Iran’s republic of lies

Before the revolution, we Iranians used to drink in public and pray our prayers at home. Now, we do the reverse. An Iranian joke

2017/09/10 Issue: 122 Page: 15

The Arab Weekly
Ali Alfoneh

“Before the revolution, we Iranians used to drink in public and pray our prayers at home. Now, we do the reverse,” runs the joke.

As with most Iranian political jokes, there is great deal of truth in it: 38 years after the revolution of 1979 and establishment of the Islamic Republic, the Iranian so¬ciety is more than ever entangled in hypocrisy: Outward pretension of devotion and religiosity, but committing sins — big and small — in private.

Worse still, the religiously le¬gitimised government is the most active proponent of hypocrisy, duplicity and lies. This weakens public confidence in the political system, as well as religion.

The latest public embarrass¬ment for the regime was sparked in July as private photos of Aza¬deh Namdari, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) TV and radio hostess, emerged on the Persian language blogosphere: Multiple photos showed Namdari in Switzerland drinking beer in a male company without wearing a hijab.

The photos are particularly scandalous since the IRIB and the Islamic Republic media at large have for years marketed Namdari as the most prominent proponent of chador, full body-length cloak, and, as such, a role model for Iranian girls.

“Thank God, I wear the chador,” was the headline of the January 3, 2015, edition of Vatan-e Emrooz quoting Nam-dari. In the interview, she said: “[The women in] my family wore chador… so I, too, began to wear it… There is respect for women wearing the chador, respect that I admire and the older I got I felt I should thank God for wearing the chador in a male-dominated work environment.

“Thank God that I work in TV and wear the chador… I’m indebted to it. It’s a blessing. Forgive me for saying this but I feel more beauti¬ful with the chador.”

Namdari claimed many Iranian women had reached out to her saying her appearance on TV was the inspiration behind them wearing the chador.

In a January 8 TV interview with Iranian actress Niki Karimi, who is generally barred from appearing on Iranian television because of her “insufficient” hijab, Namdari asked: “Can’t you just adjust your headdress to cover your hair more, so you can appear on TV?” Karimi said she has not a habit of surrendering her freedom. Namdari was visibly repulsed by Karimi’s response.

Against this background, sudden emergence of Namdari’s photos and video footage — with¬out the chador and drinking beer in male company — sent shock waves throughout the Persian-language blogosphere.

Reacting to the scandal, Nam¬dari uploaded a video claiming her chador had — for a moment — fallen off her head when the pho¬tos were taken and judiciously kept silent about drinking beer.

Ending her tumultuous Swiss picnic, Namdari returned to Teh¬ran, where she, the Mizan news agency reported, was arrested by the police upon her arrival at Tehran Imam Khomeini Interna¬tional Airport. News of her arrest has been dismissed by other Ira¬nian media but there is no trace of Namdari in the public sphere.

Namdari’s little act of hypoc¬risy is the symptom of a bigger malady in Iranian society: Dif¬ference between the private and public face of Iranians, who have no choice but pretend religiosity in the public sphere but do oth¬erwise when at home or abroad, outside the reach of the prying eyes and ears of the moralistic state.

Once a public face of moral¬ity, in this case Namdari, is unmasked as a normal woman having a beer in the park, the Ira¬nian public once again screams “duplicity” and “hypocrisy” against the political system and its underlying religious ideology, losing faith both in the polity and religion. This is the peril of mix¬ing religion and state in Iran.

Ali Alfoneh is a non-resident senior fellow at Rafik Hariri Centre for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council.

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