Iran: badges for Jews? No, but veils for women is bad enough, thank you

Dubious reports circulate that a bill pending in Iran would force Jews and other religious minorties to wear identifying insignia—in an obvious echo of Nazi Germany. Predictably, the Iranian regime is calling the allegations a Jewish conspiracy. From the Financial Times:

Iranian officials and politicians have strongly condemned a Canadian newspaper report alleging that Iran had passed a law requiring Jews to wear yellow badges on their clothes.

The story also claimed Christians and Zoroastrians, the two other main religious minorities in mainly Muslim Iran, would have to wear badges identifying themselves.

“When I heard this, I immediately felt it was a mischievous act, a fresh means of pressure against the Iranian government,” Maurice Motammed, the Jews’ deputy in the Iranian parliament, told the FT on Sunday. “We representatives for religious minorities are active in the parliament, and there has never been any mention of such a thing.”

The story, published in Canada’s National Post on Friday, was also reported by the UPI news agency and widely posted on websites.

It led Chuck Schumer, a US senator to issue a news release calling the Iranian regime “lunatic” and “pernicious”. At a White House press briefing, spokesman Sean McCormack said such a measure would be “despicable” and “carry clear echoes of Germany under Hitler”.

Chris Wattie, the reporter, sourced his story only to Jewish groups and “Iranian exiles”. He quoted Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, saying the move was “reminiscent of the holocaust” and that Iran was “moving closer and closer to the ideology of the Nazis”.

The Post story was drawn from a column in the paper by Amir Taheri, editor of the state-owned Kayhan newspaper under the Shah of Iran before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Mr Taheri claimed the law was “drafted two years ago” and had been revived “under pressure” from President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad.

“The new codes would enable Muslims to easily recognise non-Muslims so that they can avoid shaking hands with them by mistake, and thus becoming najis (unclean),” Mr Taheri wrote.

A contributor to various newspapers including the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal and Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, a leading Arabic-language newspaper, Mr Taheri is an opponent of talks between the US and Iran.

He wrote in the New York Post last month the US should “go for regime change in Tehran” as the only way to stop Iran’s drive to “dominate the region and use it as the nucleus of an Islamic superpower which would then seek global domination”.

In Tehran, Hamid-Reza Asefi, the foreign ministry spokesmen, said “a Zionist operation” was “active in different countries, including Canada, to foment psychological war and spread lies” about Iran.

“It’s being done now because of the nuclear issue to give a negative image of the Islamic Republic,” he added.

From the Israel Hasbara Committee, which is not quite convinced there isn’t something to the story:

Identifying Badges for Jews in Iran?
A few days ago a incredible story appeared in Canada’s National Post newspaper about a proposed new Iran law obligating Jews, Christians and other non-Muslims to wear special clothing to identify themselves. This was in the context of requiring all Iranians to wear standard clothing.

According to the report, Jews would be required to wear a yellow strip of cloth on their clothes, Christians would wear red badges, and Zoroastrians would be forced to wear blue cloth. The idea is to make non-Muslims identifiable and to be shunned by Muslims, exactly like the Nazi law in the 1930s obligating all Jews to wear yellow stars so that the average German would shun them.

The report stated further that the law had been passed in the Iranian parliament, the Majlis but needed to be approved by Iran’s supreme authority, Ali Khamenehi, before it could actually become law.

Subsequent to this alarming report, there have been Iranian denials that such a law was going to be passed. “The dress code program being discussed in parliament has no relation to religious minorities. These reports are a flat out lie,” says Iranian lawmaker Imad Efrog, who proposed the “National Uniform Law.”

The question is how anyone could dream up such a report if there was in fact no basis, in fact, in the first place.

Should such a dress code ever become law it would be a watershed for Iran. It will place Iran on a path of no return.

Just as likely as Zionist disinformation is a strawman by the mullahs—once the world is relieved to find that Jews are not being forced to wear Nazi-style yellow stars, there will be less protest at what actually does appear to be a ghastly piece of legislation. The following AP story outlines what the bill really would do. We have no problem with protectionist measures to defend Iran’s clothing industry from foreign competition. But the state has no business telling women how to dress, and we are skeptical of assurances that nothing in the bill is mandatory. (State-sanctioned social pressure is a form of coercion.) What is frustrating is that the measure is being posed as a form of resistance to globalization. So some of the same “progressives” who defend a woman’s right to go topless here in the West will defend this atrocious policy in Iran, just as the idiot left cheers on the Iraqi insurgents who would love to kill them as infidel communists and Allah-defying feminists if they ever got half the chance…

TEHRAN, Iran — A draft law aimed at encouraging Islamic dress raised fears Saturday that Iran’s hard-line government plans to re-impose veils and head-to-toe overcoats on women who have shirked the restrictions for years, letting hair show and wearing jeans and shapely outfits.

