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regular-article-logo Saturday, 25 May 2024

Hope rises: Editorial on Iran banning morality police

The move would be a testament to the power of ordinary people to force reform

The Editorial Board Published 07.12.22, 05:44 AM
The current churn in Iran was triggered by the death of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, after she was arrested by the morality police for allegedly not covering her head fully.

The current churn in Iran was triggered by the death of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, after she was arrested by the morality police for allegedly not covering her head fully. File picture

Reforms can come from unexpected quarters. Over the weekend, Iran’s top prosecutor, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, signalled that the country was abolishing its controversial morality police, which has been tasked with enforcing the nation’s strict Islamic code of values and conduct, including a mandatory head scarf for women. While some sceptics have questioned whether Iran will indeed kill this arm of its law-enforcement mechanism, such a move — if it occurs — will not be the result of a change of heart among those in power in Tehran. It would instead be a testament to the power of ordinary people to force reform. The current churn in Iran was triggered by the death of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, after she was arrested by the morality police for allegedly not covering her head fully. Nationwide protests that have enjoyed broad-based support have since taken over Iranian cities; even police violence has failed to dampen the hunger for change. This seething anger appears to have forced the conservative government of President Ebrahim Raisi to consider compromise, even though a more reform-minded administration before him continued with the morality police. Mr Montazeri has also said that Iran is reviewing its mandatory hijab law.

If Tehran indeed dismantles the morality police and relaxes rules on what women must wear in public, it would be a victory not just for women but for all Iranians. It would underscore the power of popular sentiment to break through — albeit with significant sacrifices — censorship and State security threats. Given the resistance to change within the religious clergy that holds ultimate power in Iran, it is not impossible that this will prove to be a false start, and that a strict enforcement of public morality will return once protests ease up. If that happens, it will be a setback for Iran and a mistake by the country’s leadership. In fact, Iran needs even broader reforms that unleash the cultural, intellectual and economic creativity of all sections of its vastly talented population without the fear of State repression. No nation that eschews evolution can grow. To be clear, this can be done without aping any other culture or society, by instead seeking inspiration from the best Persian and Muslim traditions. If it were to do so, Iran would also set an example to other nations that claim to be robust democracies but often stifle uncomfortable opinions.

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