LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
I'm Renee Montagne. And this is the sound of Iran marking the 30th anniversary of its Islamic revolution.
(Soundbite of celebration and music)
MONTAGNE: Iran's government is spending 10 days celebrating the time when Muslim clerics took power in 1979. The anniversary comes just as the U.S. considers a new approach to Iran. And this week MORNING EDITION's Steve Inskeep reports from that country, listening to the voices of the Islamic republic.
He's with us on the line from Tehran. And Steve, what are we hearing now?
STEVE INSKEEP: It's a military band that performed over the weekend. It's playing at the tomb of the revolution's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He's buried beneath a half-finished dome south of Tehran. And our interpreter says some of the lyrics in that song come from the Koran.
Unidentified Man (Interpreter): They are saying the devil is leaving and the angel is coming. These better days will be finished and the sweet days will come.
INSKEEP: In the minds of Iran's revolutionaries, the devil was the Shah of Iran, who left the country in 1979. The angel was the Ayatollah, who came back from exile on an Air France jet.
MONTAGNE: And I think it would be fair to say that most Americans haven't thought of the Ayatollah Khomeini as an angel. So it may strike people as odd to hear that.
INSKEEP: It does for many people, because Khomeini defied America and became a frightening character in the American imagination. His image is far different and far more complicated here, which points to another reason we've come. We want to learn how some Iranians see their world.
And we could start by posing a question right in Khomeini's shrine. We put the question to five young women in the audience, all of them friends, age 16.
What does the revolution mean to you?
Unidentified Man (Interpreter): (Speaking foreign language)
INSKEEP: After a nervous discussion among themselves, a girl named Bayhana(ph) speaks up.
BAYHANA: (Speaking foreign language)
INSKEEP: Independence and freedom, she says, which for many Iranians is the heart of this matter. Iran got out from under the influence of a king who was backed by the United States.
Now, in this brief talk of freedom it goes unmentioned that all five girls are required under Islamic law to cover their hair. It never comes up that women are segregated off to the far side of Khomeini's shrine. Rules like that are a big part of the revolution for some Iranians.
One of them is Ali Ascar Bafai(ph), whom we met in central Tehran.
MR. ALI ASCAR BAFAI (Museum Curator): (Through translator) We didn't have the revolution to have a better, easier, more comfortable life. It was the cultural issues. Our culture was being conquered by the Western culture, and our Islamic values were fading.
INSKEEP: Bafai is curator of Iran's Martyrs Museum, which honors men killed in the revolution. The curator is one of several Iranians we'll hear from repeatedly this week as we peel back a few layers of this country.
Another is a businessman named Bijan Kajatpour(ph).
Mr. BIJAN KAJATPOUR (Businessman): I see the Islamic Republic of Iran as a human being that was born in 1979. And it was very naughty as a child and made a lot of mistakes in its first decade of life. Today it's 30 years old and settling down. It's getting married and, you know, finding a house.
INSKEEP: Like many Iranians, Kajatpour left the country to study in the 1980s. Unlike many Iranians, he came back. He runs a consulting firm that advises foreign businesses in Iran. He says Iran's revolution has always had an economic side.
Mr. KAJATPOUR: The first decade was very much driven by sort of justice, social justice, revolutionary ideals, such as we need to look after the poorer income groups, etc., etc.
INSKEEP: Kajatpour says Iran has tried to return to that value in this decade. Trouble is that many development projects and subsidies haven't worked. Iran's economy is getting worse, which is very much on the mind of a man named Raiza(ph). Near the mouth of a passage in Iran's central bazaar, his jewelry store shines with white gold.
Mr. RAZA (Store Owner): (Through translator) I was a person who participated in the revolution and tried to conduct it in the bazaar. The thing is that the idealistic thoughts we had in our mind were not realized. We wanted extreme changes quickly, but because of mismanagement things are happening very slowly.
INSKEEP: If you want to know what Iran's economic trouble means for ordinary people, you don't have to travel much farther than this jewelry store. As we spoke with Raza, we saw two faces in the window. A young couple was peering inside, shopping for a wedding ring in hard times. And we'll hear their story tomorrow, Renee.
MONTAGNE: MORNING EDITION's Steve Inskeep. He's in Iran this week. That country is marking the 30th anniversary of its revolution. And Steve, you spoke a moment ago about Iran's economic problems, but one thing - I mean is that affecting the mood of those celebrations?
INSKEEP: I can't give you a scientific answer, but I can go back to the place we started this report, the shrine of Ayatollah Khomeini, because when he returned in 1979, the crowds numbered in the millions. When he was remembered over the weekend, the crowd of several thousand was mostly military personnel and kids who were let out of school for this event. And long before the end of the three hour ceremony, many of them left.
(Soundbite of music)
MONTAGNE: And again, Steve is reporting from Iran all this week.