Aren't drugs punishable by death in Iran? Many predominately Muslim
countries for that matter?
As Iran Presses Its Ambitions, Its Young See Theirs Denied
Lack of Economic Opportunity Leads Many to Drugs
By Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, April 21, 2006; A01
SHAFT, Iran -- The question that preoccupies most of Iran lay coiled in the sullen stare of Abbas Kayhan, 25 years old and stuck behind the counter of his father's corner store. It pulled his heavy brow even lower and traveled down a forearm that shuddered in anger with each word.
"But what about me?" the young man demanded, smack in the colorless center of a generation whose complaints have driven Iranian politics for more than a decade, with no satisfaction in sight.
"You people, you have got a very good life in the U.S. What is this place?" He glanced down the main street of a town called Shaft, where young men with gelled hair and no jobs sauntered at aimless angles. "Everything is miserable."
While the world focuses on Iran's nuclear ambitions, Iranians focus on the unmet aspirations of the two-thirds of the population that is younger than 30.
Nearly three decades after a revolution that swept aside a monarchist system grounded in privilege, the typical Iranian has seen average income shrink under a religious government that has cultivated an elite of its own atop a profoundly dysfunctional economy.
The 80 percent of the population working in the private sector struggles mightily to make a living in the 20 percent of the economy that is not controlled by the government. The end product is a frustration edging into resentment that informs every private conversation with ordinary Iranians and frames every public issue.
It explains the stunning landslide victory 10 months ago of a relative unknown named Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the only candidate in the presidential race who campaigned against the rich.
Dissatisfaction also accounts for much of the public support for Iran's nuclear program, despite widespread disdain for the ruling mullahs. In a country where time has seemed to stand still for a quarter-century, the public associates nuclear energy with economic development.
"The city of Shaft is just like anywhere else in the country," said Jafar Shalde, the owner of a housewares shop whose business on a recent morning consisted of one transaction: A woman returned the shelving she'd bought the day before, and Shalde gave her $3 back.
"There is not enough salary for the people," he said. "There is not enough income. They don't have enough money, so they don't buy anything.
"Normally, everything gets worse."
Shaft rests in the low-lying vermillion countryside below the Caspian Sea, its main street of tidy shops curving gently. The surrounding valley is checkered by rice paddies, and families lucky enough to own one eat the harvest themselves. Though economists call the region prosperous compared with most of Iran, residents say they need two jobs to survive.
The local string factory, which used to employ 400, now has work for fewer than 100.
"Opium, yes. You can smell it in the evening," Shalde said of the drug many people in Iran -- more than in any other country in the world, according to U.N. figures -- use to fill days not filled by jobs.
At 64, Shalde is old enough to remember Iran's 1979 revolution, defined for Americans by the hostage crisis. Iranians recall it differently.
"It was because of the shah," Shalde said, referring to Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, whose Peacock Throne the CIA restored in a 1953 coup.
"There was no equality between classes. There was a gap between people, and our imam said the reason was the shah, and he asked us to demonstrate against him. And this is what we did."
The mullahs took control, but the gap remained, though the government declines to measure income differences.
"In my view, 1 percent may be getting equal to the next 30 percent of the population," said Ali Rashidi, a prominent economist and former Central Bank official. "You can see it."
Iranians say they do. They call a rich man "the son of a cleric," shorthand for the insider government connections crucial to any enterprise here. The richest person in Iran is believed to be Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a mid-level cleric who served two terms as president in the 1990s and outspent his opponents in an attempt to return to office last year.
His accession was preempted by Ahmadinejad, who surged ahead on the strength of a half-hour campaign video. Broadcast nationwide in a nightly candidate showcase, the video made no mention of wiping Israel off the map or even nuclear power -- issues that have since defined Ahmadinejad for the outside world.
It simply showed that he lived in a modest house, worked long hours as Tehran's mayor and clearly savored contact with the common folk.
"I saw him on television," said Shalde, in the stillness of his shop. "I didn't vote for his promises. I just looked at him and saw he was just like us. So I told everybody I knew -- for example, my kids -- I told them to vote for him."
