Converging crackdowns on Iranian women last week brought the Islamic Republic’s misogynistic policies into focus.
The theocrats who rule Iran are not happy about Facebook photographs of women tossing off their hijabs and public displays of affection between men and women.
The 1979 Islamic Revolution ushered in laws forcing women to cover themselves with a hijab or nikab and ended, among other harmless displays of affection, lovestruck kisses in public. The outrage over Iranian actress Leila Hatami pecking on the cheek Gilles Jacob, 83, president of the Cannes film festival, last week sent Iran’s clerical establishment and a radical student group into a frenzy.
The Iranian student group Hezbollah, which has ties to the Revolutionary Guards, demanded “the punishment of flogging for her [Hatami] as stipulated in law.” The student organization slammed Hatami for “kissing a strange man,” the Guards-controlled Tasnim news website wrote. The radical student group secured regime support from Hossein Nushabadi, deputy minister of culture. He said Hatami’s appearance in Cannes is “in violation of religious beliefs” and the “Iranian woman is the symbol of chastity and innocence.”
German-Syrian Middle East scholar Bassam Tibi has long argued that the advancement of Middle East democracy is contingent of women rights in the nondemocratic and authoritarian regimes.
All of this helps to explain why the surge of Iranian women seeking to shed theocratic shackles imposed on them by men might signify a slow-moving breakdown of the regime.
Iran’s female dress requirements could meet the West’s criteria for liberty if the aspect of compulsion was eliminated.
Nonetheless, Meir Javedanfar, an Israeli expert on Iran, noted on his website The Iran-Israel Observer on Friday, that according to a new Oxford University study, “Iran’s Islamic dress code for women is believed to be a contributing factor to the skyrocketing increase in the rate of the deadly Multiple Sclerosis (MS) disease among Iranian women. The reason being that it reduces their body’s exposure to sunlight, an important source of Vitamin D.”
The study showed “that between 1989 and 2005, the rate of MS among women in Tehran increased by 700 percent.”
Javedanfar neatly summed up the anti-woman dress code of Iran: “All religions are holy. But I think it should be up to people to decide what they wear, and not to be forced to dress in a certain way, especially when it could risk their health. It also tramples on their human right to choose.”
“Morality police” chase down women who violate the country’s dress codes and mete out oral warnings and fines. Some women were taken into custody.
The clerical, male establishment posture toward the female gender recalls the Irish author Oscar Wilde’s famous line about fundamentalist orthodoxy: ‘Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike.”
The Islamic Republic has long disenfranchised women in many aspects of life. Take for example presidential elections that bar women candidates.
Over the past few weeks, women have become a human punching bag for Iran’s so-called moderate President Hassan Rouhani.
The arrests of three young women along with men for posting a “Happy” song video, in which the women dance without hijabs, triggered a public show trial. The regime compelled the women to apologize for violating and “hurting public chastity.”
It is hard to imagine that a system that abolishes happiness will, in its current form, survive the forces of modernity.
Benjamin Weinthal reports on European affairs for The Jerusalem Post and is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.