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An Iranian woman veiled in a modern fashion talks on the phone in Tehran.

Judging women by the degree to which they respect the compulsory hijab is nothing new in Iran. But recent comments by the Friday Prayer leader of the central Iranian city of Saveh appear to mark a new low.

Judging women by the degree to which they respect the compulsory hijab is nothing new in Iran.

In the past, hard-liners have accused so-called "badly veiled women" of being responsible for everything from social ills to natural disasters.

But recent comments by the Friday Prayer leader of the central Iranian city of Saveh, who likened women who don't fully respect the Islamic head scarf to prostitutes, appear to mark a new low.

Hojatoleslam Seyed Ebrahim Hosseini reportedly made the comments during his Friday Prayers sermon on June 2. He criticized those who are against compulsory veiling while defending it as one of Islam's "most-pressing issues."

"The white veil, like those green and purple wristbands -- they all smell of sedition. They're all like flags that prostitutes would hang over their roofs in the [Dark Ages]," Hosseini said, according to an audio recording of his comments posted online.

Hosseini appeared to be referring to a campaign called White Wednesdays, in which some women have been wearing white veils in public for one day each week. They have also recorded antihijab messages and posted them on social-media platforms such as Instagram.

The movement was launched by exiled Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad, who has been campaigning against the compulsory hijab from outside the country.

Ebrahim Hosseini (file photo)
Ebrahim Hosseini (file photo)

Hosseini's reference to green and purple wristbands appeared to target both supporters of Iranian President Hassan Rohani, who chose purple as his campaign color, as well as backers of Iran's opposition Green Movement, which was formed to protest alleged fraud in the 2009 presidential vote and which was violently suppressed by authorities.

At some of Rohani's campaign events held before the May 19 presidential vote, loosely veiled women were seen holding signs criticizing the hijab and the morality police who enforce the law. Many Rohani supporters also wore purple and green wristbands and other items.

The hijab became compulsory following the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the creation of the Islamic republic. For nearly four decades, tens of thousands of women have been harassed because of their appearance. Those who fail to fully observe the hijab are fined, detained, and publicly harassed by the country's dreaded morality police, which launches regular crackdowns, especially in summer.

Hosseini's comments have been condemned by several lawmakers and activists, who have accused him of insulting Iranian women and of being overly sensitive about their political activism.

Lawmaker Hojatoleslam Abdollah Mazani blasted Hosseini in a post on the popular Telegram app used by millions of Iranians. "Those who wore green and purple wristbands were 24 million Iranians who voted for Rohani," he wrote, adding that if Hosseini was worried about women wearing the hijab, he should guide them while also respecting "Islamic ethics and manners."

"Based on what religious, moral, and legal right do you allow yourself to accuse millions of Iranians of depravity from the sacred tribune of Friday Prayers?" he asked.

Lawmaker Parvanhe Salahshouri was also critical of Hosseini's comments. "I don't understand why some are so concerned about women's political participation. And such concerns aside, why the insults?" she was quoted as saying by the reformist Sharq daily.

She said Hosseini should apologize to women to preserve the "dignity" of Friday Prayer leaders.

Women's rights activist Minou Mortazi Langaroudi said relevant authorities should interfere and prevent a repetition of "such insults."

Sharq journalist Ameneh Shirafkan wrote on Twitter that several different women's rights groups are considering launching a formal complaint against Hosseini.

Hosseini has not publicly commented on the controversy sparked by his comments.

Friday Prayer leaders are said to receive their talking points from the office of Iran's highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Friday Prayers are often used as a platform to sends messages to Iran's "enemies," usually the United States, and critics of the establishment.

The physical appearance of Iranian women, and their hijab habits, have been a recurring theme at Friday Prayers.

In an episode that made international headlines in 2010, Tehran's temporary Friday Prayer leader, Ayatollah Kazem Sediqi, suggested that women who don't respect hijab rules fully and who wear revealing clothing instead increase the risk of earthquakes.

A Revolutionary Guard moves during the attack on parliament in the center Tehran June 7.

Many officials, as well as the country's pro-reform and moderate press, are calling for unity in the aftermath of the attacks. Hard-liners, however, are vowing revenge while pointing fingers at Iran's main regional rival, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.

Appeals for unity answered with calls for revenge. Pledges of solidarity competing against vows to "eliminate" the culprits.

The deadly twin terror attacks that rocked the Iranian capital, Tehran, on June 7 have triggered a dramatic split in public opinion.