That Ahmadinejad even made promises was unusual for a candidate in Iran. He vowed to "put oil money on the sofre ," the dining cloth that in an Iranian household is the equivalent of the kitchen table. Iran's petroleum reserves are the second largest of any OPEC country. And only Russia has more natural gas.
But great chunks of the income from oil already go to keeping public anger at bay. Iran will spend $25 billion this year to hold down the prices of flour, rice, even gasoline. With insufficient refining capacity of its own, Iran imports more gas than any nation except the United States.
"Instability and mental insecurity would result from increasing the price of such products in society," Ahmadinejad said in announcing retention of the subsidies. His first budget also included $19 billion to create the new jobs the economy is failing to generate at the rate young Iranians enter the marketplace, a staggering 1 million a year.
"Work," said Sassan Ataei, 18, "is in Tehran. That's where our peers go."
At 11 on a weekday morning, Ataei was headed down a barren side street toward a teahouse where the unemployed young men of Shaft put their effort into leisure. Everlast, Puma -- it's all about the shoes in the bare, tiled room where young men of working age pass the daylight hours smoking water pipes.
"We only get hopeful when we smoke hashish," said one, smiling as he made do with spiced-apple tobacco. "Otherwise, there's no hope."
The new president has brought a glimmer, however. Mojtaba Dejahang, 23, voted for a reformist candidate but now approves of the hard-line conservative who emphasized economic issues over personal freedoms.
"Bread is important," said Dejahang, who lives with his parents despite holding an engineering degree. "I think ordinary people do love him and trust him, especially with his position on the nuclear issue. He showed that he's a firm person.
"We believe that with nuclear power Iran will actually speed up development."
As he spoke, other young patrons chimed in, drawn by the novelty of a visiting American and the opportunity to be heard.
"I want to make one point clear," Mani Jalili announced, by way of introduction. "If Americans attack the city of Shaft, I will defend it."
Shop owner Ali Korshidi concurred: "If there's going to be any change in this country, it has to come from inside. I put no faith in foreign forces."
Atta Jafarzadeh, 17, wore suede sneakers and an injured look. "We are the generation born after the revolution," he implored. "We have no bad memories of the Americans."
The young men were either on their way to Tehran, 180 miles to the southeast, or had just come back empty-handed. Many of the overcrowded capital's perhaps 10 million residents are economic migrants.
"Unless you have jobs for everyone, democracy will never take root here," said Zirak Shafti, 39, who said his advertising business was faltering.
"That's why no government ever succeeded here. It was always dependent on oil. It wanted to control everything."
Inside the airy, neatly arranged home of Fatemeh Jaberoodi, the grown children not at work took seats along the living room wall. Only the oldest has a job -- a bank clerk position inherited from his father. Except for another child in Germany, the entire brood, seven adults, survives on the rice from a small paddy plus Jaberoodi's husband's pension, equal to $77 a month.
The fixed amount shrinks with each uptick of inflation, a chronic condition in Iran that ran at 15 percent last year. Persistent price increases, which economists call a tax on the poor, will be aggravated by Ahmadinejad's budget, according to a wide range of analysts, including fellow conservatives.
Jaberoodi grew wistful recalling the years before 1979, when the Iranian rial held its value year to year. "It seemed that the money we got was just blessed," she said. "There was no inflation.''
Her daughters sat silently. Ameneh, at 30 the eldest, had a computer degree and a good lead on a job with an automaker, but the family lacked the clout "to push the matter through," her mother said.
"If people have got links inside the government, it's easy. For ordinary people, not a chance. There's a lot of talk about justice, but there's not equality of opportunity."
Sajad, the oldest son still at home, stood up. His mother frowned. He is 23. "We don't have enough money to start a business for him," she said.
"That's a real problem."
She lowered her voice. "My main concern is that without a job he doesn't become addicted to any of these drugs. My concern is if they can't find a job, this kind of thing is inevitable."
He dressed as she spoke, a fit, handsome man discreetly opening a full-length cupboard door in the living room that becomes a bedroom at night. He pulled off a soccer jersey and buttoned up a dress shirt.
