Thirty Ramadans after V.S. Naipaul’s visit to Qom, I visited for the Atlantic, in search of the part of Iran not gripped yet by democratic fervor. A truncated version of this piece appears here.
Tehran is on the edge of the mountains, and Qom is on a plain. For a persecuted revolutionary movement, the distinction matters, because in Iran, as in most places, the mountains are where you go to hide, and to do what you can’t do openly. This fall, after a summer of violent protests in Tehran that rattled the government and convinced it to send out hardline loyalists to club the protesters into submission, the opposition took to the hills that ring the anti-government suburbs of north Tehran. Instead of painting its messages on buildings, it painted them on rocks. Around Darband — the neighborhood where for years the northern Tehranis have fled to throw off their veils, eat co-ed picnics, and perhaps drain a thermos of whiskey — the protesters have sprayed furtive graffiti on small rocks. “Mir Hussein Mousavi,” says one, with a V for victory. Another more direct one pledges “Death to Khamenei,” Iran’s head ayatollah. Six months ago, cell-phone photos captured scenes of actual heated protest, and today those protesters trade images of these rocks, signs of a revolution gone dormant.