New York Times: Only days after Irans annual crackdown on immodest dress began in mid-April, with teams of police officers stopping women in major squares and subway stations to warn them about their attire, the security authorities came under fire. The New York Times
By NAZILA FATHI
Published: May 4, 2007
TEHRAN, May 3 Only days after Irans annual crackdown on immodest dress began in mid-April, with teams of police officers stopping women in major squares and subway stations to warn them about their attire, the security authorities came under fire.
Many women who were stopped on the street and told to dress properly reacted angrily. A parliamentary commission complained about the campaign to the chief of police, and the head of Irans judiciary warned that a too repressive policy could bring a backlash. Even an adviser to the president urged caution, saying the police should not go to the extreme, according to the daily Etemad-e-Melli.
The Tehran chief of police, Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, said during the drive that the security forces would single out women who wore only small head scarves or short tight coats and short pants. He also said the police were turning their attention to men in the second phase of its campaign, which began Saturday.
He insisted that the authorities would avoid force and arrests and would only talk to violators to urge them to dress appropriately. Still, he said 150 women a day had been taken to detention centers as the crackdown began.
At a parliamentary hearing of the Commission for National Security that was convened to hear complaints, Some of the members of Parliament complained that the security force should not put itself in a position to deal with such issues, said Dariush Ghanbari, a member of the commission.
When one woman, Nazanin, 28, was stopped last month in Vanak Square, she thought she had dressed more modestly than usual, she said. But she was told that her coat was tight and showed the shape of her body.
I just joked with them and tried to stay calm, but they told me to sit so that they could see how far my pants would pull up in a sitting position, said Nazanin, a reporter. She was told by the police officers that they wanted to help her look modest so men would not look at her and cause her inconvenience, she said.
She received a warning about her large sunglasses, her coat, her eyeliner and her socks, which the police officers said should be longer. She was allowed to go after she signed a letter, which included her name and address, saying she would not appear in public like that again. The police have said the letters will be used against violators in court if they defy the rules a second time.
Another woman, Niloofar, 28, who responded angrily to the police when she was told to fix her head scarf because too much of her hair was showing, said she was kept in a bus for five hours.
Somayeh, 31, who was crying after she was stopped at the Mirdamad subway station, said, They want to intimidate us. She was asked to call home and get her national ID number, the equivalent of a Social Security number, for the letter she had to sign, promising not to wear makeup in public again.
The women who were interviewed refused to give their full names because they feared they could be identified by the police.
Women have been required by law since the 1979 Islamic revolution to cover their hair and wear long, loose clothing. The ideal dress is considered to be the chador, a black head-to-toe garment. In the early days of the revolution, women were flogged, jailed and fined for what was considered immodest dress.
But many women defy the law and the government has been engaged in a constant battle over how they should look. At least three state-sponsored fashion shows were held in the past year to encourage women to wear more Islamic clothes.
This year, the publicity campaign has been especially large and loud, with the security authorities insisting that people are happy with the restrictions.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has backed the campaign, saying, Those who have indecent appearances are sent by the enemy.
But other sectors of the government and the news media are urging caution.
The head of the judiciary, Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, has warned provincial governors about possible dangers of the crackdown. Hauling women and young people to the police station will have no result except social harm, he said, according to Etemad-e-Melli.
And Mehdi Kalhor, Mr. Ahmadinejads press adviser, warned the police chief in a letter that his force should not go to the extreme, the newspaper reported.
The conservative daily Kayhan also warned that womens immodest dress is not the only vice.
The way the vices are dealt with should be in a way so that people especially the youth believe that the authorities really want to eradicate them, Kayhan wrote, saying that poverty, bribery and injustice were more important problems.
Still, dissent is unwelcome. A court in Tehran sentenced six prominent protesters in April to jail terms of two to three years. The six women are part of a campaign that is trying to collect a million signatures for a petition that calls on the authorities to give women equal rights with men.
And the second phase of the crackdown began Saturday as planned. Not only women were scrutinized. The police also arrested men who wore wild hairstyles and T-shirts that were considered un-Islamic. The student news agency ISNA quoted a police statement on Sunday as saying, In an official order to barbershops, they have been warned to avoid using Western hairstyles and doing mens eyebrows.