(/sites/default/files/uploads/2012/09/burqa_prison.gif)A woman in the Iranian city of Shamirzad, angered earlier this month by a cleric who told her she was insufficiently covered, decided that enough was enough with such religious street harassment and took matters into her own hands. Or rather her fists and feet, to be more exact.
Women in Iran are required to be covered up in public in accordance with a law introduced after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, causing most never to leave home without first wrapping themselves up in a body-encompassing black hijab. Women appearing in public deemed improperly covered are warned, and sometimes even beaten, by an assortment of morality guardians that include a morality police, regular police, busybody clerics or general, run-of-the mill religious fanatics.
But this apparently fed-up Iranian female was obviously not in the mood for any more religious street bullying, at least on this particular day. After the admonishment about the state of her dress, she abruptly told the intrusive cleric, Hojetoeslam Ali Beheshti: “You should close your eyes.”
“Not only didn’t she cover herself up, but she started shouting and threatening me,” said Beheshti after the brush off.
Beheshti should have taken the woman’s hard-line refusal and behavior as a warning sign. But his supposedly divinely-ordered duty to keep the streets of the mullah state safe for Iranian men who might lose all sexual self-control at the sight of a bare, well-turned ankle and other such horrendous, woman-derived, society-threatening evil appears to have overridden all common sense and he unwisely repeated his admonishment. Bad mistake.
“She pushed me and I fell to the ground on my back,” Beheshti related. “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.”
The price of the poor cleric’s martyrdom for the cause of “commanding right and forbidding wrong,” as his moral guardian duties are officially called, was a three-day stay in the hospital.
Golnaz Esfandiari, a correspondent for Radio Free Europe, wrote about the incident on her blog, saying the story appeared in the semi-official Iranian news agency, Mehr. An Iranian woman herself, Esfandiari says she does not support violence but has an understanding of the cleric-beating woman’s actions.
“[A]s 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,” Esfandiari wrote. “For the past 30 years, Iranian women have been harassed by the morality police, security forces, and zealots over their appearance[.]“
Esfandiari adds in her blog that mandatory, and forcible, wearing of the hijab is the main reason young women want to leave Iran. She states that for many of them, “the hijab feels like a burden, an insult, a limitation of their freedom and attempt to keep them under control.” Rather than being a “protection” for society, as the official line goes, many feel it is simply “an insult.” And then there is the problem of the virtue police and their dehumanizing behavior towards women.
“Women being mistreated by the police because of their hijabs have become a common scene on the streets of the Iranian capital and other cities, especially during the hot summer months when the hijab crackdown intensifies,” Esfandiari states.
In an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, Esfandiari said women in Iran now argue frequently with the morality police when they are told that they are insufficiently covered or are “bad hijab,” as the offenders are called.
“Many women, especially north of Tehran, would protest against the strict clothing laws while wearing small, colourful shawls, very tight jeans and make-up too,” said Esfandiari who, the German newspaper says, now lives in Washington and cannot return to Iran because of her work as a journalist.
The physical assault against the cleric in Shamirzad was not the only one reported by Mehr. The news agency revealed that clerics had been attacked in at least three other instances, including one against “a representative of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khomeini.” The news agency does not say whether the clerics’ assailants were women, but does state “they have all been beaten up for performing their religious duty of [commanding right and forbidding wrong] and in some cases sustained irreparable damage.”
In her Die Welt interview, Esfandiari says she is unable to account for the increase in assaults on clerics or whether they represent a trend. What surprises her most, however, is not the fact that there has been more than one attack on clerics but rather that the attacks are being reported at all and by a semi-official news agency at that.
“Normally,” Esfandiari recounted, “one learns about such incidents not in the state media; one hears about them by word of mouth.”
Despite saying he had experienced “the worst days of his life,” Beheshti wants to drop the matter. The police, however, think differently and are investigating. The prosecutor calls the case “a public beating,” which it most certainly was. But Esfandiari points out with clarity the hypocrisy of the state’s position:
“Of course when the same type of incident is reversed – a ‘badly veiled’ woman being beaten in public by police – it’s simply a necessary enforcement of the dress code.”
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