideas are much more dangerous than any physical threat. And whereas the Arts have been, since time immemorial, powerful vehicles for change which have encouraged communities to glimpse beyond an imposed narrative, all manners of expression had to be reined in, outlawed even, so that the Islamic Republic would suffer no contention.

The Supreme Cultural Revolution Council closed universities, removed books from circulation, banned songs, and put the Arts under strict review by the so-called “morality police”.

From behind the thick walls of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s theocratic regime, Iran has broken out in song, dancing, and art, using creativity as a weapon against the regime, so that the world would learn of a people's struggle.
Today, Iranians are reclaiming lost ground. From behind the thick walls of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s theocratic regime, Iran has broken out in song, dancing, and art, using creativity as a weapon against the regime, so that the world would learn of a people's struggle.

“Baraye”, meaning “Because of” in English, has become the anthem of Iran’s anti-regime revolution. The song, which encapsulates the ills of the Iranian Islamic regime’s brand of tyranny, and the plight of a people who hunger for freedom, has become an eloquent rallying cry against the Islamic Republic. Shervin Haji Aghapour composed the lyrics of “Baraye”, from a collection of social media posts from Iranian citizens. Some of the sentiments set to music include a cry for “imprisoned intellectual elites”, and “all these empty propaganda chants [of hate they are forced to chant]”.

Breaking away from Tehran’s narrative of hate, exclusion, antisemitism, and sectarianism, Iranians have been reaching out, optimizing their creativity so that new and accurate narratives could be built, and old friendships renewed.

The Iranian regime arrested Aghapour after his song was listened to over tens of millions of times.

Yet, the Iranian people, in their struggle against oppression, are now seeing they’ve always had friends in places unreachable under the regime. Israeli and other Jewish artists, intellectuals, and activists have offered their support and their platform to Iranians—testimony of the enduring ties of friendships that exist between the two people.

California based Israeli singer and influencer, Itay Benda’s cover of “Baraye”, is full of emotion. Though his inbox was flooded with messages the day after the Islamic regime arrested Aghapour, Benda said he was especially motivated to record the song because the original artist has “no freedom of expression, no freedom of delivering art.” Benda’s cover, supporting the Iranian Revolution of 2022, got over 17 million views. And, Emily Schrader, Israeli Twitter influencer and co-founder of Social Lite Creative, also sang a rendition which got well over 100,000 views.

Liraz Charhi, known professionally by her first name, is an Israeli-Iranian actress and singer who coordinated an album with Iranians and Israelis last winter, skirting not only Iran’s prohibition against such musical expression but also against the regime’s ban on Israelis and Iranians cooperating with each other. According to France24, her song, "Zan Bezan" from her previous album has also become one of the demonstrators’ anthems, and accompanies many protest videos on social networks.

And, in November, Ariella Abrams, a Jewish Iranian-American, organised an event in Los Angeles called “Women-Life-Freedom”, words that have become the slogan for this Iranian Revolution. Her event featured Iranian artists. Speaking to LA weekly Abrams explained: “Inspired by the strength and bravery of our brothers and sisters fighting in Iran, we had to renew our spirits by coming together in solidarity. For the first time in 40 years we’re feeling hope that the country can return to its former glory”.

These are just a few examples of how creative Iranians, and their allies beyond their restrictive border, are relying on “the forbidden” Arts to help them wrestle back freedom and the opportunities to express themselves, virtues that the Islamic regime stole from them decades ago.

Catherine Perez-Shakdam is a Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society. Follow her on Twitter at @ShakdamC

Faith Quintero is the author of Loaded Blessings, a family saga that alternates between Inquisition era Spain and modern-day Israel. Loaded Blessings is a Montaigne Medal finalist for the Eric Hoffer awards, an additional distinction, awarded to "the most thought-provoking books." Follow Faith on Twitter @FaithQuintero7 and follow Arutz Sheva Opinion at @israelnatopin