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Is Hijab Crackdown To Divert Attention From Election Anniversary?

Iranian police warn women about their clothing and hair during a previous campaign to enforce Islamic dress.
Iranian police warn women about their clothing and hair during a previous campaign to enforce Islamic dress.
Iran has launched a new drive to enforce the obligatory Islamic hijab. Hijab and women who are considered as being badly or improperly veiled and their alleged threat to society is again among the main themes of speeches and comments by Friday Prayer leaders and other state officials.

Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar recently announced that the implementation of the "Modesty and Hijab" plan would be pursued more seriously in the current Iranian year.

There've been at least two state-organized demonstrations in support of the hijab and police are reportedly out in the streets since May 22 to make sure women respect the dress code -- meaning that they don't wear makeup, don't wear small head scarves or tight manteaus, and cover their hair.

Young men who are accused of harassing women have also come under fire and their cars have reportedly been seized by the police.

This program was aired on Iran's state-controlled television recently in support of the hijab. Surprisingly, at the beginning the reporter interviews two women considered "badly veiled" who seem to be opposed to the enforcement of the dress code. Such women are usually never given a platform on state television.

The first woman says she dresses the way she wants. "I think that's more important than what others might think about how I dress," she says.

The second woman, whose face is blurred like the first (apparently because they didn't want to be identified), makes similar comments. "I wear what I want and I don't listen to what others say," she says.

The other women interviewed in the report all make comments in support of the hijab, including one who calls for a cultural revolution to enforce hijab in Iranian society.

The hard-line Fars news agency has posted some pictures of a gathering by "students" in support of the hijab last week. At the gathering, the conservative students are seen signing a petition in support of the hijab.

They also hold a banner that says: "Hijab doesn't mean wearing the chador, it means dressing in a healthy manner. Not dressing in a way that is even worse than [going naked]."

Mostafa Khosravi, head of security at Tehran University, told Mehr news agency that "bad hijab," or badly veiled female and male students would receive three warnings. Khosravi added that if after the warnings the students would still not respect the hijab, then they would be prevented from entering the university.

On May 21, hard-line cleric and head of the powerful Guardians Council Ahmad Jannati said that students who wanted to have good marks must respect the hijab. He said the issue of the hijab had been disregarded in the past two decades and it had to be resolved.

Meanwhile, Mashhad prosecutor Mohammad Zoghi has said that "bad hijab" women and men who act immorally will be fined up to $1,300.

And even an online initiative in support of the hijab has been launched, in which bloggers have been encouraged to post at least one item about the benefits of the hijab and chastity.

The crackdown on "badly veiled" women and also men (men are not required to cover themselves, but those wearing tight T-shirts or T-shirts with no sleeves or very short sleeves and in some cases men who have fashionable hairstyles are considered improperly dressed) is nothing new in the Islamic republic.

Every now and then, a crackdown is usually launched in the spring, but the timing of the new push and the new zeal has led to speculation among some observers that the government might be trying to divert people's attention from the upcoming anniversary of last year's disputed presidential vote.

Among them is prominent women's rights activist Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, who says this year's dress-code campaign is aimed at creating fear and a psychological war in society aimed at preventing people from launching fresh street protests.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.


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