But it might show up in the fashion section. It is common practice in both Saudi Arabia and Iran (and parts of Afghanistan) for the “moral police” to lecture women who appear on the street in less-than acceptable head-to-toe coverings. In the city of Shamirzad, Iran, one woman had just apparently had enough. When the local busybody cleric told her that she was not sufficiently covered, she looked him in the eye (not a good idea) and told him if he didn't like the way she was dressed, he should close his eyes.
The cleric, one Hojetoeslam Ali Beheshti, later reported to the government-supported newspaper Mehr that he continued to admonish the woman (as yet unidentified in the press). She wasn't having any of it. The more he lectured, the more she clenched her fists. “ Not only didn’t she cover herself up, but she started shouting and threatening me.” But being a good protector of the public morals, the cleric kept it up. At that point, she hauled off and clocked him.
Down he went, as the cleric describes: “She pushed me and I fell to the ground on my back. From that point on, I don’t know what happened. I was just feeling the kicks of the woman who was beating me up and insulting me.” By now this is becoming a juicy story, but it doesn't say much for the manliness of Iranian morality enforcers. He ticked her off so badly that he spent three days in the hospital. Who says violence doesn't solve anything?
The story was picked up by a correspondent from Radio Free Europe named Golnaz Esfandiari. After the obligatory “we don't condone violence” nonsense, Esfandiari, herself an Iranian woman, confirmed at least the general details of the story. She also told of how she had experienced similar treatment on numerous occasions while living in Iran. She even came close to sympathizing with the pent-up rage that a large number of Iranian women feel over being required to cover every part of their bodies except their eyes (in some regions, even the eye-slit must be semi-opaque).
Esfandiari went on to elaborate: “As a woman who grew up in Iran and was harassed many times for appearing in public in a way that was deemed un-Islamic, I understand the frustration that that woman in Semnan Province must have felt and why she lashed out at the cleric. For the past 30 years, Iranian women have been harassed by the morality police, security forces, and zealots over their appearance.” Prior to the Islamic Revolution, sophisticated Iranian women were noted for their Parisian sense of fashion. The older women remember, and the younger ones yearn for the freedom to look that way themselves.
Clashes between Iranian women (dressed very conservatively by Western standards) and the no-skin-showing police are becoming relatively common, according to Esfandiari, who still visits Iran frequently. The most common mode of dress that brings the morality police to a state of excitation is western-style jeans, combined with three-quarter length blouse sleeves,topped with a head scarf. Somewhat more conservative than the average twenty-something church-goer in America. Most of the young women insist that the Koran commands “modesty,” not head-to-toe coverings. But the easily-aroused clerics aren't buying it. The sight of a woman's wrist or ankle (let alone her lips) is just simply too much for a good Islamist to bear without turning into a raving sexual beast. The hijab, after all, is a rape-preventative, not an insult to or clothing slavery for women.
The reason I say I had to laugh ironically is that this story is very unlikely to end here. The cleric himself says it was “one of the worst days of his life,” but is willing to forgive and forget. Not so for the local police who are investigating the woman for religious violations as well as a charge similar to assault and battery. The chief prosecutor for the province calls the incident a “public beating.” I guess by a strict legal definition, it is. But if the cleric had done the beating, and the woman put in the hospital for dressing in a “provocative” manner, it would have been business as usual.
Note: I will be "babysitting" for six of my grandkids in Bakersfield on Saturday and most of Sunday while my daughter is attending a conference in Sacramento. I'll try to sneak in a few computer sessions, but if I don't respond as quickly as usual to your comments, please bear with me.