Covering Iran

Yesterday, we linked to a shocking report in Canada’s National Post to the effect that a statute regulating clothing in Iran, which was passed two years ago by Iran’s Majlis or Parliament, has now been cleared to go into effect. As described by the National Post, the measure requires all Iranian Muslims to wear standardaized clothes. The most shocking feature of the paper’s report was that members of religious minorities would be required to wear cloth strips in identifying colors–yellow for Jews, in a clear homage to the Third Reich, red for Christians and blue for Zoroastrians.

Today, the news starts to seep into the American press. Many papers, like the New York Times and Minneapolis Star Tribune, confined their coverage to an Associated Press story by Tarek al-Issawi headlined “Iranian Lawmakers Debate Women’s Clothing.” The AP story notes the National Post report, but goes on to debunk it by quoting three Iranian sources, all of whom declare that it is false.

The New York Post, on the other hand, features a column by Amir Taheri that includes details on the law that I haven’t seen anywhere else:

According to Ahmadinejad, the new Islamic uniforms will establish “visual equality” for Iranians as they prepare for the return of the Hidden Imam. A committee that consists of members from the Ministry of Islamic Orientation, the Ministry of Commerce and the Cultural Subcommittee of the Islamic Majlis is scheduled to propose the new uniforms by next autumn. These would then have to be approved by “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei before being imposed by law.

Some Islamic experts want a kind of long, almost European-style jacket known as sardari and used in Iran for centuries. Others propose only a waistcoat.

On color schemes, however, there seems to be consensus. Islamic legislators are unanimous that Islam is incompatible with “gay, wild, provocative colors” such as red, yellow and light blue (which are supposed to be favored by Satan). The colors to be imposed by law are expected to be black, brown, dark blue and dark gray.

Religious minorities would have their own color schemes. They will also have to wear special insignia, known as zonnar, to indicate their non-Islamic faiths. Jews would be marked out with a yellow strip of cloth sewn in front of their clothes, while Christians will be assigned the color red. Zoroastrians end up with Persian blue as the color of their zonnar.

The new law imposes a total ban on wearing neckties and bow ties, which are regarded as “symbols of the Cross.” Will Iranian Christians be allowed to wear them, nevertheless? No one knows.

By September, the Majlis is expected to approve an initial budget of $800 million to help “the poor and the needy” adopt the new uniforms. All public-sector workers, estimated to number 4.5 million, will be in uniform by 2009 at the latest.

And the new sartorial regime won’t necessarily be limited to Iran, according to Taheri:

What is already labeled “the Islamic clothes revolution” will not be limited to Iran. Tehran has already sent a team to Lebanon to inform the Hezbollah of the new law and train cadres to impose it on Lebanese Shiites.

“Our aim is to make sure that every Muslim, wherever he or she happens to be on this earth, is a living and walking symbol of Islam,” says Pourhardani.

Elsewhere in the Post, both news coverage and an editorial treat the story as factual, following Taheri.

Time will tell who is right, and it may be that if enough outrage is expressed, whatever plans may be in the works to single out minorities could be scrapped. It strikes me, though, that the AP and the newspapers who rely on the AP’s dismissal of the National Post’s story, based on official denials, are being a bit hasty.

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