05/15/2006, 00.00
IRAN
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Compulsory "national" dress, smoking ban and no women in stadiums

by Dariush Mirzai

Mullahs and designers in parliament to design the Iranian outfit that will be compulsory wear for men, as it already is for women. The smoking ban will extend to cars too, and no women can go to stadiums, because the ayatollahs have blocked this concession by Ahmadinejad.

Tehran (AsiaNews) – In Iran, it will shortly be compulsory to wear a "national costume" that may be chosen from an official catalogue, and it will be forbidden to smoke even in one's own car. And, in a country where it seems as if characters from Kafka and the Tartuffe of Molière are in power, women will still be banned from entering stadiums, despite the promises of Ahmadinejad, because this is what the ayatollahs have decided.

Iran, however, is not a State of law; so it is far from given that the laws on smoking and obligatory outfits, although voted in by the Parliament in recent days, will be necessarily applied. Insciallah. Qualified from on high (by mullahs) and from below (by the population), laws in Iran do not have an absolute value. "Fortunately!" people say, ignoring the fact that it is the lack of clear rules and the possibility of personal "exceptions" that often ensure a long life to arbitrary regimes… and a source of bribes for the forces of order.

To safeguard morality and national identity, the Iranian parliament has been at work with mullahs and designers to come up with a collection of common national clothes (obligatory). On 14 May, MPs adopted the bill of law. In a country where national minorities add up to around 50% of the population, this norm could mean an attack not only against globalization but also against internal cultural diversity. To make this farcical Islamic-Maoist project concrete, the regime has visibly understood that Sharia and state laws are not enough. The Trade Ministry is planning to impose very high taxes on imported clothes and to force banks (nearly all state-owned) to concede credit to Iranian clothes producers. There is good news for women: they will no longer be the only ones to wear Islamic clothes, because men will also be obliged to wear something in the Pakistani style (… perhaps because it is a nuclear power!). They would have to do so if Iran was a State of law. For the time being, in Tehran, women continue to walk around "imperfectly dressed", courageously, facing not considerable, but real, risks. And men wear jeans and t-shirts. Only shorts are banned… this is why no woman can go to stadiums to see football games.

As for the total ban on smoking in public places, including private cars, where the Islamic veil is a must (and which, according to Iranian laws, do not form part of the private sphere), this is a battle that the Health Minister, Kamran Baqeri-Lankarani, a doctor, has been fighting for a year. The fines imposed will be significant (10 euros, at least the first time, and then 1000 euros) if the law approved on 9 May by Parliament is not blocked by the "Council of Guardians" or by the Supreme Leader, and if the police accept to apply it across the board. This is a cruel irony: in Tehran, around 5,000 people die every year because of air pollution, emitted by cars without catalytic silencers, which consume 18 litres of petrol per 100km for a price of seven euro cents per litre. (subsidized by the State). But there are some things that are taboo in a country where petrol, a divine gift, costs less than drinking water.

The toughening of the ban on smoking, in a certain sense, stretches Ramadan to the other 11 months of the year and does not regard women – they have been forbidden from smoking in public for 27 years now. Just like the matter of access to football stadiums. Two weeks after the announcement of Ahmadinejad that some women would be allowed to watch football games in special sections, the Iranian "spiritual" power blocked this opening. Some "grand ayatollahs" and extremist thinkers like the ayatollah Mezbah-Yazdi immediately expressed opposition to the popular measure proposed by the populist President. The Supreme Leader Khamenei is now asking the President not to apply this measure. Ahmadinejad has thus killed two birds with one stone: his popularity as a "centrist" has increased and morality has been preserved.

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