The Iranian revolution claimed to represent the voice of the poor when it came to power in 1979, but this week arrested a rapper who voices the struggles of the poor.
Iranian dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi was arrested Monday in the central city of Isfahan and taken to an unknown location by security forces. It is the latest in a continuing movement to silence all forms of dissent, especially among the young and the educated.
Toomaj is in his mid-twenties and raps about the poor and desolate whose lives have increasingly become an intractable struggle for survival. This is in fact the same group of people on whose behalf the leader of the 1979 revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, confronted and overthrew the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Khomeini called the poor “mostazafeen“and blamed the rich, “Mostakbérine”, For having stolen and deceived them.
Forty-two years later, as social and economic inequalities have widened, the ruling theocracy cannot even tolerate a pro-poor song.
“Have you seen their dark lives? Toomaj asks in his latest song called Normal Life. “Have you seen where they sleep? Have you seen their empty plates? They don’t even have money for their funerals, aren’t you ashamed? ” he asks.
Normal Life has become popular and very controversial because of its bravery in the face of the regime.
“Yes sir, yes sir, you are right, life is normal, that’s all we can say! we cannot demand our rights because we will be detained.
Toomaj Salehi raps about discrimination, social and economic injustice, corruption and security repression. He accuses those in power of having gotten to where they are in the name of the poor, while continuing to ignore their dire conditions and calling those who protest “rebels.”
He says we have a government that “executes” and commits “criminal acts” rather than protecting the poor. The criticism is harsh and partly mixed with gruesome black and white images of life in poor areas. “We don’t have a life, we just live,” Toomaj says.
The year of the sanctions and the added burden of Covid-19 have put pressure on Iranians, especially the poorer segments of the population. Falling oil revenues and restricted access to foreign reserves as a result of US sanctions led to a sharp depreciation of the exchange rate. Job losses due to the pandemic and high inflation “have deteriorated the well-being, in particular that of already vulnerable households”, according to the World Bank which also predicts that the trend of economic pressure on poor households will continue. will continue.
Iran is well aware of the burden weighing on the poorest classes, but its ruling clique wants to appear victorious against US sanctions. To justify his story and his mismanagement of the economy, he has resorted to silence those who reveal his ineptitude. It infuriates those who are pushed hard for the basic necessities of life.
“Iranian security forces have resorted to the illegal use of force, including mass arrests, to ruthlessly suppress predominantly peaceful protests,” Amnesty International said of the latest round of protests in August. They highlighted the “serious” bodily injuries, cruel methods of torture and other ill-treatment inflicted on the numerous victims aged between 20 and 35, coming from disadvantaged areas.
This is what Toomaj is referring to when he says “they call you a rebel if you protest for your rights.”
These protests, which have lasted for more than 20 years, escalated with the additional burden of US sanctions peaking in January 2018, and then in November 2019, when there was a sudden rise in fuel prices of at least 50%.
Toomaj is part of the generation who witnessed it all both as a child and now as a young man. This is why he is relentless in his attack on the authorities. In his famous rap, Mouse Hole, he even accuses anyone who is silent about the conditions of being “partners in crime”.
The up-and-coming rapper follows in the footsteps of veteran rapper Hichkas (meaning no one) nicknamed “the father of Iranian rap” who rose to prominence after the 2009 mass protests. He managed to escape Iran and now lives in London.
Contemporary songs seem to have become more and more direct in their criticism of the regime. One of the first protest songs that came out during the mass student protests in 1999 was called “Let’s Stand Together” by Mohammad Reza Shajarian. “Separately, we will never heal this common pain,” he said. This line seemed very bold at the time, but now seems timid of the outpouring of anger and dissent from Hichkas and Toomaj or several other protest rappers.
Toomaj and Hichkas speak fearlessly of the complex set of social, cultural and economic pains that many Iranians suffer in silence. Arrests, ill-treatment, torture and forced confessions seem to have increased the intensity of the protests and chanting.
Toomaj’s Instagram account, where you can find all of his songs, has been blocked. Since then, the hashtag #FreeToomaj has been around.
“Please be his voice”, Hichkas tweeted about Toomaj, “because he was the voice of his people who are suffering under the regime of the Islamic Republic”.
Disclaimer: The views expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, views and editorial policies of TRT World.
We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please email them to [email protected]