A Night With the Morality Police
By Nahid Siamdoust
Monday, Sep. 22, 2008
Spooning up some pomegranate seeds by the side of the road while waiting for my German friend Nadia, I noticed the morality police approaching. But dressed in my baggiest clothes and a pair of nerdy glasses, I didn't imagine I could possibly be mistaken for a moral transgressor. I was wrong. The two ladies in long black chadors informed me that my coat was too short, and ordered me into their van. I protested that I was waiting for a foreign friend whom I couldn't just desert. They considered the argument, then decided to wait and take both of us. When Nadia arrived, they loved her. "Look at her, she's a foreigner and her coat is longer than yours," one officer said. The other added that I needed to learn better hijab (Islamic covering) from my German friend!
Everyone familiar with the situation in
Driving us off to one of their stations, the police ladies
told me to call a family member to bring a longer coat. There was no way I
could call my mother, who was on a much shorter visit to
At the station, I was required, along with five other women, to sign a statement promising to do a better job of covering myself. Meanwhile, I found myself staring wide-eyed at the treatment of the highly made-up woman in super-high heels: The male officer who was about to set me on the right path was clearly flirting with her.
One of my fellow detainees had told me that once a longer
coat arrived for me, my own one would be shredded. I asked the female guard
whether that was true, and she nodded. She just ignored me when I told her that
was truly psychotic. But when I saw the pile of coats left behind, intact, in a
plastic bag, I realized the shredded-coat tale was an urban legend, or a relic
of a more ideological past. In fact, not once did I feel real fear or threat
during the experience — a stark contrast to what the generation before me had
endured. Many of my friends and family members have horrifying stories of
violent encounters with the morality police, called the "committee"
in common parlance, including being punished with lashes and fines. Still,
there are fears that things could get worse again:
The morality committees, which are a subdivision of the police, had eased up on their strict enforcement of dress codes and other social restrictions in the last years of the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami, but things changed last summer, when the police announced that the morality committees would resume street patrols to ensure "social security".
The resultant crackdown saw beatings and humiliation of young people so extreme that President Ahmadinejad's conservative government even criticized some of the treatment. If my experience is anything to go by, they seem once again to have been restrained.
The duty officer who interviewed me said the country had laws and that I had to adhere to them. I told him I was doing so by wearing a coat and a scarf, and that as far as I was concerned, my morality was more intact than the morality of some who wore chadors.
He said it wasn't enough for my heart to be pure — I had to
wear the right dress. Although I was arrested for wearing a coat whose length
was deemed morally inappropriate,
Still, my cousin who had accompanied my uncle knew the
"right" interpretation and had brought me a coat that reached my
knees. That pleased the officer, and having learned that I didn't usually live
The officers who dealt with me seemed, more than anything, to be simply doing a job they were being paid for. Still, I too now prefer to stay home as much as possible, not convinced that, right now, Iran is mine as much as anyone else's.
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