In those early years of the Iranian revolution, morality police roamed the streets, seizing women for forced "virginity tests." The marriage age for girls was lowered to 9, though it has since been raised to 13. Girls could not be on the street with men who were not related to them. Veiling for women was reimposed, and the sins of the flesh routinely decried by religious leaders -- though their dictates apparently did not discourage security forces from raping women in custody, judging from accounts in the recent books.
Moaveni's "Lipstick Jihad" is about her journey into the heart of the restless, irreverent Iranian youthquake that erupted from this tightly wound society, where about 60% of the estimated 69 million people are now under the age of 30.
Moaveni grew up in San Jose. But she did not entirely evade the fallout from the revolution; her family and friends avoided identifying themselves as Iranians, instead calling themselves "Persians."
"Being Iranian in this country was not very easy in the 1980s. Being Iranian was associated with the hostage crisis," Moaveni told the students at Cal State Northridge. "It was awkward. We were like, 'We're secular. We don't believe in hostage-taking.' "
When Moaveni returned to live in Iran, she found a country in which the years of official scolding in the name of religion had backfired.
She discovered that the state-sanctioned sexual puritanism had unwittingly eroticized the society, keeping sex as much on people's minds as it was in the rhetoric of religious leaders and morality police.
State religious leaders had turned some people off to Islam so much that they took refuge in New Age spiritualism, swamis and yoga.
The demonization of the "Great Satan" -- the United States -- made young Iranians eager to adopt superficial symbols of American culture as a way to flout their own government. Madonna, "Baywatch" and "Ally McBeal" parties became a staple of their gravitation toward a global youth culture.
They were anything but ascetic: Young people wanted Armani, ski trips, nose jobs.
"The revolution created its own opposition," Moaveni said. "This generation grew up with education and some access to the outside world and the Internet. It's politically engaged, savvy and capable of really smart opposition."
Faced with a society with limited opportunities, her alienated young contemporaries also took refuge in forbidden sexual affairs, smoking, drinking and drugs.
In just a few years, Iran seemed to have changed with or without the consent of the government. Young people began to openly defy dress and behavior codes en masse in an effort to expand the boundaries of their circumscribed lives. Today, Moaveni said, wearing lipstick is no longer verboten, couples walking hand-in-hand are no longer rare, and so many people have satellite television the government has stopped cracking down. In chapters with titles like "I'm Too Sexy for My Veil" and "Not Without My Mimosa" she captures the irreverent spirit that drives these subtle shifts.
"I think the ugliness of the regime has convinced people that religion and sexuality is private," Moaveni said. "It has bred a greater acceptance of difference. It has taught people that it's divisive and hurtful to a community and a society."
There is still, of course, a dark, thuggy underworld where some Iranians pay dearly for dissent, and self-styled revolutionary morality enforcers called Basiji sweep up unlucky Iranians. Moaveni leads us into this world in "Lipstick Jihad," describing the day she was picked up by the Basiji, who threatened to take her to intelligence officers with a reputation for raping women and beating people to death. But Moaveni was safely released.
She was lucky: In 2003, an Iranian-born Canadian journalist, Zahra Kazemi, 54, was beaten to death in custody after being arrested for taking photographs of students protesting theocracy outside a prison in Tehran. An Iranian doctor who subsequently fled to Canada said he examined Kazemi and found injuries that could only have resulted from torture and rape.
Numerous young Iranian activists have been jailed and brutalized since the 1999 student protests.
"In the wrong place at the wrong time," Moaveni said, "punishment can still be very severe."
In the end, Moaveni concluded, most Iranians are fed up with politics that "follow them into the bathroom and the bedroom" and would like to have a secular government.
But that doesn't mean they're interested in another revolution or a U.S. intervention like the one they see on television from Iraq.
"People are exhausted," she said. "The attitude is: How can we transform what we have now from within, in a peaceful way, without devastating the country?"
Some of the accounts, such as "Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia" by Carmen Bin Ladin, provide an insider's glimpse of a closed man's world.