The looser social rules and dress codes are one of the few legacies left from Iran’s once-strong reform movement.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose election last summer spelled the virtual end of the reformists’ influence, came to office promising a return to Islamic values, with the support of clerical hard-liners.

Ahmadinejad has purged reformers from government, angered the West with calls for Israel’s destruction and taken a tough line resisting U.N. demands that he curb Iran’s nuclear program.

Iranian liberals had hoped that Ahmadinejad would not risk alienating a large sector of the young, who make up the majority of Iran’s 70 million population.

But the draft law, which got preliminary approval in parliament last week, had many concerned.

“It is a ridiculous bill. Young Iranian girls will not return to the so-called Islamic loose-fitting clothes,” said Sahar Gharakhani, a 25-year-old secretary wearing a colorful headscarf and a stylish jacket in Tehran on Saturday.

“The only way for authorities to make this happen is if they force it,” she said.

The social gains made in the past were often measured in hemlines and retreating headscarves.

Laws in place since the 1979 Islamic Revolution require women to wear “chador” — a head-to-toe, loose-fitting black overcoat and veil that covers their hair and hides their shapes. They were enforced by religious police and paramilitaries, who castigated women who showed too much hair, wore makeup or had a chador that did not fit the required dark colors and shape.

Under President Mohammad Khatami, elected in 1997, enforcement became lax, and women took advantage, adding color to their clothes, pulling back scarves and shortening their coats.

Now on Tehran’s busy streets, only some women adhere to the strict code of the chador. Others are seen in scarves that leave almost their entire heads bare, showing blonde-highlighted hair, and brightly colored formfitting jackets, called “manteaus,” that stop just under the waist, revealing jeans and sandaled feet with painted nails.

The 13-article bill — which focuses on economic incentives for Islamic dress — has been touted by conservatives as a vital tool to curb Western influence in the conservative Islamic Republic. No date has been set yet on a final vote on the bill.

“This bill brings no obligation, no imposition,” said Emad Afresh, an Iranian lawmaker.

“It only requires the government to support the private sector,” he said, adding that it was a way to “resist the (Western) cultural onslaught in a world where globalization is being imposed.”

The bill does not call for police or other bodies to enforce stricter styles of dress for women. Instead, it rallies state agencies to promote Islamic dress and “encourage the public to abstain from choosing clothes that aren’t appropriate to the culture of Iran,” according to the copy received from the parliament’s press office.

It also would give economic incentives, including bank loans, to producers making Islamic-style clothing and impose tariffs on clothes imports. It leaves it to the Culture Ministry and others to define what Islamic dress means.

On Friday, a Canadian newspaper, The National Post, quoting Iranian exiles, said the law would force Jews, Christians and other religious minorities to wear special patches of colored cloth to distinguish them from Muslims. The report drew a condemnation from the United States, which said such a law would carry “clear echoes of Germany under Hitler.”

A copy of the draft law obtained by The Associated Press made no mention of religious minorities or any requirement of special attire for them, and the Post later posted an article on its Web site backing off the report.

A crackdown on social mores could face stiff public resistance at a time when Iranians are more concerned with reviving the country’s ailing economy and the escalating confrontation with the West.

Parvin Ardalan, a women’s activist and journalist in Tehran, said the government clearly aims “to fight the Western dress code.”

“But I don’t think that they can just eliminate the Western dress altogether. It’s going to be very difficult.”

Parvaneh Khedmati, a 22-year-old administrator in a clinic, said she opposes the bill, even though she already wears a conservative, all-covering chador that leaves only her face exposed.

“I chose to wear a chador, I wasn’t forced,” she said. “The government has no right to impose anything this personal on the people. … It’s like a government telling people what to eat.”

Instead of cheering on the mullahs, leftists in the West should be supporting Parvin Ardalan—whose online journal Iranian Feminist Tribune is now blocked to Internet users within Iran, Time magazine’s online edition noted Jan. 15. The story was picked up by the pro-opposition (exile-based) Where are the voices of the anti-war left being raised in her defense?

See our last post on Iran.

  1. Jewish Week: ‘YELLOW’ JOURNALISM!!
    From The Jewish Week, May 25:

    Anatomy of a hoax: False story alleging special yellow insignia for Iranian Jews spurred by Wiesenthal Center’s flawed confirmation.

    Larry Cohler-Esses – Editor At Large

    The e-mail to Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, was urgent and pointed. The topic: explosive allegations that Iran , already seen as part of an “axis of evil” for its leaders’ threats to Israel, denial of the Holocaust, and alleged drive for nuclear weapons, was replaying an infamous anti-Semitic theme from Nazi Germany.

