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May 22

Happy? Don't Be.

By Ella Miista
Ranging from the super awkward to pretty amazing, Happy by Pharrell Williams has seen countless of tribute videos. No one cared about their cool factor because the song - and all of the accompanying videos - were about being happy. Not the case if you're in Iran. In Iran it’s considered obnoxious. Vulgar, if you quote the police. You know, because it hurts public chastity. You’d think the word died some time in the 16th centre but alas! It did not. Look, we get it. Cultures are different. It’s just that if someone gets arrested for dancing in a music video it’s no longer ‘a difference’. When the country then issues a press release that reads like something they’re talking about a potential nuclear attack on their country, it’s just mental. This is what the police said: “Following a series of intelligence and police operations and after coordinating with the judiciary, all the suspects were identified and arrested.” Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 that took power from the pro-Western monarchy, the country is ruled under Islamic law. That means women must be covered head to toe and there's an actual 'morality police' unit making sure that rule is adhered to. The Happy tribute also breached the law that rules it unlawful for men and women to dance together. After their arrest, the performers were interviewed on state run TV. Some of them had claimed to have been actors, shooting the video as part of a casting. Many claim to have been tricked as the video was intended for private use only. But, human rights bodies have often brought up the issue of the interviewees being threatened, thus airing confessions that aren't entirely true. They wouldn't be the first ones to appear on national TV making confessions fed to them. OK, so maybe there was a little too much ankle on show in the video. Not cool, we understand. We also understand these guys and girls were trying to show the rest of the world even in a place like Iran people can indeed be happy. “Despite all the pressures and limitations,” one of the participating girls said, adding, “young people are joyful and want to make the situation better. They know how to have fun, like the rest of the world.” Did the officials miss this? Did they not see the irony in this? It's doubly bad because only last week the Iranian president spoke about Internet freedom. He's quoted saying, “Even if there is an onslaught, which there is, the way to face it is via modern means, not passive and cowardly methods.” Nothing quite as modern as forcing people to confess to things on state TV. The president then went on to quote himself on Twitter: "#Happiness is our people's right. We shouldn't be too hard on behaviors caused by joy." At least they weren't stoned to death? Here's a copy the video in question. Needless to say at well over 600,000 views, it went a bit viral thanks to the arrest. Muslims in Britain did a similar video. Plenty of killjoys found the video ‘haram’ or forbidden. The nature of dancing to a pop song is wildly outrageous after all. But, they weren’t arrested, so that’s pretty great. According to Thomas Erdbrink, a NYT journalist focussing on Iran, said on Twitter that Iran's court system is a separate power according to the country's constitution, "often at odds with government policies." As he states, the arrest of all those happy dancers - students, photographers and film-makers - illustrates that. It's the opposite of happy, it's incredibly sad how innocent people with no harmful intentions get caught in the whirlwind of religious reasoning. Not every country needs - or should! - be westernised. It's what makes the world such a fascinating place; all the differences across countries and cultures. There is so much to learn from one another, and there's no doubt we could learn a lot from different, 'less advanced' societies. Just, right now it's Iran's turn to open their eyes and ears, and listen to what their people are saying. They want to be happy, without risking arrest and humiliation. One of the arrested girls, photographer Reihane Taravati posted on Instagram after her release:
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