"He got up at 12, had his lunch, watched a bit of television. Now he's going out just to run around with his friends," his mother said. Her face was crossed, like Iran, by currents of knowing and helplessness.
"I can't stop him."
Aren't drugs punishable by death in Iran? Many predominately Muslim
countries for that matter?
I've been told that private alcohol consumption in Iran (especially vodka) is a distiller's dream.
Originally Posted by Potsdam State Uni
What these folks are starting realize is that their quality of life and personal freedom was greater under the Shah than under the Mullahs that currently run Iran.
Mass unemployment and economic depression is what happens when a country elects to return to the dark ages mentally.
And I agree with the interviewee that said change must come from within. I'm sure the CIA is trying to get something grass roots brewing.... and I'll bet the Kurds will play a big role.
Even though I'm inclined to agree with some of the points the author has made, I dont put much weight in the article. It weaves selective, sensationalist comments into the text, deliberately uses emotive terms, makes generalised comments to justify key arguments, and uses melodramatic, almost cinematic editing for added effect. You might say that it reek of bias to the point that it is no longer credible, even if you (like I) agree with some of the points the author is trying to make.
Here is some more anti iranian propaganda from that right wing outlet called the bbc.
Javad and his friends are among an officially estimated two million Iranians now taking drugs, giving the country one of the highest addiction rates in the world. "
As his wife and some of his seven children look on with a mixture of contempt and amusement, he and two fellow addicts crouch in a sordid, grimy room and "chase the dragon" - junkie jargon for inhaling the fumes from heroin heated over foil.
I'm too embarrassed to ask anyone for help any more - everyone is using drugs
wife of addict
"I took refuge in drugs, hoping they would calm me down and make things better but I'm even more miserable now," he says, slurring his words.
"I use heroin. This is my life..."
Javad has gone looking for jobs but says they always turn him down.
His wife Maryam has had enough. She interrupts with a torrent of vituperation.
"Miserable people like us should just die at home from hunger or thirst," she says.
"I'm too embarrassed to ask anyone for help any more. Everyone is using drugs. The government should put a stop to it."
Border war on drugs
The Iranian Government is increasingly enlisting the support of non-government organisations (NGOs) to combat demand for narcotics.
It is partly a problem of availability.
Some drugs will always find a way across the border
Iran straddles a major smuggling route to the West from neighbouring Afghanistan, the world's largest producer of opium and its derivatives, morphine and heroin.
So drugs are plentiful here, and cost a lot less than replacement therapy.
Iran's long and mountainous eastern border with Afghanistan and Pakistan is virtually impossible to seal.
More than 3,200 members of the Iranian security forces have died in clashes with drug traffickers and every year, tons of narcotics are seized but optimistic estimates are that only about 30% of the inflow may be being intercepted.
"Even if we built a steel wall all around the country, drugs would find a way in, as long as there's a demand for them," admits General Mohammad Fallah, head of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters (DCHQ).
The new emphasis on trying to curb demand, while keeping up the struggle to halt the supply.
An anti-drug propaganda campaign is under way
"In our new budget, about 50% is allocated for demand reduction activities," says Mejid Derakhshan, head of the DCHQ's cultural section.
The DCHQ has sponsored a series of hard-hitting TV advertisements and is waging an information campaign in schools and universities.
It is also setting up a special new department to co-ordinate with the NGOs.
One NGO, the Anti-Addiction Association, was set up by a woman MP, Soheila Jelodarzadeh, who compares the problem to cancer.
"Addiction is much more dangerous than cancer, because it spreads exponentially," she says.
The focus is on cutting demand
"To sustain his habit, an addict has to sell drugs to at least 10 other people."
The Association, and other NGOs such as Narcotics Anonymous and the Aftab (Sunshine) Society, provide a humane and enlightened refuge for addicts who want to try to shed their habit.
"Here, they treat you with respect, not like some sort of criminal," says Saeed, who was a serious addict for 12 years until he went to the association.
Hossein Dejakam, the former addict who set up the Aftab Society, believes a lack of professional expertise is one of the factors inhibiting the struggle to stem the spread of abuse.
"We don't have a single expert on addiction," he says.
