By Maajid Nawaz
Imagine making a televised court appearance broadcast to the whole nation to make a humbling, humiliating apology for … showing your hair. Last Sunday, the Iranian regime carried out just such a “public shaming” of some of the country’s most famous models.
With a black scarf and black gloves replacing the happy wedding outfits and brightly dyed blond hair to which her Instagram followers had become accustomed, 26-year-old Elham Arab confirmed to two prosecutors that modeling had brought her nothing but “bitter experiences.” She went on to warn aspiring young models that they “can be certain that no man would want to marry a model whose fame has come by losing her honor.”
Welcome to Operation Spider 2. Yes, Iran’s War Against Hair even has a code name. In a sting led by no less significant a unit than Iran’s cybercrimes division, eight other models were arrested and charged with “promoting western promiscuity.” State prosecutor for cybercrimes Javad Babaei confirmed that his unit was focused on Instagram and is concerned with “sterilizing popular cyberspaces.” Many of the country’s leading models have reportedly suffered this clampdown. They are accused of promoting “immoral and un-Islamic culture and promiscuity.” Another state prosecutor warned the nation’s women, “If you take part in vulgar sessions, we will publicly announce your names.”
Such is the Iranian theocracy’s fascination with female hair, that even elected officials have not been spared by the morality police. Moderate female politician Minoo Khaleghi was barred by the hard-line all-male Guardian Council from taking her seat in parliament, after images of her emerged on social media purportedly showing her without a head scarf. Prosecutor Jafar-Dolatabadi ordered Ms. Khaleghi to explain to judicial officials why the “offending” images of her existed. For her part, Khaleghi had no choice but to prop up the absurd notion that there’s something wrong with showing one’s hair by arguing that the images are “malicious fakes” and proclaiming, “I am a Muslim woman, adhering to the principles of Islam.”
As moderate political forces continue to gain ground in Iran’s educated city centers, establishment clampdowns against “Western promiscuity” are becoming more visible, and more desperate.
Last year, hardliners warned Iranian women that they would have their cars impounded if they were caught driving without a hijab, or headcovering. And every time a woman has tried to run for president, she has always been turned down by the country’s powerful Guardian Council, which vets all candidates for public office.
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