Iran denies religious dress code law [II]

Iranian officials on Saturday denied a report published by the Canadian National Post on the previous day, claiming that a new dress-code law was passed in Iran this past week, which mandates the government to make sure that religious minorities - Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians - will have to adopt distinct color schemes to make them identifiable in public. Legislator Emad Afroogh, who sponsored the bill and chairs the parliament's cultural committee, told The Associated Press on Friday there was no truth to the Canadian newspaper report. "It's a sheer lie. The rumors about this are worthless," he said, explaining that the bill seeks only to make women dress more conservatively and avoid Western fashions. "The bill is not related to minorities. It is only about clothing," he said. "Please tell them (in the West) to check the details of the bill. There is no mention of religious minorities and their clothing in the bill," he said. Iranian Jewish lawmaker Morris Motamed told the AP: "Such a plan has never been proposed or discussed in parliament. Such news, which appeared abroad, is an insult to religious minorities here." A diplomat at Iran's mission to the United Nations in New York called the report "completely false." "We reject that. It is not true. The minorities in Iran are completely free and are represented in the Iranian parliament," the diplomat said, speaking anonymously because he was not allowed to make official statements. The National Post later cited experts saying that the idea of religious demarcation had only arisen in discussing a law defining Iranian dress code. The paper quoted an Iranian commentator who said the idea of external identification of non-Muslim minorities was raised as a secondary motion. Whether approved as law or not, the proposal demanded that Jews will have to wear a yellow band on their exterior in public, while Christians will be required to don red ones. If the law is approved, it is scheduled to go into effect at the beginning of next year. The new law was drafted during the presidency of Muhammad Khatami in 2004, but was blocked. That blockage, however, has been removed under pressure from current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In addition to the requirements on non-Muslims, the Iranian government has also envisioned that all Muslim Iranians wear "standard Islamic garments" designed to remove ethnic and class distinctions. The purpose for the law was to prevent Muslims from becoming najis "unclean" by accidentally shaking the hands of non-Muslims in public. According to Ahmadinejad, reported the National Post, the new Islamic uniforms will establish "visual equality" for Iranians as they prepare for the return of the Hidden Imam. The final shape of the uniforms is yet to be established but there is consensus on a number of points. The United States issued a strong condemnation on Friday of the reported proposal. US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said any such measure would be "despicable" and carry "clear echoes of Germany under Hitler." Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter responded to the new law Friday night, saying, "Whoever makes Jews anywhere wear the yellow star again, will find themselves in a coffin draped in black." Ophir Paz-Pines, minister-without-portfolio responsible for culture, sports, science and technology, who is also a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, called on the government's secretary to ensure the issue be immediately addressed during the next Cabinet meeting. "The State of Israel was created after the Holocaust in order to ensure it would not be repeated. The yellow star is a bright red warning sign that obligates us to muster the entire world in the face of events there [Iran]." Paz-Pines also called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to make the issue his top priority when he visits Washington D.C. next week to meet US President George W. Bush. Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin said, "Israel could no longer be satisfied with warnings, and that the moment Jews are forced to wear the yellow band, Israel must act to evacuate all Jews from Iran." He added that, "Israel must stand at the forefront of efforts to separate Iran's crazy and Hitlerite regime from government control." "The new law resembles the Holocaust," said head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, Rabbi Marvin Heir, and warned that, "Iran was nearing Nazi Ideology." According to Army Radio, Wiesenthal Center officials sent a letter to United Nations Director General Kofi Annan urging him "not to ignore" the new law, and reminded him that, "The world ignored Hitler for many years." The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations released a statement saying, "We have been seeking to clarify these reports but do not yet have confirmation. There are clear indications that various Iranian government agencies, including the Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, are working on new uniforms to be introduced in the fall. "While such legislation would be reminiscent of dark periods in the past, like the Nazi era when Jews and others had to wear identifying badges, it is also consistent with the racist and extremist ideology propagated by President Ahmadinejad. We are monitoring the situation and seeking to ascertain the facts in order to determine the appropriate response."