Iran is changing in many ways. As documented recently on Humans of New York (Tehran edition), the lifestyle and aspirations of many 21st-century Iranians – Iranian millennials, if you will – is not so different from those of their peers around the world, including in the West.
That the younger generation of Iran’s clerical elite is associated more with fancy cars, designer clothes, and social media profiles (on platforms that aren’t banned, of course – and sometimes on platforms that are) than madrassas is well known; and indeed, these young, trendy, technological teens have been changing Iran’s image around the world, giving it a more modern, Western face.
Now, The Guardian has shed new light on the “facelift” or “rebranding” of one prominent clerical family, dubbed “Brand Khomenei,” courtesy of the family’s millennial scion, Ahmad – the great-grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini – as well as his father Hassan, a broadly reformist politician associated with Green Movement opposition leaders.
According to an Iran expert cited in the Guardian article, the “Instagram-savvy” 18-year-old – who can often be spotted wearing Tommy Hilfiger and Nike, but who easily switches to clerical robes to deliver ten-day sermons – is emblematic of Iran’s “young people,” who the expert asserted “are less ideological than their predecessors.”
The article, written by Hanif Kashani, suggested that though Ahmad (who is to become a seminary student soon) could face a negative reaction from hardliners and secularists alike, he and his young followers (on social media and elsewhere) will play a “game-changing role” in Iran’s future – presumably, pulling it in a less extreme direction. Case in point? “During the 2013 presidential campaign, Ahmad made it clear he was voting for Rouhani” – a leader whose so-called “moderation” we have called into question on more than one occasion.
Do Hassan and Ahmad Khomeini, who are critical of “extremists” but who attend Friday prayer services alongside the hardline Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, symbolize Iran’s hope for a better future (political and otherwise)? Perhaps.
But it bears remembering that even if Iran’s youth are “attracted to modernity,” it does not mean their belief in the violent ideology of the Islamic Revolution is any less staunch than that of hardliners who wear clerical robes full-time and aren’t active on Instagram – because “the latest fashion” and “the trendiest gadgets” do not always correspond to a truly moderate world-view. In other words, sometimes “rebranding” is, well, just that.