Commentary Magazine


Topic: Rita

What the Ayatollah Gets Right

A couple of days ago, the Wall Street Journal published a fascinating article on the Iranian success of “All My Joys,” the latest album by the Israeli singer Rita. Tucked into the article is a mention of another this past July by Fars, a news outfit affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, that called the album Israel’s “latest plot in a soft war” to win over the Iranian people.

It’s easy to scoff at Iranian paranoia. But the Iranian regime is right to worry over the impact of a Western music album flourishing in its streets. That album might just be the most potent threat it faces.

As background, it is relatively not all that surprising that an Israeli singer would find listeners in Iran. Rita, whose long career has until recently been based on songs sung in Hebrew and English, was born in Iran and speaks fluent Persian, the language of “All My Joys.” According to the most recent numbers from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, Rita is one of 50,000 Israeli Jews who were born in Iran, and one of 142,000 who can trace their roots back to the country, where a remnant today remains as witness to the once great Jewish community that flourished there for thousands of years.

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A couple of days ago, the Wall Street Journal published a fascinating article on the Iranian success of “All My Joys,” the latest album by the Israeli singer Rita. Tucked into the article is a mention of another this past July by Fars, a news outfit affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, that called the album Israel’s “latest plot in a soft war” to win over the Iranian people.

It’s easy to scoff at Iranian paranoia. But the Iranian regime is right to worry over the impact of a Western music album flourishing in its streets. That album might just be the most potent threat it faces.

As background, it is relatively not all that surprising that an Israeli singer would find listeners in Iran. Rita, whose long career has until recently been based on songs sung in Hebrew and English, was born in Iran and speaks fluent Persian, the language of “All My Joys.” According to the most recent numbers from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, Rita is one of 50,000 Israeli Jews who were born in Iran, and one of 142,000 who can trace their roots back to the country, where a remnant today remains as witness to the once great Jewish community that flourished there for thousands of years.

While her singing is not an element of a secret plot directed against the purity of the Islamic Republic from Jerusalem, it is true that she represents something potently disruptive of the regime’s pieties. To put it gently, she is an attractive woman who knows how to use her appeal to make a show. Her freedom to do so for any of her fellow citizens who might care to listen and watch, all of them free from government meddling, may not be the most inspiring element of the freedoms Western society has come to stand for but is perhaps the most powerful one.

Rita’s existence – and the personal liberty it implies for both herself and her many Israeli fans – is the force most likely to permanently dislodge the Ayatollah’s grip over his country. For it is the yearning for a similar freedom that drew millions of Iranians into the streets three years ago, and that is driving some of them now to seek out her music. The Journal quotes a middle-aged woman from Tehran saying of Rita, “So what if she is from Israel?” That seems to me to precisely capture the spirit and power of freedom’s pull. For most, it is not written in the grand language of rights or protests, but in the simple desire to stand up and dance to a song you find appealing only because you do.

It is strange that all of this is not more readily granted in our debates, but that is itself a sign of materialism’s hold over many of our intellectuals. From whatever direction we debate, so lost have we become in the conviction that all of society’s outcomes are determined by who holds the ring or the factory keys that we have forgotten the primary power of culture, and the more immediate desires to think and feel as one chooses.

It would be foolish to imagine that one Israeli album song in Persian can end the possible need for an Israeli military action against Iran, or prevent a confrontation between our country and the Ayatollah. But we should remember the ultimate and powerful appeal of Israel’s culture and feel no shame in exporting it the world over.

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