    “As per our conversation, I’m looking at running this,” wrote the newspaper editor of the article he’d just received, “but I have not been able to confirm its veracity. Particularly, I want to make sure that part saying Jews will have to wear a yellow stripe and Christians a red stripe is, in fact, true.”

    Rabbi Cooper’s reply, e-mailed back last Thursday, one hour and 14 minutes later, was unequivocal and succinct:

    “Dear John,” he wrote, “The story is absolutely true.”

    Based on that confirmation, says Jonathan Turley-Ewart, deputy editor of the National Post of Canada’s opinion page, he resolved to go with an astonishing — but, as it turned out, completely incorrect opinion—column by Iranian American writer Amir Taheri. (Blogger Taylor Marsh first obtained and posted Turley-Ewart’s side of the exchange.)

    The ensuing media blaze was like a match thrown onto a tinderbox, starting with the National Post page one banner, headlined: “IRAN EYES BADGES FOR JEWS,” followed within hours by blogs, wire services, radio reports, Rush Limbaugh and outraged press statements issued by Jewish groups carrying the news to millions.

    How did it happen? Looking back, one can see that with the confrontation between Iran and the Bush administration escalating over the nuclear issue, frequent outrageous statements against Israel and Jews issued by Iran’s president, and the daily drumbeat in the media shaping public opinion as tensions build, the setting was ripe for running with a story that seemed to confirm an Iranian government following a Nazi script.

    Some feared a replay of the kind of mis- or dis-information that primed Americans for war with Iraq. Others noted that the National Post was owned by the Asper brothers, who are known for their conservative and pro-Israel stands.

    “You can’t have a war without a good disinformation campaign,” opined Mathew Yglesias, of the liberal American Prospect Magazine.

    Benador Associates, the public relations agency that placed the story with The National Post, is a boutique firm specializing in promoting neoconservative figures such as Taheri, Michael Ledeen, Richard Perle, Charles Krauthammer and others who supported the Iraq war and “regime change” in Iran now.

    Taheri’s column reported that a law passed by Iran’s parliament on May 15, “mandates the government to make sure that all Iranians wear “standard Islamic garments” designed to remove ethnic and class distinctions … and to eliminate “the influence of the infidel.”

    “It also envisages,” stressed Taheri, “separate dress codes for religious minorities, Christians, Jews and Zorastrians, who will have to adopt distinct color schemes to make them identifiable in public. … They will also have to wear special insignia, known as zonnar, to indicate their non-Islamic faiths.”

    For Iran’s 25,000 Jews: “A yellow strip of cloth in front of their clothes,” he wrote, “Christians will be assigned the color red. Zorastrians end up with Persian blue.”

    According to Taheri, “The new codes would enable Muslims to easily recognize non-Muslims so that they can avoid shaking hands with them by mistake, and thus becoming najis (unclean).” The law required a committee to reach a “consensus” on what constitutes “authentic Islamic attire,” before taking effect, he wrote, and the final approval of Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s “Supreme Guide.”

    Taheri’s column ran with a news report by staff writer Chris Wattie and a searing four-column photo of a Jewish couple from the Nazi era wearing the yellow stars all Jews were made to wear in Germany and Poland — a stage in the process of separating them out from the population, removing and finally slaughtering them.

    Invoking the Holocaust

    “This is reminiscent of the Holocaust,” Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Wiesenthal Center’s dean, was quoted in Wattie’s story. Wattie also cited an Iranian Jewish expatriate in Toronto, Ali Behoozian, saying the law could come into force as early as next year. Taheri’s column ran down the jump page.

    And, by Saturday, other papers were following up on the National Post’s scoop. The New York Post’s Saturday front page, for example, blared, “FOURTH REICH: Iran law labels Jews.”

    But the story was already collapsing. Indeed, it had collapsed the day before, long before the Post went to press, as the article itself hinted way down in the text’s eighth paragraph, where it noted “conflicting accounts” about the “national uniform code.”

    These conflicting accounts apparently generated the neoconservative-oriented New York Sun’s more cautious headline, “Scramble Is On To Confirm Report Iran Wants Jews to Wear Badges.”

    Both papers cited Canada’s new Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who denounced Iran based on the report at a joint press conference in Ottawa — though both men said they did not know if the report was true.

    But within hours after the National Post of Canada hit the streets Friday morning, it became clear the story had serious problems. By 7:41 a.m., a Montreal news radio station, AM940, had an interview with Israeli Iran expert Meir Javedanfar of Middle East Economic and Political Analysis debunking it.

