Friday, September 21, 2012

Hojatoleslam Ali Beheshti insults one woman too many

And he seems to have pushed this one past her breaking point. According to Beheshti's account, he encountered a woman with a "bad hijab" and told her to "cover herself up." She responded that he could just close his eyes. When he wouldn't stop bothering her, she knocked him down, beat him up, and put him in the hospital.

As Mark Kleiman noted, this story sounds "almost too good to be true" ... but it appears to be authentic, and it's not inherently implausible. (According to the state-run Mehr news agency in Iran, which issued the original report of this incident, other flare-ups of this sort are not unknown, though they rarely happen outside the big cities.)

Everything I've read about Iranian society and history suggests that ambivalent or even anti-clerical feelings about mullahs have long had a place in everyday Iranian culture, even among pious religious believers. (There are well-known parallels in the history of a lot of Catholic societies.) And the experience of more than three decades of a theocratic political regime has only intensified the exasperation of many Iranians with this sort of bullying, restriction, and harassment. (On the other hand, without having any knowledge at all about how this particular woman was actually dressed, I suspect it's a safe bet that other Iranians would have agreed with Beheshti that she was dressed indecently and deserved to be reprimanded.).

But is violence the answer? Well, not always or in every context. But with respect to this case (at least in the way it's been reported) I sympathise completely with Mark's reaction: "Whenever I see a poster that says 'Violence is not the answer', I always wonder 'What was the question?'"

— Jeff Weintraub

P.S. It should go without saying, but to avoid distractions and pseudo-controversies, let's recognize it explicitly:  The intolerant and oppressive harassment of women based on dress codes that claim religious inspiration and/or sanction is not restricted to Iran, or to Muslims more generally.  (I can't help being reminded of an especially disgraceful incident involving ultra-orthodox bigots in Israel in 2011—though we know about that particular incident, which was hardly unique, precisely because it caused a scandal and generated widespread condemnation.)  And the unfortunate reality is that there are a lot of countries in the world where women have it worse than in Iran, often in ways that go well beyond dress codes.  One of the things that's most interesting about Iran, actually, is that many Iranian women no longer seem to be willing to put up with it.

September 19, 2012
Iran Cleric Pummeled by 'Badly Covered' Woman After Warning
By Ladane Nasseri (in Dubai)

An Iranian cleric said he was beaten by a woman in the northern province of Semnan after giving her a warning for being “badly covered,” the state-run Mehr news agency reported.

Hojatoleslam Ali Beheshti said he encountered the woman in the street while on his way to the mosque in the town of Shahmirzad, and asked her to cover herself up, to which she replied “you, cover your eyes,” according to Mehr. The cleric repeated his warning, which he said prompted her to insult and push him.

“I fell on my back on the floor,” Beheshti said in the report. “I don’t know what happened after that, all I could feel was the kicks of this woman who was insulting me and attacking me.”

Since the 1979 revolution that brought Shiite Muslim religious leaders to power, women in Iran have been required to cover their hair and body curves in public with head-scarves and loose-fitting coats, to protect religious values and “preserve society’s morals and security.”

The government condemns short, tight and colorful coats and loosely tied head-scarves, and routinely organizes police patrols to enforce the Islamic dress code. Public surveillance increases in summer when some women opt for flimsier clothing.

Beheshti said he was hospitalized for three days. The Iranian cleric said it was his religious duty to apply the principle of “commanding right and forbidding wrong,” and that he would continue to do so even after living through what he called “the worst day of my life.”

It isn’t the first time that clerics in Iran have been beaten up after delivering warnings, Mehr said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ladane Nasseri in Dubai at
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at