Held on the last Tuesday before the spring equinox - when the Persian new year holiday of Noruz is celebrated - Chaharshanbe Suri marks an ancient tradition where people jump over the bonfires to wish each other a healthy year.
Iran's ruling theocrats do not particularly like these ancient "pagan" feasts, which barely survived the Islamic Revolution. Over the years, the regime has taken steps to co-opt the holidays by inserting new religious elements. For example, a special prayer for Noruz has been introduced. The minute the new year begins all channels in the state-run TV and radio broadcast live Supreme Leader Khamenei's new year speech, where he bestows a thematic name on the year - for instance, "Imam Khomeini Year" or "Responsibility of the Officials to the People."
Yet it is hard to slip ideological symbols into Chaharshanbe Suri. Given the normally harsh legal restrictions on social and civic life, the holiday offers a unique moment where the regime's pressure is largely gone and rowdy behavior is tolerated. This gives youth an opportunity to go "wild" with impunity. Young Iranians have learned to enjoy this night to full by setting off fireworks, mixing in large numbers with the opposite sex, and playing pranks. These outbursts of pent-up energies have turned this ancient feast into a nightmare for the authorities, prompting the security officials go on high alert every year.
Amnesty International is using the Noruz holiday to launch an alert of its own - a call to stand in solidarity with several leading Iranian activist currently behind bars. These include Mansour Ossanloo, previously profiled in The CRIME Report for leading a strike by Tehran's bus drivers and currently sentenced to five years in jail for his activism. The call is to send Noruz greetings to Ossanloo and two Iranian Kurds, one a journalist and the other an artist, who have to celebrate the approach of the spring and the new year in their cold cells. One sad coda: during the holiday last week blogger Omid Reza Mir-Sayafi, who had been jailed for allegedly "insulting" the Supreme Leader committed suicide in Evin Prison.
While President Obama was mouthing his vapid drivel about Iran, Iranian youths were celebrating in defiance of the islamist regime. CRIME Report: