Pre-Islamic icons symbolize Iran's confused present

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Fascination with the pre- Islamic has run in trends since the 1979 revolution. Religious leaders first tried to blot out a past embraced by the man they overthrew, Mohammed Reza Shah. But they soon realized the appeal of Persian identity and now occasionally co-opt the past for tourism and national pride.

Unemployment, high inflation, political oppression and a distrust many Iranians have for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have stoked reflections on bygone centuries. And those who can afford it decorate their homes with nods to ancient Persian style: carved columns, mythical horses and visages of kings.

"It's a psychological reaction to the Islamic regime," said Naser Shahbazi, a drama teacher and bookseller, who sat in a shop of cracked bindings and dust. "Many Iranians hate the regime, but they're scared. The pre-Islamic motif is the least dangerous way to express yourself. . . ."

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