Drug control authorities are alarmed that in addition to the traditional poppy-based narcotics from Afghanistan, synthetic drugs are also starting to appear on the Iranian scene from other sources.
But supply and availability also have an impact in creating demand, says Antonio Mazzitelli, Iran representative of the UN's Drug Control Programme (UNDCP).
Iran had been bracing for a renewed flood of narcotics, because poppy cultivation resumed in Afghanistan this spring.
Ironically, in this respect Iran was better off with the Taleban as neighbours, because they imposed a successful ban on cultivation last year.
But the expected new influx has not yet happened - perhaps because the narcotics are being refined and sent to the West via more northerly routes which bypass Iran.
The UNDCP's Antonio Mazzitelli is cautiously optimistic that if the supply situation remains restricted and efforts to curb demand are redoubled, Iran's drug crisis could start to turn around.
"If this supply trend continues at least one or two more years, we will start to record a dramatic reduction in drug abuse and in new drug abusers in Iran," he says.
Drugs and prositution are rampant in a country who's leaders seem to pride itself on islamic purity.
Iran is right next-door to Afghanistan a country that has probably the strongest drug lords in the world that are armed to teeth.. in addition Iran has the biggest number of refugees in the world and guess what? most of them are from Afghanistan with strong ties to the thugs back home… the claimed model democracy for middle east has shown no reduction in drug exports since 2001 but hey if Taliban is not ruling the country anymore who cares about anything else?! In addition to all this when Iran buys sniper rifles or body armor for soldiers who fight these drug dealers US walks in and calls them WMDs and punishes countries and companies which supply them to Iran.. funny enough recently most Western news agencies have been reporting about positive approach taken by Iran in handling the drug addict situation (check channel4 and Kevin Sites reports from Iran)..
it is disgusting how ppl’s misery are being taken advantage of in the anti-Iran media war… it is more than obvious that the media doesn’t actually care about these drug addicts.. as always when it comes to Iran emphasis is on the wrong part of the issue!
I hope the CIA doesn't get involved we all know what happens after that "some sort of dictators" let the Iranians do it on there own they will be better for it, hey they did it before, mullahs was just a phase.Originally Posted by David Tate
Blah blah blah.Originally Posted by kraf001
In just 5 sentences, Iran's drug problems are caused by the Western media and the USA.
Don't you ever accept responsibilty for what happens in your country?
Next, when it rains in Teheran you will blame America too?
Somebody needs to take reading comprehension classes...Originally Posted by BlackRain
You just described 100% of American news outlets.Originally Posted by NicNZ
And your leaders can clerics carry on about the infidel and currupt west, when it seems drug abuse and prositition and general imorality are alive in Iran as it is in America !Originally Posted by kraf001
The mullahs have not brought the Islamic paradise as promise and by many indicators things have gotten worse.
Not 100%.You just described 100% of American news outlets.
my leaders?! (there we go again, it has been the most useful way on these boards for ppl like you to start a conversation with me, of course if someone is from Iran and not ready to bow down to the supreme West he must be a mullah lover)Originally Posted by Kilgor
anyways I have no intention to deny the truth that prostitution and drug abuse exist in my country but as oppose to you I am not gonna use ppl effected by these misfortune in my "evil Iranian government" story book!..
the article (just like you) fails to make a rational and balanced comment about drug status in Iran the shortage and mistakes from government is there and are being reported on daily basis by even Iranian media.. but the famous “lets hate Iran” bandwagon media at the very least is taking away credit from many activist who live in Iran and have dedicated their lives to fight this social problem (be it ppl inside the government or normal civilians) making news headlines even in Western media..
funny how you criticize mullahs on their promises yet you fail to see the promised model democracy for ME is still depends on drug export!
that is your interpretation of Iran and as an Iranian I tend to disagree.. sure Shah's Iran was enjoyable for Westerners and Iranians who enjoyed a cosmetic life as a Western wannabe... you can see the same trend in almost all the Arab countries allied with West today... just because you liked it doesn’t mean I should like it too!Originally Posted by Kilgor
Last edited by kraf001; 04-24-2006 at 06:26 AM.