01.09.09

The Iran Porn Video

Months before this week's uprising in Iran, The Daily Beast was banned from the country for re-posting a viral video sensation in Iran: hidden camera footage of an Iranian cleric committing adultery.

Early this year, The Daily Beast was banned from the country for re-posting a viral video sensation in Iran: hidden camera footage of an Iranian cleric committing adultery.

Plus, read more insight on Iran's election from other Daily Beast writers.

A video scandal has hit the Iranian Internet scene. Like many online scandals in the West, it involves a model. Not Paris Hilton, but a supposed model of virtue: a cleric.

In the video—for weeks voted the top story on Balatarin.com (an Iranian version of Digg.com)—a robed cleric is caught on a hidden camera in a private room. He walks to the door to let a chador-clad woman enter.

“Nobody saw you come in, did they?” he asks her lightheartedly. As she removes her chador, he continues in the same tone: “Want to do some Nasnas?”

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Video screenshot

Iranians know Nasnas as a mythological monster. What the cleric means by “do some Nasnas” is clarified by what happens next in the clip. Americans have a similar expression: the beast with two backs.

The cleric was apparently a member of the government-run Friday Prayers Committee in Hamadan province. Semi-official news sites tried to downplay the impact of the video, which leaked out of an Intelligence Ministry investigation. But their reports did acknowledge that the man involved was a married cleric, and that the video depicts the consummation of an unlawful affair.

“One thing we had never seen before was a cleric’s naked butt,” reads one online comment. “Thanks to the Internet, that is no longer impossible!”

“One thing we had never seen before was a cleric’s naked butt,” commented one young Iranian below the online video clip. “Thanks to the Internet, that is no longer impossible!”

Of course, it is hardly news that hormones do not always heed titular expectations, but this is the first video evidence of a cleric’s misbehavior to spread publicly. Iranians’ glee at exposing such hypocrisy, however, is tinged by another sentiment: anger.

Many remember how last year—ironically in the same province of Hamadan—a medical student was arrested by the “Morality Patrol” for sitting with her fiancé in a public park. When her family was finally allowed to visit her 48 hours later, they were asked to remove her lifeless body. Police claimed she had hanged herself in the temporary detention centre, and the state blocked an investigation by warning that any discussion “would only give the enemy’s propagandists their much-needed opportunity to attack us.”

These “opportunities”—an Orwellian euphemism for scandals—have dramatically increased in the past few months: The Tehran police chief was found to have an odd fetish, ordering six prostitutes in a brothel to say their prayers before him while naked (he is currently free on bail); the Minister of Interior faked a degree from the “London-based” Oxford University (he was recently impeached); and now the Hamadani cleric who likes to “do some Nasnas” has reportedly been sentenced to 100 lashes and banished to another province.

Such scandals have always existed, but until recently there was no means to expose them so efficiently. Somewhat belatedly and in stilted form, digital citizens’ journalism has come to Iran. Scandals that would once have been hushed up by official censorship now circulate in living color online. Thanks to video clips circulating on web forums accessed via anti-filtering software, myths are being exposed and a new open discussion is taking place. Blogs and social networking sites have provided the Iranians with safe blinds behind which they can peep at these scandals and whisper about them with one another.

Whether this new generation will ever leave their virtual windows to do anything more ambitious in the real world remains unclear. But it is worth recalling three decades ago, alternative media in the form of smuggled cassette tapes and smudgy leaflets informed young Iranians about Khomeini’s vision of an Islamic utopia.

Now, thirty years later, that supposed utopia is being exposed by that generation’s children, who are leading their own electronic cultural revolution.

Young Iranians have seen the future – and it is a senior cleric’s bare posterior.

The writer, who uses a pseudonym for his own safety, is a university student in Iran.