Omid Memarian

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The President and Women’s Hejab

Recently, the B.B.C. news network aired a short video on a program about the recent hejab crackdown in the Islamic Republic. The video, which was taken by a personal mobile phone, showed police officers violently shoving a girl inside a vehicle, as she screamed for help and refused to enter the vehicle. Later in the video, a number of Iranian girls told Frances Harrison, BBC’s correspondent in Tehran, that they did not feel safe at all. Ever since they had left their homes that morning, they had been told by strangers repeatedly to be careful about their hejab [Islamic covering].

The rest of the video shows demonstrators calling for confronting inappropriately dressed women, with someone saying that people who cannot conform to the Islamic dress code must leave the country. The BBC correspondent notes that Iranian officials strongly oppose any attempts by journalists to take pictures or videos from these confrontations, and that a BBC reporter was actually arrested trying to record one such episode. The same is true of photographers too. Only a few days earlier, president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had told a Spanish television network that free speech was respected in Iran.

What is happening now in Iran under the cover of confronting slack dressing or increasing public safety, along with the suppression of journalists and social activists, provides a complete picture of how the administration in Tehran views people and those who do not fit into a narrow and confined model of life that is propagated by a ruling minority. Only last week, Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani, Parvin Ardalan, Sousan Tahmasebi and Fariba Davoudi Mohajer, along with other social activists, were convicted to unprecedented prison sentences. The story thus runs deeper than controlling the size of women’s scarves and the color of their makeup.

On the eve of the 2005 presidential elections, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made these remarks in a campaign video aired from the national television network: “Really, is the problem of our people now the youth’s hairstyle? People can style their hair however they want; this is none of your business or mine! You and I have to think about our country’s real problems. The government must set the economy in order, restore peace, create a secure psychological environment, support the public – people have diverse preferences, diverse traditions, diverse ethnicities, diverse groups, diverse styles – the government is at everyone’s service. Why do we belittle people? We really belittle people so much so that now the important problem of our youth is to pick their hairstyle, and the government doesn’t let them?! Is this the worth of government? Is this the worth of our people? Why do we underestimate people? Our country’s problem is that some girl wore some dress? Is this our country’s problem? Is this our people’s problem?”

In reality, that part of Ahmadinejad’s speech where he says that this is not our people’s worth is right. But apparently, the worth of the government is just what we see. Now one has to ask the same questions from our forgetful president. Is our country’s problem the way women dress? Are the problems of poverty, inflation and mismanagement not of primary priority? Are unemployment, drug addiction and rampant corruption in state institutions not our problems? What about foreign threats?

Our forgetful president must really answer this question: is he confronting a real problem, or is he trying to take people’s focus and attention away from other things that are happening in the country? Is the supreme leader’s decision to give Ali Larijani full authority in initiating negotiations with the United States and solving Iran’s nuclear crisis part of those other things that are happening?


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