    “It’s absolutely factually incorrect,” he told the station. “Nowhere in the law is there any talk of Jews and Christians having to wear different colors. The Iranian people would never stand for it. The Iranian government wouldn’t be stupid enough to do it.”

    Javedanfar told The Jewish Week he spent “about 40 minutes” talking to sources in and outside of Iran and, more importantly, getting the text of the legislation off the Internet. His review of the extensive parliamentary debate of the bill, also available online, showed that such a proposal was not even part of the discussion.

    Indeed, the law’s text and parliamentary debate, available in English from the BBC Service, discloses no provision mandating that any Iranians will have to wear any kind of prescribed dress. It instead focuses on promoting “traditional” clothing designs “using Iranian and Islamic patterns” by Iran’s domestic fashion industry and preventing “the import of clothes incompatible with cultural Islamic and national values.”

    The law is meant to develop and protect Iran’s clothing industry, Javedanfar said.

    There were other problems with Taheri’s story. Among other things, it contains extensive remarks on the legislation from a man named Mostafa Pourhardani, described as “Minister of Islamic Orientation.”

    But, as first pointed out in a comment on the Just Adventure Forum Web site, Iran’s government has no ministry by that name. It does have a Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. But its minister is Mohammad Hossein Saffar Harandi. Google searches for the name “Mostafa Pourhardani” in English and Persian turn up only hits stemming from Taheri’s article.

    Repeated efforts to contact Taheri were unsuccessful. But the following day, he issued a statement via Benador saying reports based on his story had “jumped the gun.” The religious clothing restrictions he described earlier as part of the law were, he now said, “ideas under discussion.”

    Denials of the National Post story also started pouring in from official Iranian sources. Within hours of its appearance, wire services reports cited denials of the National Post’s allegations from the law’s parliamentary sponsor, the parliament’s designated Jewish member and a diplomat with Iran’s U.N. mission.

    The cumulative force of this information compelled the National Post to run a retraction on its Web site later that same Friday.

    Still, many of the follow-up stories clung to claims that a proposal to mandate special clothes for religious minorities had been discussed as part of the legislation at some earlier point. Many Jewish groups, including the Wiesenthal Center and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, supported this claim. Javedanfar said he heard “rumors” of such a proposal two years ago and had sought, but failed, to find any evidence for them at the time.

    Wiesenthal Center’s Role

    Throughout the news cycle, the credibility of Jewish groups supporting the charges, or simply reacting with immediate expressions of outrage to the reports, played an important role in keeping the story going.

    In an interview with The Jewish Week, The Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Cooper denied he had ever confirmed to the National Post the allegations about mandated dress for religious minorities.

    “We were shown an advance copy of the Taheri story,” he said. “We were asked for our reaction. I checked with some of my sources in the Middle East. We heard from our sources, yes, a bill was passed last month about a national dress code. Number two, Mr. Taheri over the last 30 years has taken on the Iranians and is a serious journalist. He is not prone to reckless accusations.”

    Asked about Turley-Ewart’s insistence that Cooper had, indeed, confirmed the story about yellow stripes for Jews and red stripes for Christians, and their e-mail exchange focusing on this point specifically, Cooper declined to elaborate.

    Rather, he stressed that “the central point for our community and government to focus on, based on the history and theology of Iran, is that legislation could very well mean color coding for minorities, Christians and Jews.”

    Rabbi Cooper added that “when you deal with Iran, you never have a totally transparent scenario . . . . We must deal with a regime that now uses Holocaust denial, threats against Israel and anti-Semitism as part of the prism through which we look at events in Iran.”

    Many other, though not all, Jewish groups reacted similarly.

    The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel Washington lobby, sent out a news alert e-mail blast to reporters hours after the story appeared. B’nai B’rith International and the American Jewish Congress spoke out, noting the comparisons to the Holocaust.

    The Presidents Conference issued a more cautious statement, headlined, “Seek Verification of Iranian Legislation to Force Religious Minorities to Wear Distinctive Dress.”

    The Anti-Defamation League treated the report most carefully, turning to Iran expert Bill Samii, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Iran affairs analyst. Like Javedanfar, Sammi took little time in obtaining the law’s text and accompanying information and debunking the report.

    The ADL press release, titled, “UNCONFIRMED REPORTS OF IRAN’S ‘DRESS CODE,'”noted, “While it is factual that the Iranian parliament is considering some kind of dress code, there is no evidence of any discussion of legislation concerning badges or the like for Jews and others.”

    “I think they should have waited a bit longer,” Javedanfar said of the Jewish groups. “But I think they’re worried. Ahmadinejad has enraged Jewish leaders so much they wanted to give him a bit of his own medicine; in effect, ‘If you’re not going to be accurate with the facts [about the Holocaust] we’re going to give you the same.'”