Five months after the violent crackdown on the reformist opposition's protest following the Iranian presidential election, the Tehran city council has come up with a way to lift the spirits of its residents: Opening laughter clubs. This, against the law in the country that was put into effect after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, which frowns upon public laughter.
The British Guardian on Friday reported that the group laughter workshops will urge participants to laugh off the stress of urban life in a city of 12 million people, which also has a serious air pollution problem.
Iranian newspaper Tehran-e Emrooz, which first reported about the workshops, wrote that they are meant to reach out to people "who have lost the power of laughter".
Still, it remains unclear whether the Ayatollah regime will accept the opening of the clubs with such a positive attitude, as, in the words of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, the revolution's spiritual leader: "There is no fun in Islam." Since the revolution, public laughter has been frowned upon.
An attempt to launch such an initiative was made last year in Iran, but it failed to get off the ground, due to a two-month religious mourning period, and the 6,000 people who signed up were forced to keep laughing at home.
Tehran's new clubs challenge another taboo in the Islamic Republic – they are open to women as well as men. Traditionally, it is considered rude for women to laugh out loud in Iran. This is also why, until recently, Iranian brides would pose for their wedding photos with a deliberately gloomy expression.
The new clubs were opened in cultural centers normally meant for concerts, academic meetings, and poetry readings. The city council hopes to reach out to pensioners, the sick and even prisoners through these clubs.
The sessions are based on a method developed by therapist Majid Pezeshki, who developed his technique from a discipline practiced in India based on the principle that laughing has physical and psychological health benefits.
These sessions may slightly lighten the atmosphere left after the election, in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected for a second term in office.
The riots that broke out following the June election left some 70 people dead and thousands of opposition activists arrested. At least five of the people involved in protests were tried and executed.