On the surface, it seems like a nothingburger…
Six Iranians, joyously dancing to Pharrell Williams’ trendy song “Happy”. They’re just doing what tons of people around the world have done — jamming to a popular tune:
As of today, the video has 600K+ views. It probably would have been lucky to have 600 if it was made in the US.
But instead, this viral video was filmed in Tehran where women dancing without the mandatory hijab head covering is a criminal offense. Add dancing with men, to Western pop music, in a video distributed without a license on an unapproved website and you have plenty of fodder for punishment in Iran.
And punishment is what happened when this video was released. The six happy dancers and the video’s director were arrested and their stern scolding by Tehran Police Chief Hossein Sajedinia played out on Iranian television.
But a tweet purported to be from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (only a year into office) seemed to show support for the dancers:
“#Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy.” 29/6/2013— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) May 21, 2014
After a worldwide outcry — perhaps sparked by a tweet from Pharrell Williams himself to his 3.5 million+ followers — the happy dancers have been released. The director is apparently still in custody. The dancers face criminal penalties that could severely impact them physically and financially.
The eventual outcome remains to be seen. What’s clear to me is that the rising tensions in Iran between clerical conservatives and those who are demanding more freedom to express themselves. The ease of access to modern technology and world that seems more tightly connected than ever means that something as simple as a happy dance could perhaps spark a revolution.
Is there a faith tie in to this story? I’d say that the major one would be the reminder for us to pray for the families of Iran and for the country’s leaders, both religious and governmental.
As much as I love Catholicism, I can’t fathom living in a society where my decision to not follow a teaching of my church could land me in prison. Arresting the happy dancers seems equivalent to me to my videoing myself eating a hamburger on a Lenten Friday and being thrown in jail for breaking religious teachings.
I know the issues are far more complex than this oversimplification. But I also know that this story has the potential to blow up into something far greater than four minutes of dancing.
I’ll be watching…