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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

How Supreme Is Iran's Supreme Leader?

Tehran Fashion Police Tighten Up

July 25, 2007- Los Angeles Times Ramin Mostaghim and Borzou Daragahi, Special to The Times
Morality enforcers crack down again, warning that revealing or tight clothing means trouble -- even for stores. The young woman dressed to dazzle. In a bright violet coat framing an ornately embroidered top, she cut an elegant figure Tuesday as she walked through columns of sunshine in the capital's Mirdamad metro station. But in addition to admiring glances, she caught the attention of government morality enforcers, who hurried after her. "Madam!" one bearded young man in a police uniform called out. "While you were passing by I could see your body." The young woman appeared stunned. "It's your problem if you can see something underneath my clothes," she replied sarcastically. "It seems you have X-ray vision." The young man, unimpressed, led the woman to the security office of the subway station, where she was detained for questioning. Iran's nationwide crackdown on fashions deemed un-Islamic has resumed in full force this week, at least throughout the capital, having slowed in the late spring. Vice police have established checkpoints and are stopping women in cars or walking along the streets with too much hair spilling out of their mandatory head coverings, or wearing open-toed sandals without socks or overcoats deemed too revealing. Men wearing tight T-shirts or boasting racy haircuts have also been targeted in a campaign to stamp out perceived Western cultural influences. "The police will act against those whose trousers are too short, who have skintight coats, shirts with Western logos, and Western hairstyles," Ahmad Reza Radan, the head of Tehran's police force, said on Iranian television this week, according to the Associated Press. "We will ask those arrested where they bought their clothes and where they had their hair cut so those outlets can be closed down." "Some young people, either intentionally or unknowingly, are walking advertisements for Western sexual deviancy and satanic cults," he told the Iranian Students News Agency. Since assuming power in a revolution 28 years ago, Iran's Shiite Muslim clerical leaders have demanded that Iranians abide by strict dress codes that adhere to what they consider Islamic principles. In recent years, many young Iranians have begun to flout those rules. Iranians have become used to the periodic government-sponsored fashion crackdowns on the streets and in other public spaces. Authorities generally give warning, spelling out exactly whom will be targeted. Recently issued leaflets cautioned that young men in tight jeans, especially those with foreign designer labels, or sporting spiky haircuts would be targeted. So too would young women wearing contour-fitting jackets or "provocative colors," or those with locks of hair peeking out of their head scarves and brushing their shoulders. The list also included exposed forearms, ankles and flashy makeup. Those who vocally or physically resist authorities are typically hauled away, tried in court, fined or sentenced to a few weeks in jail. Minibuses to cart off detainees accompany the morality enforcers as they establish checkpoints in busy squares throughout the city. More typically, offenders sign a document vowing to dress more modestly and abide by Islamic norms. If they're detained again, they may be jailed. The enforcers are roughly the same age as those they arrest, and many observers view the crackdowns as part of a culture war between social and economic classes. Pious Iranians of humble means form the main pillar of support for the culturally conservative rules of the Islamic Republic. They resent the more affluent and worldly upper-class Iranians, who reigned over the country before Iran's 1979 revolution. In the past, the periodic government-enforced crackdowns have eventually dissipated. At such times, the head scarves recede, the fabrics brighten, the T-shirts tighten. "The irony is that as long as a crackdown or enforcement of the code-of-dress law is seriously underway, we can see obedience," said Ali Kadkhodazadeh, a social scientist who writes for Iranian newspapers. "But as soon as they let up, the coiled spring jumps back even harder."

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