Many years ago, I was a woman teacher in Iran. The following story happened in the early 1990s.
As any teacher or student has experienced, there is always some noise in the classroom. There is no way to achieve absolute silence, and I don't believe any attempt should be made to change that. Students need to talk, and sometimes talking helps them to understand better. I tried to keep them focused and busy in order to keep them from becoming distracted. I only interfered in extreme cases, for example when someone deliberately tried to disturb my class.
During my career, like many teachers, I learned to listen to little whispers while I pretended that I'm not hearing. That way I could discover attempts to cheat in exams, conspiracies for avoiding homework or copying it, etc.
Such whispers were very common and were mostly unimportant. But one day I heard something that got my attention. Some students were talking about seeing something which sounded pornographic, or to be more exact, a rape scene. I knew that no matter how much you try, boys that age will always find ways to get pornographic materials. Although that disturbed me, I didn’t take it very seriously. I thought some parents, older brother or … had slipped and left an inappropriate VHS tape in the video player, or something like that.
But I began to worry when I heard similar whispers in different classes and by different students. That was alarming.
I lived in an Islamic country with a theocratic dictatorial government, where any relationship between single men and women was banned, even simple friendship. Sometimes people were arrested, faced with harsh charges and lashed for small transgressions, for example asking an address from the opposite sex, etc.
Most of the principals and teachers who were installed in schools were religious fanatics as well. Many of them were Iran-Iraq war veterans who the government had employed in order to replace the professional school staff, which was purged during the 1980s for ideological reasons. They didn’t know how to treat children. Whenever a student showed a sign of disobedience, the usual solution was beating him until he started crying and begging for mercy!
It was surprising to see my students were subjected to inappropriate sexual material in such a society, despite all the religious lessons they went through, all the censorship which even banned showing women’s hair and their singing, harsh rules which restricted the relationships between opposite sexes, banned cassette and video tapes and players, etc.
One day I paid a closer attention to a conversation between my students. They were talking about the same pornographic scene. I deliberately pretended that couldn't hear and let the conversation go on. They were talking about how women were forced by some men to do horrible humiliating sexual acts, like it’s no big deal. What worried me more was that they expressed their interest to commit such crimes that men were committing in that scene. I overheard things like “It’s so much fun”, “I wish I was there to take part”, “If I was there I would have also forced those women to do this or that”, “That’s the utter fun you can have”, etc. At the end of the conversion, I heard one of them say that he had the tape and was going to give it to his friend after the class.
I waited until the end of the class. When the students began leaving, I asked the person who I knew had the tape to stay. I waited some more for everyone aside from him to leave. Then I asked him to hand me his school bag. Unsurprisingly, the tape was there. When I asked him about it, he said he had just found it and had no idea what’s on that tape! I pretended that I believed him and said “Okay. Next time don’t pick up things that don’t belong to you. I’m keeping this until I find the owner.”
I took the tape back home to watch it. When the movie began, I was surprised. It wasn’t pornographic at all. It was a serious movie about a group of freedom fighters and foreigners who were in Chile during the 1973 coup. I was even interested in the subject, I only couldn’t figure out what those students found so interesting about this movie. So, I just sat back to watch it. Who knew? Maybe something inappropriate was copied in the middle.
The story was good. In one part, a female freedom fighter was identified and the police were searching for her. Her friend lied to the police and pretended to be the freedom fighter in order to save her. She was arrested instead of her and that is when I finally discovered what the students were talking about. In the movie, female prisoners were taken to a stadium, where they were sexually harassed in a cruel way.
The film didn’t encourage rape at all. It was the complete the opposite. The officers who abused the women were the bad guys and a normal viewer would have felt sympathy for those women. But in my students' minds, things were different. They felt no sympathy for the oppressed prisoners. Their hero was the general who ordered the abuse.
That was saddening to me. If I had just found some ordinary sex scenes, that was not a big deal, at least for me. Who hasn’t tried to steal a peek at that age? In that case, I could have mildly reprimanded a student and asked his parents to keep him off the inappropriate materials without making a big deal out of what he has done.
But this was different. On one hand, it had become so popular that I heard the students whispering about it in different times and places. On the other hand, it wasn’t about ordinary sex between two people, it was about the desire to reduce people into sex slaves, something which was actually condemned in the movie but approved in my students' minds.
What was wrong with their minds? They were subjected to governmental propaganda which discouraged that behavior. But despite being bombarded with that propaganda since they learnt to speak, many of them were becoming sex predators. This couldn’t have been by chance. There was something wrong with their education. They were taught lessons which encouraged a certain religious lifestyle, but what they actually understood, the outcome of those lessons, was something totally different.
When we taught them about the Hijab and how women should cover themselves in order to not stimulate men, what they actually learned was men are predators and women are prey. Women need to look ugly so they can avoid being raped by men!
When we taught them how Allah rewards faithful people in Heaven with Houris (mindless sex machines), what they actually learned was that men should avoid having healthy and respectful relationships with real women in this world, in order to achieve those sex machines which are more attractive than real women, always submissive and stay young forever! Real women who they see every day are just baits who can deceive men and deny them such a pleasure!
So, there is not much surprise if a victim of this propaganda, who is just a human being and has certain needs, can’t wait until death in order to achieve what he thinks is ideal. He tries to achieve it as much as possible in his real life. If his ideal is a physically attractive and submissive woman who has to obey what he commands, then there is no point in respecting and appreciating the good aspects of women. In such a mind, a mutually respectful relationship is something earthly and lowly, not heavenly or ideal. The true pleasure, which is given by Houris, is awaiting the faithful people in Heaven!
But how could I correct that? I could have told the principal as I was expected to do, but I once saw the principal severely beating a boy because he had a music cassette tape with a picture of a foreign singer on it. So, in this particular case, his interference could have led to nothing but even worse beating and perhaps humiliating the student who had the tape in front of the others. The only lesson which the students could learn this way was how to be more careful and trade their “contraband” elsewhere.
I decided to give a speech and enlighten the students in my classes. I told them that I had seen the movie which was circulating in our school and its story was actually good, despite not being suitable for their age. I taught them about the political situation in Latin America during the cold war. After that I explained the movie’s story and told them about the heroine’s sacrifice for saving her friend. I tried to explain how cruel the torture was and that no normal person could have fun in that scenario.
Lastly, but perhaps most important of all, I told them that physical aspect of sex is something secondary compared to the enjoyment which two people can have by sharing their best moments together and making each other happy, that a mature and healthy mind seeks and values the latter aspect more.
I'm not saying I nullified all of the ideological training which could turn them into sex predators. But I believe I made a small difference. The rest was up to the society, families and students themselves.
The lesson that I learned in the process was to judge ideologies and ideas not by their declared purposes, but by what they actually lead to.
The purpose set for the educational system of Iran was making pious people out of children, but the process of its work was actually leading to the opposite. Former generations, who were raised before the "Islamic Republic" era, were more religious than those who were raised under the care of religious zealots. Although more religious is by no means equal to more ethical. As I said, many of the school staff belonged to that former more religious generation, but their actions were not ethical at all. Even from a religious point of view, they were actually undermining their own ideology.
A brainwashing process was taking place, but a brain washed successfully with this method was even dirtier than before!
From my experience during all those years I learned that dictating ideas and ideologies to students will never work and sometimes it backfires. The purpose of education should be creating suitable conditions for the students to do research and figure out things themselves. Even in a purely scientific field, teachers shouldn't just present facts for their students to memorize, but should teach them how the scientific research is done and how proper results can be achieved.