Tehran, 26 April (IPS) As the Law enforcement Forces continue the widely unpopular crackdown on women and young men wearing dresses not conform with Islamic dress code, more voices are heard calling on the Police to be more tolerant and more equitable in imposing the hejab, or the Islamic dress code.
According to the latest figures offered by the Police, hundreds of women have been detained on what is generally called as “bad hejabi”, or wearing loose headscarves or tight coats, prompting warnings in the press that the authorities should be focusing on other more pressing issues.
The present campaign in the streets of major cities is the toughest such crackdown in nearly two decades.
At the same time, Reformist newspapers and agencies reported that 2,000 students at the Shiraz University staged a protest over new restrictions on conduct and clothing, banning the students from wearing shorts and sleeveless vests outside rooms in their strictly segregated dormitories and an extended curfew.
Local news agency reports say the protesting Shiraz students on Sunday night were calling for the resignation of the university chancellor.
Police say they stopped more than 1,300 women for dressing immodestly on the first day of the campaign in Tehran, with more than 300 arrested and taken to Police stations, half of them had to sign statements promising to improve their clothing, the other half are being referred to court.
There is always a crackdown at the start of summer as women start wearing more skimpy clothes because of the hot weather, but the present campaign in the streets of major cities is the toughest such crackdown in nearly two decades, raising fears that hard-liner President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad intends to re-impose the tough Islamic Revolution-era constraints on women's dress that had loosened in recent years.
According to the commander of the Law Enforcement forces, Revolutionary Guards General Esma’il Ahmadi-Moqaddam, the enforcement action is part of a grander strategy to curb anti-social behaviour. "In the social security plan, those groups, including those who do not observe social norms and create insecurity for families, as well as hooligans, will be strongly confronted", he told the semi-official students news agency ISNA.
The police, backed by hard line clerics and pro-Government press, complain that some young women strut the streets looking like fashion models - and it is not a bad description.
Under the plan, "women wearing short manteaus, tight outer garments and headscarves that do not conceal hair would be notified by police patrol officers. Those who refuse to correct their appearance will be arrested and handed over to judicial officials", the “Iran Daily” newspaper reported.
Iranian television has broadcast nightly programmes warning women and young men with sleeveless T-shirts and spiky hair to be more careful about their dress and newspapers are full of pictures of women being arrested for their un-Islamic clothing, but foreign journalists have been prevented from filming it.
It is not just the young and very fashionable who are being harassed this year, middle aged women and even foreign tourists are being cautioned.
One foreign journalist was stopped and the police complained the photograph in her press card was indecent, even though it was taken by the Ministry of Islamic Guidance.
“The government of President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad is pursuing a new obsession. It's not Israel. It's not nuclear energy. It's female fashion”, the British centre of left daily The Guardian wrote on Monday.
Trying to defuse mounting criticism, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, the Head of the Judiciary warned police that an excessively ferocious campaign against women could backfire.
“Hauling women and young people to the police station will have no use except to cause damage to society”, the reformist “E’temad Melli” newspaper quoted Shahroudi as telling a meeting of local governors, adding. “Tough measures on social problems will backfire and have counter-productive effects”.
Witnesses have said that the drive, launched on Saturday, has not been universally popular on Teheran’s streets, with parents of the women apprehended in particular unafraid of making their feelings clear to the police.
The government of President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad is pursuing a new obsession. It's not Israel. It's not nuclear energy. It's female fashion.
In the Majles, a lawmaker asked why the police should spend so much time arresting young people and filing court cases against them instead of fighting drug addiction and poverty?.
Critics in the media also complained that the government of Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad had more important issues to deal with, citing the country’s soaring inflation and high unemployment rates.
“Mr President, I wonder if what the police, supervised by your Interior Ministry, are doing to women stems from a misunderstanding?” asked Masih Alinezhd, a female columnist in the pro reform daily “E’temad Melli” (National Confidence), organ of a Party by the same name, led by former Speaker Hojjatoleslam Mehdi Karroubi.
“Or are people’s major problems of injustice and poverty have been resolved?” she asked, reminding that Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad asked during his 2005 electoral campaign whether the problem “in our country was two strands of women’s hair or fighting poverty, creating jobs and implementing justice?”
Writing in the internet newspaper “Rooz”, veteran journalist Mas’oud Behnoud asked why the government is not fighting smugglers of drugs, alcoholic beverages, gangs that take young Iranian beauties to the southern shores of the Persian Gulf instead of spending so much energy on arresting men and women on the pretext of un-Islamic dress.
“Has the government solved all problems, unemployment, inflation, soaring prices, corruption, housing shortage etc to centre its attention to women’s dress?”, he asked.
That’s probably why the government of fanatic President Ahmadi Nezhad sought to distance itself from the clampdown, which it said was being carried out by police as “agents of the judiciary”.
“The police work as agents of the judiciary to confront crimes. The government as an executive body does not interfere in the affairs of the judiciary”, government spokesman and Justice Minister Qolam Hossein Elham told reporters.
However, as the Police Chief has wowed to continue the crackdown “until the society is free from all aspect of bad dressing”, students associations and women activists have condemned the move, calling on the authorities to stop the repression or face a social backlash.
“If one thinks that one can impose a special dress on the society, he is utterly wrong”, the Office for the Consolidating of Unity said in a communiqué.
In the opinion of many Iranian political analysts, the new crackdown has been encouraged by Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad in order to divert the public’s attention from growing international and domestic pressures over its nuclear program as a pretext to put down internal dissent.
But it could bring a backlash at a time when many Iranians resent Ahmadinejad for failing to boost the faltering economy or halt spiraling prices and blame him for isolating Iran with his fiery rhetoric. ENDS BAD HEJABI 26407