Iran, where the fashion police are much more than a metaphor

The New York Times has an article on the surreal and utterly anachronisic phenomenon in Iran of "fashion police" who stop and even issue citations to women for inadequately modest dress.

In Iran, Tactics of Fashion Police Raise Concerns – New York Times:

Only days after Iran’s annual crackdown on immodest dress began in mid-April, with teams of police officers stopping women in major squares and subway stations to warn them about their attire, the security authorities came under fire.

This is disturbing, but it almost pales into insignificance next to the revolting news that the Supreme Council had overturned the convictions of Basiji thugs for the murder of a number of people they deemed to be guilty of "immorality" (read: unmarried couples who were romanticly involved).

Iran exonerates six who killed in Islam’s name – International Herald Tribune

TEHRAN: The Iranian Supreme Court has overturned the murder convictions of six members of a prestigious state militia who killed five people they considered "morally corrupt."

The reversal, in an infamous five-year-old case from Kerman, in central Iran, has produced anger and controversy, with lawyers calling it corrupt and newspapers giving it prominence.

"The psychological consequences of this case in the city have been great, and a lot of people have lost their confidence in the judicial system," Nemat Ahmadi, a lawyer associated with the case, said in a telephone interview.

Three lower court rulings found all the men guilty of murder. Their cases had been appealed to the Supreme Court, which overturned the guilty verdicts. The latest decision, made public this week, reaffirms that reversal.

Iran has some serious problems.

I think that the untold story is how conflicted modern Iran is. You really get a sense of Iranian political life being schizophrenic. These zealots had been found guilty on three different occasions. The system was working…until reactionary political forces intervened and short circuited justice and rule of law for their own narrow ideological agenda.

Few Americans realize that Iran is, contrary to the prevailing stereotypes, in important respects quite dynamic and surprisingly open to new ideas. Qom, the heart of Shiah religious scholarship and training, is the site of rich discussions on questions of shariah, theology, mysticism and–unlike most of the traditional Islamic centers of learning–philosophy;  it is not unusual for its scholars to cite Western philosophers such as Rousseau or Locke in their debates. While not a true democracy, it has one of the region’s most vibrant democratic systems, and this despite the stranglehold of the Supreme Leader and the Council of Guardians.  Women participate in economic and political life to a degree unheard of in most if not all regional neighbors. And though the present regime is  a "theocracy" that imposes a dress code on its population,  it somehow also distributes condoms and birth control pills to the masses–a policy to which the US government passionately objects on moral and religious grounds, to the extent of extorting UN humanitarian programs into dropping such practices–and even requires Iranian couples to take family planning classes before they can obtain a marriage certificate!

And yet this dynamic and cosmopolitan  society and supple religious tradition are today under the thumb of benighted reactionaries and obscurantists. What a tragic paradox.

Update (2007-05-08): Minor stylistic tweaks.


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