Monday, March 4

This is how the fearsome Iranian Moral Police operates on the streets

The protests in several Iranian cities continue ten days after the death of the young Masha Amini, who died in a police station in Tehran where she was arrested for not wearing the Islamic veil. Fearing that the riots of 2019, which left thousands dead, will be reproduced, the regime asked its supporters on Friday for demonstrations of support for leaving prayer. Tehran admits 35 dead in the repression of the protests, although the NGOs speak of dozens. Few realities are more eloquent of the theocratic and macho nature of political Islam than the existence of the ‘religious police’, the Ghast-e-Ershad in Iran, or the Mutawa in Saudi Arabia. Its role goes far beyond ensuring that women wear the Islamic veil in public spaces. The ‘morality police’ ensure compliance with a range of regulations, in particular the general clothing of women, excessive makeup, the separation of the sexes on public roads, and even that men do not have haircuts considered “un-Islamic”. Related News standard Yes Iran’s regime calls on supporters to march against protests “encouraged by foreigners” Mikel Ayestaran President Raisi warns protesters that “chaos is not acceptable” and the army accuses “enemies” of Iran to encourage demonstrations The Iranian Ghast-e-Ershad has thousands of members, and is under the supervision of the Ministry of the Interior and ultimately the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. They are believed to be supported by the Basij, a highly indoctrinated paramilitary force that was created after Khomeini’s revolution in 1979 and has many volunteers, including women. The ‘morality police’ operates in the places where there is more human concentration in the cities, and more discreetly on university campuses. Here, where the interrelation between boys and girls is easier and they belong to a high social and cultural level, the work of the security guards is more difficult. In the city, on the other hand, their presence is easy to distinguish. They usually act in patrols of six policemen, next to a van parked in shopping centers, squares and subway stations; four are men and two women, usually covered with the chador (the full Islamic veil), who remain inside the van. On campuses and in cities Sharia offenders are identified by men and forced into vans, where they are interrogated and often beaten if they resist. This would have been the case of Masha Amini, like that of many other young women in recent decades. The detainees are frequently transferred to the police station, in the jargon ‘correctional center’, where they are instructed on how they should act or dress ‘morally’. Some come out next, accompanied by a relative who is summoned, with a formal warning or a fine. Others go to prison. And some like Masha go to the hospital and the morgue. The official cause of his death: a ‘sudden heart attack’. Police stations are ‘correctional centres’ Ghast-e-Ershad officers have the power to determine whether women wear the veil – or hijab – correctly, if they have excessive makeup, or if the rest of the clothing is appropriate. Pants that are too tight, or ripped ‘jeans’, and in general the attire that they consider flashy are prohibited. The Iranian Shiite clergy who have controlled the country since 1979 have a special obsession with women’s attire because they believe that, left unchecked, it is a source of lascivious temptation for men, who, in turn, could abuse them. The practical result is the segregation of women from public life, although the Khomeinist regime has not been able to prevent her access to education, where the Taliban’s Islam that prevails in Afghanistan today has an impact. Also in Saudi Arabia In the Islamist regime of Saudi Arabia – controlled by a radical Sunni sect, the Wahhabi – there is also a religious police no less dissuasive than the Iranian one, although it does not generally make noise in the Western media. Largely because Saudi society is more docile than Iranian; and in part because a large sector of the population is made up of immigrants, who risk their work and residence in the rich oil kingdom. In Riyadh, the ‘morality police’ is called Mutawa, and acts primarily in large shopping centers dressed in their unmistakable ‘veil-napkin’. Their mission is to ensure that the female dress code is respected, and that there is no flirtation between groups of boys and girls who – despite everything – surreptitiously exchange their mobile numbers to chat later on social networks. In a country where shows, beaches and alcohol are prohibited, and where the segregation of women is also almost obsessive, young Saudis find the only expansion valve in large stores. The mission of what the regime calls ‘Commission for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice’ deals with other tasks. Mutawa agents monitor the closing of commercial establishments during ritual prayer hours, and persecute Catholics – normally Filipino workers – so that they do not gather to pray even in their homes.

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