Iran's culture war intensifies
On Sunday, police launched a nationwide crackdown on symbols of 'decadent' Western culture.
The busy Tehran square was packed with hundreds of dismayed onlookers, many of them women sobbing at the spectacle, according to recent press reports. 13 young men, stripped to the waist, were being flogged for offenses against the public order - mostly for drinking alcohol, which is forbidden in Iran, and for being seen with women to whom they were not related.Skip to next paragraph
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Since Mohamad Khatami, the reformist Iranian president, was re-elected by a landslide in June, there has been a spate of public floggings ordered by his hard-line opponents who control the judiciary. Hard-liners, it seems, are in a combative mood as they try to jerk back the hands of Iran's social clock - a task many believe to be impossible.
They insist such deterrent sentences are needed to combat "un-Islamic" behavior and rising crime rates.
"All should be sensitive toward the issue of the promotion of corrupt means and fight against the enemies' efforts to deprave our children," Iran's conservative judiciary chief, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, declared in defense of the public floggings.
For the reformers, however, the latest campaign against social "depravity" is a blatant attempt to embarrass and undermine the popular president, who is committed to fostering greater personal and political freedoms within the Islamic system. He has tried to give young people - the core of his power base - "an atmosphere in which they can breathe." His government has condemned the public floggings.
While the entrenched old guard has stymied many of Mr. Khatami's political reforms since he came to power four years ago, young people credit him with ushering in a freer social and cultural climate. Young couples have begun to date discreetly in public, women are wearing brighter headscarves, and bootlegged Western pop CDs - though officially taboo - are now easily available.
Until recently, it appeared to some Iranians that the old guard had resigned itself to a counterculture that was impossible to root out without endangering social peace, concentrating instead on the political battlefront. For others, a cultural backlash was inevitable: As some conservatives saw it, the rot had to be stopped before it eroded the foundations of the Islamic regime.
Police nationwide, charged with restoring "Islamic order," began a drive on Sunday to combat the "spread of decadent Western culture in society" and the "flagrant manifestations of corruption." Shop owners were told to remove mannequins wearing women's lingerie from their windows. Cafés and restaurants were barred from playing Western music and their owners warned not to serve women who wear too much makeup or otherwise fail to observe proper Islamic dress codes.
Selling posters of famous Western singers and movie stars has been banned. So, too, has the sale of pet monkeys and dogs, which are generally considered unclean in Islam but which have become popular as pets in parts of Iran.
In the holy city of Qom, the necktie, which had been staging a cautious comeback after 20 years in the cold following the 1979 Islamic revolution, has again been outlawed as a symbol of Western decadence.