Iranian clerics lash out on veiling

Discussion in 'West Asia & Africa' started by ajtr, Jun 19, 2010.

  1. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

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    Iranian clerics lash out on veiling


    One top leader criticizes Ahmadinejad for suggesting a cultural campaign would better address the issue of 'badly-veiled women,' not morality police.

    Reporting from Beirut — Hard-line Iranian clerics determined to reverse the trend of what they regard as "badly veiled women" took aim Friday at an unlikely target: conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

    In a televised interview last week, Ahmadinejad suggested a "cultural campaign" against interpretations of Islamic dress that have been deemed improper by authorities rather than the humiliating high-profile police crackdown already underway.

    His comments came weeks after law enforcement agencies stepped up efforts to curb what many within the regime see as a threat to the ruling ideology. Morality police have been stopping cars carrying women and shutting down stores that sell clothing considered immodest.But Guardian Council chief Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati told worshipers during his Friday sermon that to stay silent on the issue of improper hijab, or veil, amounts to a mortal sin. He likened women whose hair peaks out from under their scarves to hardened criminals.

    "Drug traffickers are hanged, terrorists are executed and robbers are punished for their crimes, but when it comes to the law of God, which is above human rights, [some individuals] stay put and speak about cultural programs," Jannati said, referring to Ahmadinejad.

    "Shall we let badly-veiled women be free in the society corrupt our youth?" he added.

    Jannati called on other clergy in Iran to join his campaign, and at least some were heeding the message. In the city of Mashhad, Ayatollah Ahmad Alam Hoda said that improperly veiled women represent "a corrupt minority."
     
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  3. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

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    Ahmadinejad's long, hot summer

    By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

    NEW YORK - At a time of increasing tensions over Iran's nuclear program, reflected in the European Union's tough new sanctions targeting Iran's oil and gas sector as well as shipping and air cargo companies, the Iranian government does not need policies at home that could cause "internal tumult", to quote President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who has criticized an offensive by hardliners against un-Islamic dress and behavior.

    "The government does not agree with this behavior and will respond to and control it as much as it can. It is an insult to ask a man and woman walking on the street about their relation to each other. Nobody has the right to ask such questions," Ahmadinejad said, much to the chagrin of his hardline critics who accuse him of catering to the demands of the opposition Green movement.

    By law, women in Iran have to cover from head to foot and social interaction is banned between unrelated men and women. The morality police have recently been confiscating cars whose male drivers are seen to be "harassing women", local media report, without clarifying "harassment". Police have also been stopping cars with young men or women inside to question their relationship.

    At one level one can understand a government seeking to ingratiate itself with millions of mostly young Iranians who voted against the incumbent president last June and then staged huge street rallies protesting the results. Intent on healing the wounds of the fractious post-election street politics, Ahmadinejad's government has chosen a moderate position on various social issues that appeals to the urban middle classes in Tehran and other cities.

    These include his choice of women for some top government positions and relaxing the enforcement of dress codes regarding "bad-veiling", bad-hejabi. Any retreat from the latter policy risks eroding the noticeable gains of the government in the area of political legitimacy. Yet, the chances are that the hardline advocates of combating "bad-veiling" - women who appear in public with colorful scarves, show their hair or use makeup - will get the upper hand in the near future, due in part to the strong support they enjoy in parliament (majlis).

    This has the potential to rattle the now quiet Iranian youth back into action and thus reopen a healing wound, ie a crisis of choice and not necessity.

    Returning from Iran recently, this author observed first-hand a quiet social environment in the country that allowed young Iranians of the opposite gender to mix freely and without the fear of official backlashes. This freedom went well beyond the issue of "bad-veiling" and reflected a relatively liberal government approach that added to the government's approval rating, irrespective of the unhappiness of the more conservative sections of the population.

    As a result, any new campaign against "bad-veiling" may prove to be the first step of a more severe crackdown on urban youth, who nowadays are grappling with the problems of unemployment, addiction, lack of adequate sports facilities, etc.

    Traveling to several Iranian cities, one can clearly see tension building between modern and conservative segments of society over the latter's perception of unethical open relations between the sexes.

    A case in point is the Caspian resort city of Nowshahr, where throngs of young men and women populate the beaches day and night, mingling freely without reprisals. Nowshahr is not an exception but rather the rule and apparently the same pattern of interaction prevails in other Caspian cities, home to millions of internal tourists each summer.

    Clearly, if the government capitulates to the hardliners on the need for a new "morality campaign", then in effect it would spoil the summer for millions of Iranians.

    At the same time, caught between the conflicting priorities of modern and conservative population groups, the government has to tread a fine line that does not translate into loss of support by the millions of more devout Iranians who re-elected Ahmadinejad, a point raised by a number of members of parliament. They have warned the president that his opposition to a crackdown on "bad-veiling" could result in the loss of his support base.

    Hence, a middle way may be needed to both stay the course and at the same time lessen the religious and social concerns of the conservatives, some of whom blame the rise of the Green movement on deficient ideological indoctrination, including at universities. This is why Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered a review of the university curriculum to strengthen what is referred to as "Islamist social science".

    "The government has other options that it has not used yet, such as methods of persuasion to urge the bad hejab females to correct their veils. It doesn't always have to be the police and the basij [paramilitaries], and the government can mobilize a group of young volunteers for this purpose without using force," said a Tehran University political science professor on the condition of anonymity.

    It would be a "serious blunder" on the part of the government if it agreed to the crackdown demanded by the conservatives, the professor said. "But the main players in this drama are the people themselves and two questions remain: first, will the religious conservatives ignore the government and use their vigilantes to impose the dress code - a distinct possibility - and if so what will be the government's response? Crack down on its own key supporters? That is a danger lurking on the horizon.

    "The other question is whether or not sophisticated young Iranians take precautionary steps and deny the conservatives an excuse to clamp down on them. In either case, there is only so much the government can do, it is at bottom a social issue and a cultural one," the professor said.

    Within the top echelons of the government there is little enthusiasm for catering to the demands of religious conservatives, who are on record as opposing Ahmadinejad's choice of a liberal, Rahim Mashaei, as his chief of staff.

    A moderate politician who exercises a good deal of influence on Ahmadinejad on policies, internal and external, Mashaei is a favorite target of the conservatives and the worsening crisis over Iran's nuclear standoff may operate against him, and the net of like-minded officials that operates throughout the lower echelons of government.

    This is partly because of Western governments' animosity toward Iran, in light of the US and other governments' turnabout on the nuclear fuel swap deal, which Iran accepted several months after they adopted it last October.

    The United States rejected a new deal brokered last month by Brazil and Turkey, to match Western concerns that Tehran possessed the ability to make nuclear weapons against Tehran's need for enriched uranium for a medical reactor to produce isotopes for cancer patients.

    Instead, Washington pushed through a fourth round of United Nations sanctions against Iran. This not only may hurt its industrial and technological advances, but also hurl Iran closer to the bosom of religious militancy and make Ahmadinejad's balancing act harder to sustain.
     

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