Many officials, as well as the country's pro-reform and moderate press, are calling for unity in the aftermath of the attacks. Hard-liners, however, are vowing revenge while pointing fingers at Iran's main regional rival, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.

Seventeen people were killed and more than 40 wounded when assailants stormed the parliament building in central Tehran and simultaneously attacked the shrine of the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The Islamic State (IS) extremist group has claimed responsibility, a first for the militants in Iran.

"Hand-In-Hand Against Terrorism" and "Together For Iran" read the front page of the reformist daily Bahar, which featured a drawing of several clasped hands and one of the most prominent symbols in Tehran, the Azadi tower.

Etemad had a similar headline on its front page, which featured a photo of the rescue operation by security forces at the parliament. "We Are All Together," the daily said.

It added that following the attacks, "The people of Iran have become one voice against terrorism."

Etemad carried an opinion piece that referred to the attacks as a "golden opportunity" for a show of national unity, while warning against those attempting to disrupt it.

"We have to be careful not to disrupt people's unity and cohesion with hasty judgments and childish attempts at revenge," Etemad warned.

"United We Stand," said the main headline on the front page of the daily Shahrvand, while another daily, Vaghaye Etefaghieh, chose "Resistance In Tehran" as its main headline.

The reformist Aftab-e Yazd featured several images of the attacks with the headline "Black Wednesday."

Writing in the daily Ghanoon, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi linked the attacks in Tehran, particularly on parliament, to the May 19 presidential vote, which saw a relatively high turnout.

"The attack on the parliament, which is the highest symbol of democracy, demonstrates that these groups have an issue with democracy and democratic principles," Qassemi said.

He said the attacks will result in more unity among Iranians inside and outside the country.

And many Iranians inside and outside the country reacted to the attacks by posting messages and images of solidarity on social media.

In contrast, the main headline in the hard-line daily Javan was a quotation from Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: "They Will Be Eliminated."

Another headline on Javan's front page quoted a statement by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on the attacks: "We Will Take Revenge."

The powerful IRGC has claimed that Saudi Arabia was behind the attacks. Javan also appeared to link the attacks in Tehran to Saudi Arabia while also blaming the United States for supporting the kingdom.

"This bitter incident happened [after] U.S. President Donald Trump, in a [controversial] trip to the region, extended his hand of friendship to one of the most important supporters of terrorism in the region, the House of Saud, and in exchange for a bribe worth several hundred million dollars closed his eyes on their terrorist actions," the daily claimed.

"Now the terrorist group [Islamic State], which is directly supported by the Saudis," has carried out two attacks in Tehran, it claimed.

The daily also cited comments made in May by Saudi Arabia's deputy crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman al-Saud, in which he said that Riyadh would bring the "battle" for regional influence to Iran.

The ultra-hard-line daily Kayhan went even further by suggesting that the United States was behind the Tehran attacks, while also blaming Saudi Arabia. "There is no doubt that the [Islamic State] and the Saudis are thirsty for the blood of Iranians, but this should not make us neglect the main mastermind," the daily said. "What terrorist attacks in Iran cannot be linked to America?" Kayhan added.

The daily alleged ties between IS and Saudi Arabia, saying that "action is also needed," not just talk. But Kayhan said it is important to look at the main "director of the bloody and inhumane scenario."

The daily then highlighted a recent New York Times article about the appointment of a new head of the Iran desk at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), while asking whether Tehran's June 7 terrorist attacks were the first "complaisance" by the CIA's new Iran chief designed to please U.S. President Donald Trump.

The appointment of Michael D'Andrea, aka the Dark Prince, is one of many moves inside the agency that signal a more muscular approach to espionage and covert operations.

Outspoken lawmaker Ali Motahari said on Twitter that the attacks should not put Iran on the opposite side of Arab countries.

"The policy of Zionism is to put Iran and the Arabs against each other. We shouldn't get caught in this trap," Motahari wrote on the social-media site, which is blocked for ordinary Iranians.

Hessameddin Ashna, a presidential adviser on cultural affairs, warned against a harsh state response to the attacks. "Usually, following terrorist attacks, a [common] reaction by judiciary and security officials is to carry out the death sentences of convicts who belong to the same terrorist group," Ashna wrote on Twitter. But he warned that IS can use such "revengeful reactions" to recruit new members and continue its cycle of terror.

He also suggested that such executions could negatively impact the international sympathy that the attacks have brought for the country and its people.

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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.